Sunday, July 14, 2024

CNA libraries and learning commons are celebrating your Freedom to Read

Freedom to Read (F2R) Week is an annual event celebrated in schools, libraries, and bookstores across Canada. Founded in 1984 in response to Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners being removed from the senior high reading lists due to “language and sexual content.” F2R Week encourages Canadians to reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom and “challenge the covert nature of censorship.”

Forty years later, F2R has evolved into a collaboration between Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, the Ontario Library Association, and the Book and Periodical Council. This year, F2R Week started on February 18th, with many CNA campuses participating via displays of challenged books, social media posts with trivia, activities, and events.

Book bans might seem like the stuff of history or of places with different values than our own, but challenges to remove books from schools and libraries have been increasing in recent years, even in Canada. From false claims that children and being exposed to pornography to concerns about authors and works deemed politically incorrect, attempts to remove books from shelves are still happening across the world.

Even in our own province, there have been many challenges over the years. In 1989, the provincial Department of Education ordered changes to stories in a textbook called Themes for All Times because some words were considered offensive. In 1991, the NL government banned the publication of Suffer Little Children, an account of child abuse that happened at the Mount Cashel Orphanage. The government felt that allowing the book to be published might affect the outcome of an ongoing trial involving the orphanage. However, the ban was continued long after the trial was complete. In 2000, a Corner Brook Elementary school teacher was told by his principal to stop reading Harry Potter to his students because a parent was concerned about its associations with “witchcraft.”

Canadian authors are also regularly challenged. Newfoundland and Labrador author Kevin Major’s Hold Fast has been challenged across Canada for its themes challenging authority. Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer are frequently challenged in the United States because some people claimed they included inappropriate themes. Cheryl Rainfield’s Scars, Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, and several books by Robin Stevenson have been included in recent attempts to remove massive lists of books from US schools, claiming that the books may cause discomfort to readers.

Overseas, there have also been challenges to Canadian literature. A Persian translation of The Handmaid’s Tale published in Iran omitted and altered the book to remove feminist themes. In India, Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey was banned from The University of Mumbai, sparking a debate about censorship in India. Finally, Irshad Manji has received threats of violence and been assaulted in Indonesia due to her book Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom. This book is also banned in Malaysia.

Author Stephen King said “[R]un, don’t walk, to the nearest non-school library or to the local bookstore and get whatever it was that they banned. Read whatever they’re trying to keep out of your eyes and your brain, because that’s exactly what you need to know.” Why not celebrate your freedom to read by visiting by your campus library to check out their collection of challenged books? To learn more about Freedom to Read Week, censorship, and challenges to books, visit:

Brent Slade is the Corner Brook Campus librarian.

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