freedom to read week 2014: celebrate your freedom to read

Image from Freedom to Read website
Freedom to Read Week 2014 runs from February 23 to March 1. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Freedom to Read Week in Canada.

Freedom to Read Week - called "Banned Books Week" in the United States - encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, a human right guaranteed to us under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For me, it is also a time to celebrate the library as a bulwark against censorship, and for library workers to reflect on our jobs in a broader political context.

FtRW 2014 is especially important to me, because it's my first FtRW as a librarian. I chatted with the Freedom to Read organizers at the recent OLA Conference, and will tweet this post for their collection. There are some wonderfully creative FtRW displays. Yellow caution tape is very popular, as are books in chains. Some libraries have done "mug shots" of customers and staff holding challenged books. In a library particularly beleaguered by community censors, a program where local writers and readers take turns reading passages from challenged books is a good awareness-raiser.

I created this display of challenged books - books that people wanted removed from public libraries - in the Mississauga Central Library. It incorporates two of my personal display goals: mixed collections (fiction, nonfiction, youth fiction, and graphic novels, all in the same display), and visually accessible signage. I had a great time researching titles, making signs, then trekking through the library with a cart and a clipboard, pulling books. (I love my job!)


John F said...

That's a really eye-catching display. Nicely done! I remember my local library doing similar displays when I was a kid (waaaay back in the 80s...).

Does the Toronto Public Library get many book complaints? My mental stereotype of the issue is that it happens more in rural areas and the southern U.S.

laura k said...

Thank you!

I don't know how the figures break down (and I don't work at TPL), but challenges happen everywhere. In Toronto, in New York, in San Francisco - everywhere.

And they happen from the left/progressive side of the dial, too - books on creationism, or children's books with stereotyping.

I'll look for some numbers.

laura k said...

If my display included challenged children's books, it would be practically the whole collection! :)

laura k said...

A partial list of books and magazines that have been challenged in Canada. No figures on how often, though.

John F said...

Books on creationism - ah. At last I comprehend, if only dimly, the urge to ban a book.

I would never try to do so, of course. The best response to free but wrongheaded speech is more speech. But we all have something that pushes our buttons, and the idea of teaching someone such bizarre ideas is mine

People often shout about thanking soldiers for protecting our freedom. Thank you, librarian, for protecting my freedom.

johngoldfine said...

I can never decide whether to be depressed or heartened by the book burners and banners. Depressed at their fear, need to control, and insistence on only approved thinking. Or heartened that, however misguided their reactions, at least they take books seriously and recognize their power.

When I was a college instructor, many of us argued against the now-conventional wisdom that high school students should take college courses as hs juniors or seniors.

One time I told our new academic dean that various books we used in our literature courses were not going to be acceptable to the high schools because of community pressure against naughty language and edgy content.

"Can't you find acceptable books you can use instead?" she wanted to know.

"We can find other books, but then, you see, it won't be a college course any more because the instructor's freedom to choose what to use in his teaching will be gone, and he will be using materials dictated by the high schools and the lowest common denominator in the community."

She never got it at all, never took my point, never understood why some books are just edgy and naughty and have to be that way and that part of a college education (or, I would argue, any education) is dealing with the edgy and naughty.

So--good on you for those displays!

laura k said...

John F, thank you, that is really very touching.

Of course I agree about combatting ideas with more ideas. Thankfully books on creationism are in the religion section.

Right now a troll is accusing me of wanting to censor books condemning abortion or other views I find offensive. How little he knows me.

laura k said...

John Goldfine, I share those mixed feelings! Those book banners and burners elicit, for me, a mix of disgust and pride.

John F said...

Wow. This troll you speak of obviously has a Ph.D in Missing The Point!

When I was in high school, our librarian had very strong anti-choice beliefs. The periodical shelves were always well-stocked with literature that supported his views. This is how I found out that some people consider 'abortuary' to be a word.

Two young women once approached him about representing the other point of view by getting in some pro-choice newsletters. This did not go over well! These days, the issue would probably have wound up on Facebook or Twitter, and from there to the news. But this was 30 years ago in the Canadian Bible Belt, so the students in question were fortunate to escape without detention.

laura k said...

Bad librarian! Especially about controversial issues, you've got to have as many points of view represented as possible.

I also hate to see library staff cater to parents' wishes over the needs of children and teens.

And I believe said troll teaches that course on the university level.

laura k said...


John F said...

High school teaches great lessons. Sometimes they're the opposite of what was intended, but still...

Oh yes, 'abortuary'. I can't remember which photocopied newsletter that one featured in. The Prairie Journal of Frothing Outrage, perhaps. The OED says that the word dates back to 1985.

laura k said...

The Prairie Journal of Frothing Outrage


impudent strumpet said...

@John Here's a list of the books challenged at the Toronto Library in 2010 (PDF). I don't know if they publish that every year or what - the 2010 list just got tweeted into my timeline for some reason.

John F said...

Thanks, Imp Strump. That's an interesting list. I found the library's response to be quite reasonable in each case.