Thursday, March 01, 2007


The Baton Rouge blurb "The Advocate" carried an op ed piece on librarians being held in jail in Fidel Castro's Cuba. Librarians in jail? Surely we have heard about journalists in jail, political prisoners, academics, artists, scientists, writers etc in jail. They have been for the most part jailed due to their opposition to a tyrannical regime. They express what they think is the truth about the situation in their countries and for that, they are imprisoned. They are truly "prisoners of conscience".

But librarians are given custody of the books that these "prisoners of conscience" wrote. A librarian may or may not subscribe to the writer's ideology. In fact a librarian cannot be expected to read all the books in his/her library! So why are librarians jailed in Cuba?

It seems that the these librarians refused to implement government orders to have "subversive books" in their libraries burned. Generations of literate people have likened book burning to murder and in Nazi Germany, the metaphor became reality. Alas tyrants always fail to realize that books can't be really killed by setting them on fire, they can only be killed by not reading them. An unread book is a dead book. Hitler's "Mein Kampf" is practically dead today and is read only by some scholars and Neo Nazis. In contrast Anne Frank's "Diary" is still read by millions and is well remembered.

The American Library Association lists a library bill of rights. In essence the bill of rights condemns any form of censorship. In a library the only way to censorship is for the reader not to read a book if that he finds offensive. And in no way should the reader impose his views on another reader.

Among the bill's pertinent provisions are

Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

It was precisely for these reasons that the Cuban librarians have been jailed. Some US librarians have criticized the ALA for not condemning and demanding Cuba for the release of the librarians. They have organized Freadom and one of their projects is "Read a burned book". These books include works by Jose Marti, Cuba's National Hero, Martin Luther King, Pope John Paul II, George Orwell.

It may serve well for former University of the Philippines president Dodong Nemenzo to note this book burning in his glowing assessment of Cuba's policies. His written work on Marxism may be a candidate for burning since it is obviously revisionist!

Literate people have an eternal emnity to people who burn books. Books are believed first (before other forms of media) because they tell the truth. A book full of lies will soon be unread and that was the fate of "Mein Kampf".

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