Listen and Learn
Celebrate Banned Books Week
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Last March, when I headed to Beijing for another teaching stint on behalf of Whatcom Community College, my wallet held an international Visa card, a recent “upgrade” from my conventional card.
Little did I realize this card would prove almost useless, while my sweet Whatcom County Library System (WCLS) card became priceless—my real international passport.
With my library card I explored Alaska, the Middle East, London, and New York.
Here’s how. Because Beijing is a vast metropolis, travel time can be extremely long and tiring. Visiting friends in another part of the city sometimes required as many as three hours each way on public transportation. And unlike in America, Chinese people typically do not strike up conversations on the bus or subway.
What might seem an interminable ride in silence became an adventure while listening to an audiobook. While most of my fellow passengers were glued to their phones, I was free to look around, observe my surroundings, smile, notice landmarks and generally still be connected to my environment. I was in heaven.
At the school where I taught, a small cadre of four foreign teachers (two Russian, one Armenian, one American) shared space with four Chinese residents, all tucked amicably into a large open space with very little privacy.
We often heard conversations in many languages and the shouted results of World Cup games. However, a surprising amount of intrigue surrounded my enthusiasm for and dedication to listening to audiobooks, which I could download onto my phone (assuming it was one of those rare moments of connectivity). Several teachers asked if they could also listen to my stories.
A few of my closer friends even begged to borrow my library card to get books or information for themselves. Sadly, this was impossible and I regretfully explained that my WCLS library card is uniquely my own and not transferable.
Much has been made of the “Great Firewall of China,” which blocks and also controls what people can access through the Internet.
Admittedly, much of what flies around in cyberspace is trashy or maybe downright dangerous. That is why, during the annual Banned Books Week—which continues through Sat., Sept. 29—we take time to examine who decides what makes something objectionable to the point that it is forbidden. And why, after so many centuries of trying to control what people do or think, have we not learned that it is the “forbidden fruit” that attracts the most attention?
Thank you, libraries, librarians and citizens who have fought to ensure that public access to ideas and privacy of information about what we read have been preserved for each generation. Let us not take this hard-won freedom for granted.
I, for one, most certainly do not.
Trish Navarre is a board member of the Whatcom County Library Foundation
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