February 20-26 is Freedom to Read week, a celebration of the fundamental rights to intellectual freedom and freedom from censorship. Both rights are guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are strongly supported by libraries across Canada.
“Intellectual freedom is at the heart of all libraries,” says Suzanne van den Hoogen, University Librarian at Saint Mary’s University.
Across Canada, library patrons take offence to material in library collections. Some patrons formally request material get labeled to indicate its contents, or removed from library shelves altogether. These are called challenged works. Many libraries view removing and labelling books as a form of censorship opposed to the right to intellectual freedom.
The foundation of Patrick Power Library’s Collection Policy is to contribute to an environment of openness, inquiry and innovation at Saint Mary’s University by upholding intellectual and academic freedom. The Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ Statement on Intellectual Freedom and Libraries is a guiding document for our collecting policies.
“Libraries are the defenders of intellectual freedom and have a core responsibility to provide equitable access to information that represents multiple, and often controversial, points of view,” says the University Librarian. “Libraries support the rights of individuals to access and critically evaluate information in order to question assumptions and formulate their own opinions.”
Sometimes, however, books are removed from library collections and school curriculum. Reading a challenged book is a great way to consider the issues of censorship and intellectual freedom. Many challenges to books are not formally recorded, but here are 5 books in the Patrick Power Library collection that are known to have been banned or challenged. Check one out to celebrate your freedom to read!
5 CHALLENGED BOOKS IN THE PATRICK POWER LIBRARY
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin Black Like Me is the University Librarian’s pick for Freedom to Read week. A non-fiction book from 1961, it describes John Howard Griffin’s experience living undercover in the Deep South. A white man, Griffin chemically darkened his skin to pass as black in an effort to better understand the experience of being black in the racially segregated Deep South. Griffin faced violent backlash from white racists for his book, eventually forcing him to flee to Mexico for a time.1
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman Originally published in 1997, Maus was challenged in 2019 in Canada.2 In January 2022, the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust made international news when it was removed from the curriculum in McMinn County School Board in Tennessee for “inappropriate language” and nudity.3
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood This book was challenged in 2008 in the Toronto District School Board system.4 A parent objected to The Handmaid’s Tale being used in high school curriculum due to “profane language,” anti-Christian overtones, “violence” and “sexual degradation”. The School Board kept the book in the curriculum.
The Wars by Timothy Findley The Wars was challenged in 2011 by a parent at an Ontario high school.5 The parent objected to depictions of sex and violence in the book. A committee of teachers, students and other staff recommended keeping the novel, which follows a young Canadian man fighting in World War I.
Essex County by Jeff Lemire In 2011 in Ontario, a library patron challenged the multiple award winning graphic novel for offensive language.6 The resolution to this challenge is unknown.
- Manzoor, Sarfraz. “Rereading: Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin.” The Guardian, 27 October, 2011. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/27/black-like-me-john-howard-griffin
- Freedom to Read. “Challenged Books and Magazines List.” Book and Periodical Council. Accessed Feb. 16, 2022. https://www.freedomtoread.ca/wp-content/uploads/Challenged-Books-and-Magazines-January-2021.pdf
- CBC News. “Sales soar for Maus after school district in U.S. banned the Holocaust graphic novel.” 28 Jan. 2022. https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/maus-sales-graphic-novel-holocaust-tennessee-1.6332181
- Freedom to Read. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Book and Periodical Council. Accessed Feb. 16, 2022. https://www.freedomtoread.ca/challenged-works/the-handmaids-tale/
- Freedom to Read. “The Wars.” Book and Periodical Council. Accessed Feb. 16, 2022. https://www.freedomtoread.ca/challenged-works/the-wars/
- Freedom to Read. “Essex County.” Book and Periodical Council. Accessed Feb. 16, 2022. https://www.freedomtoread.ca/challenged-works/essex-county/