Freedom to Read Week is celebrated nationally each February to highlight the importance of Intellectual Freedom and the dangers of censorship. From Feb. 20 - 26, South Shore Public Libraries will join magazine and book distributors, other libraries and readers across Canada to encourage Canadians to think about intellectual freedom and our right to choose as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Library communications coordinator Teresa Workman explains, “We’ve wrapped a display of books in plain brown paper at each Library to symbolize censorship. The books we’ve chosen have all been banned or challenged over the years for a variety of reasons.”
Perhaps the book will offend the borrower, perhaps not. The point is that one person should not have the power to choose for another, she says.
“We encourage people to choose a book from the display sight unseen; like a surprise package. Borrow it, take it home and decide for yourself if you wish to read it.”
According to the Book and Periodical Council Website, Freedom To Read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Books are removed from the shelves in Canadian libraries, schools and bookstores every day. Free speech on the Internet is under attack. Few of these stories make headlines, but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read.
Recent examples of censorship include a new release of the classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that eliminates uses of the "N" word and replaces it with "slave." The edition, from NewSouth Books, will also shorten an offensive reference to Native Americans. The 1980’s song Money for Nothing by the British rock band Dire Straits, deemed unacceptable for play on Canadian radio by the Canadian Standards Broadcast Council, is another example.
“The majority of Canadian’s may agree that these terms are offensive,” says Workman, “but the question remains – who gets to decide what you are allowed to read or listen too? And what happens when the censorship challenge seems less serious?”
Schools have also pulled books off the shelves. Roger Pare's The Annick ABC was pulled from an Alberta's school library's shelf and thrown out after a complaint to the librarian that the reference "'N' is for nudist eating noodles in Naples" is inappropriate reading for kindergarten students. Another example is Robert Munsch's Thomas' Snowsuit, challenged in Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan when a teacher at an elementary school told the principal that the book undermined the authority of all school principals.
“Occasionally books disappear, words are crossed out or pages are removed, we are asked to remove a book from the shelves, or restrict what some patrons view on public access terminals.” -
“Censorship becomes a slippery slope, with some book challenges seeming quite inane. Censorship is evident in our own libraries, albeit in a quieter way,” admits Workman. “Occasionally books disappear, words are crossed out or pages are removed, we are asked to remove a book from the shelves, or restrict what some patrons view on public access terminals.”
So who decides which books make it to the shelves at your library? South Shore Public Libraries chooses books and other library materials according to the library’s Selection Policy (updated by the Library Board in May, 2008) that are reflective of the library’s mission, which is to celebrate reading, discovering, learning and sharing in the municipalities of Lunenburg and Queens.
“Materials in the library’s collection represent myriad points of view on countless subjects, are in various formats and are intended for audiences of many educational levels and all ages,” says Chief Librarian Troy Myers. “Our Selection Policy guides staff in choosing materials to be added to or withdrawn from the library’s collection.”
Library users and staff are welcome to suggest materials for the Library’s collection. The Chief Librarian is responsible for the ultimate choice of materials acquired and withdrawn. Materials are purchased in all subject areas, says Myers. “The resources of our entire collection are available to borrowers of all ages. Adults are responsible for guiding the choices of children under their care and rejecting materials they find unsuitable”.
Freedom to Read Week encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed to them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Take a minute to look at the display of banned and challenged books at your library and think about your right to read.