Interlibrary loan

According to today’s print version of the New Bedford Standard-Times, a senior at UMass Dartmouth received a visit from federal agents after ordering a book through interlibrary loan:

NEW BEDFORD — A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s tome on Communism called “The Little Red Book.”

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library’s interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper of Communism for Professor Pontbriand’s class on facism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents’ home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a “watch list,” and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

“I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book,” Professor Pontbriand said. “Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring interlibrary loans, because that’s what triggered the visit, as I understand it.”…

The student told Professor Pontbriand and Dr. Williams that the Homeland Security agents… brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student, the professors said.

I find it sad that the Department of Homeland Security saw fit to include the “Little Red Book” on their watch list. I actually own a “complete and unexpurgated” version of Mao’s “Little Red Book,” published as Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung in 1967, by Bantam Books. It’s a dated collection of quotations from Mao’s political speeches and longer theoretical works, meant to be used as part of a larger political indoctrination program. These days, it just reads like a historical artifact, and it’s hard to imagine terrorists taking it seriously.

Unfortunately, this incident reinforces my sense that the Department of Homeland Security is looking for trouble in all the wrong places. Mao’s “Little Red Book” on their watch list doesn’t make sense. Targeting an undergrad at UMass Dartmouth, a school not known for revolutionary tendencies (to put it mildly) seems silly.

Worst of all, although they brought it with them, the agents didn’t even leave the book so the poor student could write his term paper. That action has the faint stench of censorship. It’s the sort of thing Mao’s government agents would have done, back in the days when the “Little Red Book” was widely read in China.

Moral of the story: if you want to read Mao’s “Little Red Book,” don’t go through interlibrary loan. Just go to the library that owns a copy, and read it there.

1 thought on “Interlibrary loan

  1. Bill Baar

    I bought books by mail from North Vietnam and China News Service in the late 1960s.
    They would come with a stamp from the US Gov saying they had been approved for import
    to the United States so you had the distinct impression someone was keeping track of
    what you bought from them. I was greatly impressed by the cultural revolution at the time.

    Read Phil Short’s Mao: A Life.

    In an epic biography, Short draws on a wealth of hitherto untapped sources to fashion
    an uncanny portrait of Mao Zedong. His Mao is a warrior-poet who gradually lost vital
    components of his humanity in his exclusive devotion to a cause. By Short’s reckoning,
    Mao’s megalomaniacal ambition led to such disasters as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960),
    the collectivization and production drive that ended in apocalyptic failure as 20 million Chinese starved to death, and the chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), during which hundreds of thousands were tortured, arrested or executed.

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