This assignment goes to the heart of our role in society.

Are we, as some have described our roles, priests and priestesses of the Temple of Truth, housing only that which has been deemed to be factual, enlightening, and uplifting for the masses? If so, who is empowered to be the arbiters of truth? Are we? Is truth decided by the majority of society at a given time?

Or, as some have described us, are we keepers of the culture, preservers of the intellectual and creative output of society, whether that output be sublime or shameful?

Or do we provide access to works representing a wide variety of viewpoints on a limited number of subjects, subjects defined and delimited by our institutional missions and our budgets? If so, what if some of these viewpoints are considered to be historically or scientifically inaccurate by mainstream historians or scientists? What if some of the viewpoints on a given subject are the products of deep racial, religious, or ethnic prejudice and thus perceived as hurtful by a subset of the population? What if a work is perceived as an incitement to violence?

This assignment gives you the opportunity to begin to define the role you will be playing in society as an information professional, drawing on the readings and your own personal experiences.

Student Learning Objectives Addressed

Instructions for Your Paper

The Scenario:

You are the head librarian of the Frie Damtu Reed Public Library. One morning your library receives an unsolicited gift in the mail. Inside the neatly labeled box are five copies of a book titled Path to paradise.

Though unsolicited the donation is not entirely unexpected. Libraries across the country have been receiving copies of this work, written by a young American man who converted to Islam and joined a group of violent extremists who call themselves the Righteous Warriors. This book has resulted in much discussion among librarians and a debate on the PBS NewsHour. Many who have read the book have described it as a call to violence. In your library, curious patrons have already been asking if the library has the book.

There is no question that all five books will not make it to the shelves. Your library does not have the room. The question is whether any copy will be added to the collection, and if so, where will it be located in the library?

That afternoon you meet with the other two librarians in your library. The three of you decide to each read the book then meet again to discuss what to do with it.

After dinner that evening you open the book and start reading.

Expecting to find a crude tirade full of grammatical errors you are surprised at how well-written it is. The book starts with a description of the young man's home life. His father was the president of a mid-sized university who worked long hours and was often away at conferences. Having been a scientist before joining the administration the father viewed all religion as superstitious beliefs to be overcome by rationality. The young man's mother was a school teacher. Although she was a firm believer that the family should have dinner together each evening, after dinner she would usually retire to her home office to grade papers. Feeling lonely, the young man looked to the Internet for companionship. That is where he discovered the Righteous Warriors.

The book then describes the young man's growing admiration for Islam and for the purposeful as well as exciting lives of the Righteous Warriors.

The story follows the young man's conversion to Islam in which he takes the name Yousef bin Jihad. It describes his subsequent initiation, training, and experiences as a Righteous Warrior. The account is explicit and detailed. The young man's actions as a warrior are explained in terms of his interpretation of Islam. For example, he is open about having killed people of other faiths who refused to convert to Islam. In explaining the rationale for these acts of violence he draws upon an experience he had as a young child visiting his father's research laboratory. When the son visited the laboratory one day he saw a laboratory technician killing and removing the internal organs of mice that had been given an experimental drug. The young boy had been horrified. When his father saw the look on the boy's face he explained to his son that many people were suffering from disease. It was necessary to sacrifice the mice in order to alleviate the suffering of thousands of people. Now grown, bin Jihad saw the killing of unbelievers as analogous. What could be a more insidious disease than the beliefs of people who allowed corporate CEOs to collect obscenely large salaries and live in hedonistic luxury while the poor suffered and struggled to survive? The unbelievers have to be sacrificed in order to establish a world where Sharia is the law of the land and the inequities of society are banished.

In the last chapter of the book bin Jihad urges other young men to hear the call and join the righteous. He urges fathers to send their young (to ensure "purity") daughters to be wives of the men fighting to create a paradise on Earth. For those men who do not have the means to travel or the strength to endure the rigorous training of the Righteous Warriors, bin Jihad urges them to plan and execute their own acts of violence against the unrighteous. This is followed by a description of paradise for those who martyr themselves in the name of Islam. It is a beautiful serene place where there is no suffering and much joy.

You are aware that many moderate Muslims have criticized the gross misunderstanding of Islam evident in the book. They have pointed out that the Prophet Mohammed explicitly forbid conversion by the sword, that the suicide bombings in which many innocent men, women, and children are indiscriminately killed are clearly forbidden by the Qur'an.

You are also aware that you will be asked about this very book in a meeting next Tuesday evening of the Library Board of Directors. One of the board members, who considers himself to be a moral watchdog for the library, has already been asking about whether the library has received copies of the book. Until now you have been able to avoid a discussion of the book by telling him that not only has the book not been received by the library but that you have not had the opportunity to see the book yourself. That avoidance answer is no longer available to you.

One of your library colleagues, who describes herself as a knee-jerk-bleeding-heart liberal, will probably argue that the book should be added to the library's collection. You expect your other colleague, who self-identifies as a communitarian, will argue that the book is too dangerous to the community to be made available, that the presence of that book on the shelves could result in the deaths of innocent people. If your colleagues feel the way you think they will, yours will end up the deciding vote.

The Paper:

Consider Swan and Peattie's arguments. How do you think each of them would approach their decision in such a case? Then make your own decision. Should you add the book to your library's collection? If so, where should it be shelved?

Citing Swan and Peattie's arguments as well as any other applicable readings we have studied thus far in the course, compose an explanation of your decision for the Library Board of Directors. As part of your explanation, describe what you see as the role of the library, and thus yourself, in society. How does your decision regarding this book align with what you perceive to be the library's role?

Be prepared to share your decision as well as your reasoning with the class.

As with your previous reflection papers, the text of this paper (excluding title page and "literature cited") should be at least three pages, double-spaced. Citations are required. Please use the author-date method as described in Turabian. A helpful online resource for creating citations using Turabian is provided by the Long Island University B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library, available at: http://www2.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/workshop/citchi.htm.

Please click here to return to the LIS 611 home page.