Library Column 


Freedom to Read week starts Feb. 23

By Joan Richoz, Whistler Public Library

What do Harry Potter by J.K Rowling, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, the Bible, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Diviners by Margaret Laurence, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee have in common?

At one time or another, they were challenged or banned from school and/or public libraries. The reasons range from "endangering the mental health of children," ( Harry Potter ) to "passages too shocking to quote," ( The Diviners ) to "obscene language and profanity" ( Catcher in the Rye ).

The Whistler Public Library will mark Freedom to Read Week – Feb. 23-March 1, 2003 – with a display of books which have been challenged and/or banned over the years. There will also be a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990-2000. The event, sponsored by Canada’s book and magazine producers, distributors and readers, is intended to focus public attention on the vital issue of intellectual freedom.

The freedom to read is essential to a democratic society, and must be defended constantly against government actions and pressure from special interest groups who may seek to limit public access to print materials in schools, libraries and bookstores.

All persons in Canada have the fundamental right, as embodied in the Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to have access to all expressions of knowledge, creativity and intellectual activity and to express their thoughts publicly. Libraries must guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, even those which some people consider unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable.

Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association; and, in a library, the subject of users' interests should not be examined or scrutinized by others. The threat of access to library users records is evident in the U.S.A. Patriot Act which allows the Justice Department to demand information about a user’s borrowing record and even their Internet use. Such legislation has not been approved in Canada and libraries and librarians continue to work hard to protect the privacy of their users.

And finally, did you know that we are not immune to intellectual freedom challenges here in Whistler? In 1987 the book Headhunter by Michael Slade was challenged at the Whistler Public Library by a patron, on the grounds that it did not promote "good Christian values," and that it was "offensive and gruesome." In 1998, the book James Dobson’s War on America by Gil Alexander-Moergerle was challenged on the grounds that it was "a pack of lies." In 2000 the children’s book The bear and the fly by Paula Winter was challenged on the grounds of "depictions of violence." The Board and the Library Director take such complaints very seriously. The above books were considered, read, and the final decision was to keep them on the shelves.

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Be aware . Parents and others working with young people increasingly turn to their public library for expertise and information in the new area of information and digital literacy. It's a challenge that public libraries are embracing.

To promote the resources available for parents and to build public awareness of their leadership role in Internet literacy, the Canadian public library community has designated Feb. 20, 2003 as Web Awareness Day . Your public librarians have the knowledge and training to help parents and students find reliable and trustworthy information on the Internet.

Dance Workshop filling up . There are only a few spaces left for the "Dance me a story" workshops on Saturday, Feb. 22 at Millennium Place. Call 603-932-5564 to pre-register your 2/3 year old or 4/5 year old.

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