Thursday, April 8, 2010

Huffington Post Censors Comments by School Librarians?
The above article by James Tracy of Cushing Academy fame (yes, the one who tossed thousands of books in favor of buying several Kindles) is about information overload, bias, and the importance of teaching kids how to find reliable information on the Internet. The Huffington Post allowed some comments by a few independent school librarians (including me), then took them down within 24 hours. Our comments weren't mean or offensive. They fell on the right side of the rules for commenting on The Huffington Post. I don't know why they were taken down. So, I am posting my comment on his article here. Feel free to do the same - post your comment to his post here. I will give you more than The HP allotted words!
 Mr. Tracy gives us nothing new in this article. School librarians teach students how to wade through information in any format to find the best, most reliable sources. We teach about books, databases, videos, e-books, radio transcripts, and more, depending upon the information needs of the student or the guidelines of the project. We also teach about books, sites, and databases that not only have great secondary sources but primary sources as well. We have experimented with and sometimes taught meta-search engines and federated searching (what is macro-searching, anyway? It sounds like meta-searching, which has been around for quite some time).
For years we have taught web-site evaluation, and now that discussion is increasingly more interesting as Wikipedia grows and the concept of authority is questioned. We talk with our researchers about what type of blog is used for what types of research. We teach how (and why) to investigate the author of the information gathered. We are now struggling with how and when to cite a post from Twitter. Our lessons change and grow with the information formats, as our goal is to help the students learn, discover, create, and succeed. An article about teaching how to evaluate information found on the Internet that doesn't mention the necessity of a professional school librarian is missing the point.
The above isn't exactly the comment I submitted (I don't have a copy of it). The one I submitted was shorter, and nicer. It was published, then later retracted. If it was moderated and deemed suitable, who then read it and decided it wasn't? Maybe the people at The Huffington Post or Mr. Tracy thought my comment was argumentative (I tried not to be). It did slightly refer back to other disagreements the school librarian community has had with Mr. Tracy regarding book collections used for research purposes. But, as Laura Pearle pointed out to me, why would The HP delete comments that disagree with the blogger? Who really took the comments by school librarains down? Could Mr. Tracy have made that request? Isn't starting a conversation one of the points of blogging? Don't school librarians need to speak up for ourselves and what we do?

I'd like to encourage Mr. Tracy to attend ALA, AISL (next week!) or an upcoming conference for school librarians in his state. Or perhaps browse our literature from time to time. He just might be pleasantly surprised by what he learns.


  1. I agree with you. The article offered nothing new and the fact that it doesn't even mention the work that librarians do to plan curricula, select and secure funds for the databases he mentions, and teach students (not to mention faculty and heads of school) the skills he believes are vital. I agree that his use of the term "macro-searching" only goes to show that he has no idea what he is talking about.

    I feel lucky that my school and its thoughtful administration know that the library and the librarian(s) are responsible for collaborating with faculty to teach these skills. His is not the first school to redirect library energies away from books and towards digital sources: both my predecessor and I have spent time and money developing a solid collection of databases. We are a laptop school and have school kindles (and a school ipad!), but we're not unique (although I often like to think we are). So many great librarians have been doing the same for a long time. That is the librarians' primary function, right? To be aware of and react to the changing face of information in order to best serve and prepare our population.

    A more important piece of this issue not mentioned by Tracy is public schools. Public schools often do not have the resources or funding for a librarian, computers for research, or databases. As an independent school librarian I take for granted the superb resources available to my students. I can teach them proper searching, website evaluation, and other information literacy skills. What Tracy and the Huff Post should do is report on the fact that many school districts are pink slipping their librarians, and most students in this country will not have the chance to learn library skills that will prepare them for college, jobs, or life in general.

    I am done getting worked up about the Cushing Academy--their innovation is becoming stale. I am more excited about going to AISL next week to chat with other librarians eager to share forward-thinking ways of delivering info literacy to our populations.

  2. I posted a comment, too, which was accepted and then disappeared the next day. It said that part of the value of books is in their depth, and that books organize and present information well. Then I said something about needing to teach vocabulary and writing skills. Finally I made a note of a mistake in the article. It used the word "chafe" instead of "chaff." The next morning I looked back at the posts, and most of them were gone, and behold, the word error had been corrected! (I do think Tracy's vocabulary is over-inflated and that E. B. White would give him an F for using big words when he could use small ones.) My post was under the name of Librarian Seeing Redd--when I saw that the comments about libraries and books were all gone, I re-posted and they left my second comment there for at least a short while.

  3. Well put, Sarah! I wish I could be at AISL with you..
    Meanwhile, something strange is happening with the comments on this blog! Another person commented anonymously, and Blogger isn't letting me publish it. bear with me as I try to fix this and get the comments visible!

  4. This whole adventure is a fascinating foray into freedom of speech. I can't add anything but agreement to the comments above, except to say that my response to Tracy's blog was also briefly posted and then removed. I contacted them directly to ask why, but have received no reply. I thought that the most interesting method, a direct question. We'll see what happens, if anything.

  5. Yes, I asked as well, but did not yet get an answer. It will be interesting to discover what happened. For a minute, on my iTouch, I had an old version of the page saved. I didn't think fast enough to copy it, but I did re-read what I had originally posted. It really wasn't against their comment rules at all.

  6. I've been a user of the Huffington Post for quite a while. I like the site in many ways, I like many of the people that comment and the fact that I no longer need to bother buying a newspaper. But for some time I've noticed that the censorship of comments has gotten more and more arbitrary and out of control. With some fellow Huffpo users I've documented a few of the many insane examples of censorship on the blog:

  7. Hey guys, so as Red Dog knows I have been following this thing. Its pretty remarkable how many people out there--most of them, apparently pretty inoffensive commentators without a lot of political clout--have been pushed overboard at the HP. I have written now a second blog post on this ( and I have linked this story. If you care, please do link me back to your post. I will write at least two more entries on this matter. One on censorship of more prominent names like Jessie Ventura and the other on science and journalistic integrity. Anyhow, check out the links if you can.

  8. Having your comment eliminated strikes me as all the more amusing--considering Tracy, a "headmaster" with a PhD from Stanford, cannot distinguish chafe from chaff--when he warns that "[t]he gravest danger American democracy faces today is precisely the incivility of what passes for political discourse by such monolithic practitioners and, particularly, the increasingly reflexive branding of opposing opinions as treasonous. There is nothing more corrosive to democracy than incivility."

    Might censorship be a form of incivility?

  9. I hate to burst any bubbles, but HuffPo is not a place where free speech thrives. I found this out the hard way when they removed my entire profile and all my comments for what appeared to be no reason. I'm guessing it was because I questioned the fairness and efficacy of their moderation system. I never go there for any reason anymore.