The fact is that in 2012 alone there were 73 documented attempts to remove movies and books from publicly-funded Canadian libraries.
(Which means 73 attempts that happened to be reported to the Canadian Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee. As reporting is completely voluntary, the committee believes these incidents “represent only a small fraction of all challenges”.)
For the first time ever, more challenges involved movies than books. Most of the libraries reporting these challenges were able to keep the items on their shelves, thanks to existing processes to deal with these issues. But, if they hadn’t been, the complaints of a few (sometimes just one person) would result in these movies and books made unavailable to others who might want them.
The committee does a great job of making available to the public the details of these challenges, including why they were challenged, and why they were (or weren’t) kept in the library.
After reading the list, here are some of my favourite attempted bans:
Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts by Dr. Gail Saltz. Reason: Age inappropriate
I Love You Phillip Morris (DVD). Challenged 3 times. Reasons: Homosexuality, sexually explicit, age inappropriate
Teenage Dream by Katy Perry (CD) Reasons: Age inappropriate, sexually explicit
That Touch of Mink (DVD) starring Cary Grant and Doris Day. Reason: Sexism, violence
Coraline (DVD) based on the book by Neil Gaiman. Reasons: Age inappropriate.
Here are some from 2011:
All graphic novels (Policy of providing graphic novels in libraries). Reasons: Sexually explicit, violence.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (DVD). Reasons: Violence, age inappropriate.
The Remarkable Maria by Patti McIntosh. Reasons: Inaccurate depiction of ethnicity. Removed from school library 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. Many of these were concerns brought up by parents of students or library patrons, but some were from local or state government officials.
Again, in many cases, procedures in place to deal with these challenges (and organizations such as KRRP) meant that items were kept, or if they’d been removed from shelves and reading lists, were eventually put back. So, happily, along with the increase in attempted bans, there has also been an increase in books being returned to the shelves (especially after KRRP got involved).
And 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 a 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.
Freedom to Read Week
All this is why we are holding two events to mark an annual initiative called Freedom to Read Week.
This week is a chance to voice opposition to “all efforts to suppress writing and silence writers” and to celebrate free access to the written word, as guaranteed to Canadians under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms . . . thought, belief, opinion, and expression.”
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 get come down and get involved, or just show your support for free access to the books and movies of your choice!
And tell us, what is YOUR favourite challenged book or movie?