Banning books from libraries runs contrary to intellectual freedom

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We’re over halfway through Freedom to Read Week 2018, which runs from February 25th to March 3rd. Freedom to Read Week is one of the most important weeks of the year for libraries across the country. This annual national event aims to encourage Canadians to “to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms” according to the official website, www.freedomtoread.ca.

 

Even though we often think of Canada as a nation that supports intellectual freedom, libraries across the country are regularly asked to remove books, movies, and magazines from their collections and to filter their customers’ Internet access. These requests, even when well-intended, run contrary to intellectual freedom and, when carried out, ultimately limit an individual’s right to choose what it is s/he wants to read.

 

For a list of some of the books that have been challenged in Canada over the years, please visit www.freedomtoread.ca/challenged-works. When you click on a title on the list, you’ll be taken to a page that includes when and why the book was challenged, along with any relevant updates. Here is a short annotated list of 5 titles that have been challenged or banned in the past at libraries around the world that you can borrow from the Niagara Falls Public Library:

 

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Burgess’ dystopian novel is about a teenager named Alex who, after committing countless horrific acts of violence, finds himself an unwilling participant in the totalitarian super-state’s experimental Ludovico treatment. The novel is now a classic (as is Kubrick’s film adaptation), though Burgess himself disowned it, and it remains one of the most misunderstood and challenged books of the past 6 decades due to its violence, language, and unsavoury characters.

 

Cat on the Hill by Michael Foreman

This picture book is about a stray cat who lives a difficult life until some friends help him out when he needs it most during Christmas. Foreman’s book, though not exactly an obvious choice for this list, demonstrates the scope of censorship as it has been challenged a number of times due to a certain word that appears twice on its pages.

 

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

The Harry Potter series is about a young boy who finds out he is a wizard, goes off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and sets about defeating the evil Lord Voldemort and his gang of ne’er-do-well magical cronies. But I’m sure you knew all that already. Even though the series is practically ubiquitous across the globe, many individuals, groups, churches, and even governments have tried (some successfully) to ban it for reasons ranging from its violence to its links with the occult.

 

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel tells of how the author dealt with the hardships of growing up during and after the Islamic Revolution in Tehran. In addition to receiving high praise from literary critics and eventually being adapted into a Jury Prize winning and an Academy-award nominated film, this book was one of the most challenged in 2014. In fact, in 2013 it was actually removed from public schools in Chicago for a short time until protests overturned the decision.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This pulitzer-prize winning novel is narrated by Scout Finch whose father, Atticus, is working on a case as a defense attorney for a black man falsely accused of rape in Alabama in the 1930s. This classic is one of the most challenged works of all time in Canada, nowadays mostly due to its portrayal of racial minorities.

 

At the Niagara Falls Public Library, we believe in intellectual freedom and we believe in providing you, the customer, with the freedom to choose what you read. Please stand up for your rights and take part in Freedom to Read Week by reading a book that you want - any book - regardless of what other people might think or say.

 

Laura Chadwick is the Information Resources and Connections Librarian with the Niagara Falls Public Library.

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