February 24, 2014
When I say banned books, what do you think of?
For a long time, my favourite button to wear was a small white one that said “The worst part of censorship is ----- -----. The last two words were blacked out. I hated the thought that someone else could decide what I said, or heard, or read. Little did I know just how common it was, and still is, for people to try to dictate what information others should have access to. I also didn’t know that a major way they do this is by asking that certain books be removed from libraries.
The fact is that in 2012 alone there were 73 documented attempts to remove movies and books from Canadian school and public libraries. The actual number of these “challenges”, as they’re called, is undoubtedly much higher, since these are just the times that libraries decided to voluntarily report what happened to the Canadian Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee.
In my job here at the Millennium Library, one of the things I do is organize ways to mark Freedom to Read Week, which is a long-standing celebration of our right to decide for ourselves what we watch and read. I include “watch” here because, for the first time, the number of challenges to movies was more than the challenges to books.
Challenges always have to be dealt with carefully. Often, libraries that have dealt with challenges in the past are able to keep challenged items on the shelves. Sometimes, though, we see books and movies removed from library shelves before there’s even a conversation about whether they should be. Then, the complaints of a few (sometimes just one person) mean that these movies and books are now unavailable to others who might want them.
After reading the list from 2012, here are some of my favourite attempted bans. All the details below are direct from the report:
Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Partsby Dr. Gail Saltz.
Reason: Sex education, Nudity, Age inappropriate. The challenger felt that this book was not appropriate for young children. She asked that it be moved from Easy Non-Fiction to the Parenting Resources shelf.
Result: Material retained. The item was not moved. The book is science-based and the cartoon illustrations are anatomically correct. The book is intended to teach preschoolers about their private parts
I Love You Phillip Morris (DVD). Challenged 3 times.
One example of the reasons: Homosexuality, sexually explicit. Here is what the challenger had to say: "It is my belief that the public library system should contain material that upholds the values and moral strongpoints of our society to preserve it and improve it. This kind of material is not in the public's best interest nor should it be so readily available and therefore I would like to see it removed. I will also be contacting political figures about materials so readily on loan."
Result: Material retained. Part of the library’s response: “Your comments included a concern about the sexual content of this film, specifically the content dealing with homosexuality. The Library’s Material Selection Policy mandates the purchase of library materials taking into account the diverse interests of all of the communities of […] including content that reflects the interests of the gay and lesbian community. This movie title is clearly labeled with an R-rating which is indicated on the DVD container, the disc and within the information about the movie in the Library’s catalogue.
Teenage Dream by Katy Perry (CD)
Reasons: Age inappropriate, sexually explicit. Customer felt that CD did not belong in the Young Adult collection but the Adult collection. Customer felt that exposure to the explicit lyrics and cover was inappropriate for a person of her age (a gread 7 student).
Result: Material retained. Material was kept in the Young Adult collection as it was in the YA collections at other locations.
Coraline (DVD) based on the book by Neil Gaiman.
Reasons: Age inappropriate.
Result: Material retained. The Library argued that they followed the Ontario Film Board rating (PG). Vancouver, Halifax and Toronto Libraries also had the DVD on their shelves.
Meanwhile, an anti-censorship organization in the United States called the The Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP) reported a 53% increase in the number of books being challenged or banned in the country’s schools.
Again, my favourites:
The most challenged was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It was challenged in Montana, New York, New Jersey and West Virginia.
The Diary of Anne Frank (often challenged worldwide) was unsuccessfully targeted for banning in schools in Northville, Michigan after one parent complained that “passages detailing Anne’s descriptions of her own body were ‘pornographic’”.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman was taken off shelves at schools in Alamogordo, New Mexico, also because of a single complaint. Eventually the school board was persuaded to return it.
“I’m just glad that organisations like the Kids’ Right to Read Project exist, and that so many of these challenges have successful outcomes – it’s obvious that without them, the people who do not want their children, or other people’s, exposed to ideas, would be much more successful at making books vanish from the shelves.”
Want to show your support for your Freedom to Read? Great! Check out their website where there’s a long list of other books that at one point or another have been challenged or banned.
Or, come out to one of our events!
Westwood Library is hosting a Freedom to Read Marathon, where the public is invited to read aloud from those challenged books that mean something to them.
Here at Millennium, our event is taking the form of a Freedom of Expression Day. There will be talks on different ways this freedom has been challenged, readings from our favourite banned and challenged books, and a table of these *forbidden* books to browse and borrow.
We hope very much that you will come down and get involved, or just show your support for free access to the books and movies of your choice!
And what’s my current favourite button?
Erica grew up with books and movies, and now spends her time with books and movies. She loves her job at the library where she can talk to everyone about books and movies.