An interview with Library Supervisor Ashley Cain
Freedom to Read Week (FTRW) is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Freedom to Read Week takes place Feb. 26 – Mar. 4, 2017
MN: Why is Freedom to Read Week an important time for the Morinville Community Library?
AC: Freedom to Read Week is important to us because the event celebrates one of the most significant roles of anyone in library services – the protection of public access to information. Be it through novels, newspapers, picture books, or online, every person has the right to access the materials or information they choose, and we feel that’s something worth celebrating.
MN: FTRW is not just about banned books – it’s about challenged books and books being challenged on an ongoing basis. Do we see a lot of censorship today?
AC: As champions for this event, we are concerned with a variety of censorship types. Today in Canada, it’s extremely difficult to have a book banned at the government level, which is a good thing. What we see more often are attempts at public censorship. In other words, a person who is offended by the religious illustrations in Karen Katz’s My First Ramadan may request that their local library remove the book from its shelves.
Our library wouldn’t remove it, which isn’t to say that we dismiss censorship requests easily. Each request is taken to the Library Board who listen to the complainant’s case and then make a decision. It might seem like a trivial conversation – who cares whether or not the library removes one children’s picture book from their collection? Except it becomes hugely important when you realize that unchecked censorship can quickly become a human rights violation. If we removed one book for what’s perceived as offensive religious content, how many would be next? Where would we draw the line? Which religions would be safe and which would we censor?
MN: What are some books that have been challenged in recent years?
AC: People are surprised when I tell them that close to half of all challenged books in Canada are from Easy or Juvenile Collections, which is why we’ve chosen to focus on challenged children’s books for our event. In 2015, there were 26 reported challenges against books across Canada, 11 of which were children’s books. Among those titles were The Graveyard Book, Vol. 1 and 2 by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell, If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss, and Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis. All requests to have these books removed were denied by the respondent library.
MN: What is your favourite banned book?
AC: My favourite challenged children’s book is Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville, accused of promoting the occult to kids. I first read it in elementary school and it’s wholly responsible for my life-long love affair with dragons, something I’m so grateful was never denied to me by censorship.
MN: What would you say to encourage people to come in and check out a banned book?
AC: If anyone in the community is interested in learning more about Freedom to Read Week, censorship, and banned or challenged children’s books, I strongly encourage them to come to the library the week of February 26th to March 4th. We are going to have two displays, including a number of children’s books that have been challenged. We’re also going to present a few challenges of our own, including a crossword puzzle and a cover naming contest. All participants in the contests will get their names put into a draw for two challenged books bundles, one for kids and one for adults.