By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Although the Morinville Public Library is more than just books these days, the printed word is still its stock and trade. Next week the library will be joining with libraries throughout the nation in defending intellectual freedom and the right to curl up with a good book, no matter what ideas and concepts those books may contain.
The annual Freedom to Read Week is an opportunity for Canadians to ponder the notion of intellectual freedom; something guaranteed each citizen under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is a right of particular importance to librarians.
“Freedom to Read Week is very important to libraries as it is a time for us to celebrate freedom of expression,” said Morinville Public Library Manager Isabelle Cramp. “Libraries – in essence – are not biased when it comes to materials that we hold as part of our collection. And that’s because we try to cater to everyone in the community, and that would include everyone’s opinion, everyone’s preferences, everyone’s choices.”
Cramp said she has not had any instances where people have requested that particular books be banned or removed from the library’s shelves; however, there have been cases, particularly with children’s books, where parents felt certain books were not appropriate for their children. The library manager said books are catalogued based on the publisher’s recommendation for age appropriateness, but not everyone’s standards are the same. “To those parents we always encourage them to look through the material before they take it out or after they take it out, and before they let their children handle it because we as librarians cannot tell what your standards are,” Cramp said.
With respect to adult material, Cramp said there have been no real complaints over the years. But while there have been no requests to remove volumes from the shelves, such is not the case in other parts of the world currently or historically.
Cramp said over the years books as benign as Little Red Riding Hood and Little House on the Prairie have been banned outright or challenged in different places. “The reason for that is when it first came out Little Red Riding Hood had a bottle of wine in her basket,” the library manager said of the classic children’s story. “Some people got offended because of the alcohol content.”
But attempts at literary censorship continue to the present day, even in Canada. Timothy Findley’s The Wars was challenged by some Ontario parents in 2011 for depictions of violence and sex, particularly homosexuality. Other modern challenged publications have included J. K Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Rolling Stone magazine, the former for its ties to sorcery, the latter for objectionable cover images.
Last year the Morinville Public Library took the cheesecake imagery Rolling Stone sometimes uses to sell magazine and applied it to their purposes. Using a model in pinup attire the Library went full out with a We Read Banned Books campaign.
Reduced space in the Parish Hall has forced the Morinville Public Library to tone down their program this year, but those who recognize the importance of the freedom to read will be rewarded for their efforts.
Cramp said this year the library will be running a contest to identify books that have been banned in the past. Clues to the identity of the books will be available at the library and those who identify the titles will have an opportunity to win a prize. “Anyone who manages to break the code and find the titles can enter their name for an e-reader,” Cramp said, adding the contest will run two weeks beginning Feb. 27. Freedom to Read Week runs nationally from Feb. 26 to Mar. 3.