In honor of National Library Week, perhaps it's time to reprise a post from a while back on a list of books that prisoners wanted added to their library:
The Patriot Act’s ability to require librarians to disclose the books that individuals have borrowed gives us a lesson in the importance of books. The FBI’s interest in who is reading what is only the most recent evidence that books are both important ways of transmitting ideas and important signifiers of which ideas readers find important. (I know there's some question about the number of times that libraries have been asked to disclose lists of what individuals have borrowed and I hope to learn a little more about this.) It is not just law enforcement that is interested in reading habits, however.
We are hearing a great deal about the project of “the history of the Book” these days. It aims to understand the role of books as vehicles of change: how do books contribute to changes in society, how do they help to create and sustain identity. Sometimes historians look at books, to measure a culture. What does Invisible Man say about the culture of the United States on the eve of Brown? What do Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery and W.E.B. DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk say about Jim Crow?
At other times, historians draw inferences about people from their libraries. This post talks about a list of about 120 books on the "black experience" that Judge Don Young ordered to be placed into the Marion, Ohio prison library back in 1972, Taylor v. Perini, 413 F.Supp. 189, 215-19 (D.C. Ohio 1976). What interests me about the list is its potential for mapping the sources of identity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What, then, are the books that the judge ordered added? More below the fold.