Though the government probably has better things to do, Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows it to find out you borrowed “Fifty Shades of Grey” from the library and renewed it three times.
If it were up to librarians, your secret would be safe with them.
Most librarians “are activists, in a way, for freedom of speech, for First Amendment freedoms,” says Matthew Mann, a library associate for the DC Public Library. “Librarianship is one of those ways in which they express that.”
While Banned Books Week (Sunday through Oct. 3) focuses on books challenged in schools, “Uncensored,” which runs through Oct. 22, examines how information relates to power and privacy — not only in the hushed aisles of the library, but in the world at large.
“You could think of the exhibit as a branch of a tree of Banned Books Week,” Mann says. “The theme is thinking about information, how it’s gathered, how it’s disseminated, how it’s used.”
Exhibit artists found inspiration in the tension between libraries and the National Security Agency.
“Section 215 enables the collection of library records,” Mann says. “What you’ve checked out, when you’ve checked it out, what you’ve looked at on library computers. Librarians have actually fought specifically against that section.”
The exhibit contrasts the airy MLK Library building in the middle of the city and the dark hulk that is the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.
“One is about gathering information and the library is all about access and freedom to distribute information,” Mann says. “So it’s kind of like one is the reverse of the other.”
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G St. NW; Fri. through Oct. 22, free.
The D.C. Public Library’s events for Banned Books Week include readings from frequently challenged books, Q&As with authors who’ve had books banned, and arts and crafts. “Uncensored’s” Friday opening party (6:30-9 p.m., $50) features a pop-up market, live music and cocktails inspired by banned books.
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