A prestigious Italian publisher (Einaudi) publishes a book titled Scopami! (Fuck me!) by Virginie Despentes. The Ministero del lavoro e delle politiche sociali (Italian Ministry for Work and Welfare) puts the book in a list of titles suggested for teenagers in the frame of the project Il vero sballo è dire no (The real buzz is saying no), a campaign against the use of drugs. A public library, placed within a school, acquires the book and a teenager user of the library, 14 years old, asks and borrows it. The librarian that authorized the loan is reported to the Police and condemned by the investing magistrate to be fined by the terms of article 528 of the penal code: the book would be obscene and the librarian guilty of letting it circulate. The event dates back to 2000 and it is still going on. The involved librarian objected the sentence, and the whole professional community is trustfully waiting for the end of the criminal case: a careful analysis of the facts and of the laws shall lead to a full acquittal.
A similar event occurred also in 1976, in Trento, Italy, when a librarian was brought to trial for having inserted in the library collections the Enciclopedia della vita sessuale, Mondadori (Encyclopaedia of sexual life, published by Mondadori) addressed to children and teenagers. The trial aroused the bewilderment and the mobilization of librarians, intellectuals and citizens. At the end, the Court discharged the librarian "because the fact is not a crime".
According to penal code, what insults decency is obscene, but there is nothing more vague, ambiguous and controversial than the concept of "common decency". Libraries surely must select first-rate books, in order to satisfy users' needs, but selection must be based on objective criteria and not on personal judgment of the librarian on duty: why a library should exclude from the reading room a scientific encyclopaedia or a literary work included in a ministerial list provided for minors? Who can censure?
Censorship is a praxis of dictatorships, while the rate of access to information is an indicator of democracy. Libraries should never adopt any form of censorship. A librarian is not allowed to deny access to a book, except in the case that the volume presents an explicit prohibition to minors or in the case it has already been seized by magistrates. The mission of librarians is quite to make easier the meeting between users and knowledge recorded on documents, and to prevent and remove any obstacle to a full and free use of the collections. IFLA Statement on libraries and intellectual freedom is very clear: "a commitment to intellectual freedom is a core responsibility for the library and information profession". Even clearer are the UNESCO Public Libraries Manifesto and the IFLA/UNESCO School libraries Manifesto; they maintain that "Collections and services should not be subject to any form of ideological, political or religious censorship, nor commercial pressure". In 1976 Angela Vinay, President of Italian Library Association, observed that "Trento trial called the attention of the whole country on a usually ignored professional group, to assign it a very hard responsibility in relation to the diffusion of a cultural product like a book. [...] In our country, we are very far from having sized the relationship among libraries and democracy". Thirty years later, new technologies opened endless occasions to free circulation of knowledge, Italy is part of the European Union and involved in communitarian projects of permanent education and knowledge economy, but this sentence still sounds sadly topical. When censorship gets in libraries, it debases not only libraries as institutions but also the democracy of our nation in the XXI century.
President of the Italian Library Association
Translated by Carlo Bianchini from:
Se la censura entra in biblioteca, published also in AIB notizie, 2005 (17) n. 3/4.