For the Love of Libraries

This week’s column was written by Dallas Husar, library assistant at the Invermere Public Library, which is located at 201 7th Avenue. Visit their website or call 250-342-6416 for more information.

“Any book worth banning is a book worth reading” – Isaac Asimov.

This month Canada is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Freedom to Read Week, taking place February 18 to 24. This week aims to raise awareness about censorship and access to printed materials.

Freedom to Read Week was started by a group of volunteers in response to Margaret Laurence’s Governor General Award winning book, The Diviners, being challenged in Ontario in 1984. Ten years after publication, her book, which is said to be loosely autobiographical, was challenged for the use of profanity and sexually explicit content. Freedom to Read Week has since been driven by the efforts of the Book and Periodical Council (BPC), and continued volunteer support. Recently, Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian Urban Libraries, and the Ontario Library Association have joined forces with the BPC to continue and enhance the efforts of the ‘Freedom to Read’ movement.

This month at the library you can go on a ‘Blind Date with a Banned Book.’ We have wrapped up and hidden the covers of banned books across a variety of genres and age groups. There is a blurb on the wrapping that explains why the book has been challenged or banned. Stop by and take a chance on something you may have not otherwise considered.

There are many reasons books have been banned or challenged in Canada and throughout the world. One of the most widely stated reasons has to do with sexual content and profane language. In fact, if you search the most common reason for recently challenged/banned books, this tops the list. 

This year and last, many works focusing on LGBTQ+ subjects, authors or stories have been subject of criticism and bans, especially in the United States. Some books have been put in the crosshairs due to religious reasons. In fact, the classic children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle has been challenged by some for being too religious, while others have criticized it for not being religious enough.

Many books have been challenged or banned without the complainants ever reading the book, and there is little to no effort to understand the scope and context of the content they are trying to ban. This was the case with Harry Potter being removed from a school in Newfoundland in 2000. The children’s classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin Jr. was banned in Texas when challengers mistook the author for another of similar name, Bill Martin, who wrote a book called Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation. Even the dictionary was banned, temporarily, in a school in Los Angeles as parents didn’t believe the definition of certain words was age appropriate for children.

Libraries help to make sure everyone can celebrate the Freedom to Read every day of the year. In the name of intellectual freedom, which is protected in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadian libraries do not support the censorship or banning of books that hit their shelves, and strive to ensure that a wide variety of opinions, viewpoints and stories are accessible to all.