Recommendations by Karen C

fREADom: Celebrate Your Freedom to Read

Access, inclusiveness and intellectual freedom are the first and foremost values that guide and motivate the activities of the Peterborough Public Library. We make a point of acknowledging and celebrating these core values during Freedom to Read Week every February. It is important for us to remember that we should not take this precious freedom for granted. Just as important, we must remember that this freedom requires public libraries to provide as much credible, thorough information as we can so that our community members have the freedom to make up their own minds about issues in their own lives.

Freedom to Read Week is organized by the Book and Periodical Council (BPC). The BPC’s Statement on Freedom of Expression points out that, though the freedom of expression and the freedom to read are both fundamental rights of all Canadians, neither freedoms include the right to choose what others may read. While accepting our Courts’ sole authority to restrict reading material, public libraries like ours join forces with the BPC in opposing any efforts to deny, repress or sanitize our communities through book and periodical censorship. “Censorship does not protect society,” the BPC reminds us – rather, “it smothers creativity and precludes open debate of controversial issues.”

Don't Check Out This Book! by Kate Klise book jacket cover

Through the years right up to the present day, our Collection Development Librarian has fielded many challenges to our collection. Sometimes, an item contains language, images, or ideas the challenger finds offensive enough that they feel it should be removed from the collection altogether. Other times, a challenger requests that we label a particular item with a warning about its content. Sometimes, a challenger is simply questioning our placement of an item because they feel it isn’t suitable for a particular age group.

Whenever we receive a challenge submitted through our Request for Reconsideration of Material, we carefully review the particular item with our Materials Selection Policy to guide our decision-making, and our Collection Development Librarian responds to the challenger’s request with an explanation as to what was decided and why we came to that decision. She often finds herself explaining to challengers that our library subscribes to the Canadian Library Association’s Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom:

Libraries have a core responsibility to safeguard and facilitate access to constitutionally protected expressions of knowledge, imagination, ideas, and opinion, including those which some individuals and groups consider unconventional, unpopular, or unacceptable.

Challenged at Peterborough Public Library

Here is a snapshot of some of the collection items in the Peterborough Public Library that have been challenged over the years:

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie - Little Golden Book book jacket cover

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (Little Golden picture book edition)

Challenge:  The challenger was concerned that this particular picture book version of the classic novel is racist towards Indigenous people, and that it uses racist language and stereotypes that are harmful to our society’s movement towards reconciliation. The challenger wanted us to remove the book from the collection entirely.

Our Response:  Our Children’s Librarian was able to find a newer version of the classic novel that does a better job of portraying Indigenous people respectfully. However, we maintain that it is important that parents decide whether they should read something to their children. Classics such as Peter Pan can be used as teaching tools for children to learn about historical racism and biases.

Hello, Cruel World by Kate Bornstein book jacket cover

Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlawsby Kate Bornstein

Challenge:  The challenger was concerned that this self-help book written for teens includes advice that is dangerous and might result in fatalities related to starvation, self-harm and substance abuse. The challenger requested a warning label be placed on the book which described the author’s lack of qualifications for psychological counselling, as well as a notice to the effect that, if the reader is feeling suicidal, they should go to the emergency department of the nearest hospital immediately.

Our Response:  This book was determined to meet the criteria we use to select and retain items in our collection:  it has been widely received with positive reviews, and the author champions diversity and uses humour that is suited to and recognizable by the intended audience. Information about the author is already included within the book; in addition, we do not add labels that express subjective conclusions about a book’s contents or an author’s intent.

The Amateur Historian by Julian Cole book jacket cover

The Amateur Historian by Julian Cole

Challenge:  The challenger was concerned that this novel for adults contains explicit pedophilia. They questioned the acquisition of the book, claiming that it had received mixed reviews and, in the challenger’s opinion, it has “no literary merit.”  The challenger, opposed to censorship in general, requested that the library add a warning label that the book contained “explicit pedophilic sex.”

Our Response:  Our Collection Development Librarian was able to cite four very positive reviews from reputable sources, including Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist. She explained to the challenger that the subjective label requested would insinuate that the library holds a particular viewpoint or opinion.

House of Holes by Nicholson Baker book jacket cover

House of Holes: A Book of Raunchby Nicholson Baker

Challenge:  The challenger felt that the contents of this book are vulgar in nature, and that library users “should be warned before they begin reading it.”

Our Response:  The nature of the book’s contents is clearly described in the actual title of the book (“raunch”). In addition, the book is catalogued as “Erotic Fiction” in the library’s catalogue. The book remains in the collection.

Take a look at our library’s Materials Selection Policy on our website if you are interested in learning more about how we address the selection of materials that may be controversial to some, what is excluded from our collection, and what to do if you feel we should reconsider keeping a particular collection item.

Read More About Censorship

Suggested Reading by Dave Connis book jacket coverIf you want to celebrate your own freedom to read, check out one of these books which talk about censorship: