New type of book challenge reported in Canadian libraries

OTTAWA — The Canadian Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee has released the results of its annual survey of challenges to library resources and policies in Canada for 2011.

For the first time in six years of the survey, an entire genre of resources – graphic novels – was challenged for removal from a library’s collection. The challenge was motivated by objections to explicit sexuality and violence, and singled out 16 titles authored or illustrated by Jaime Hernandez in the Love and Rockets series.

Overall, Canadian libraries reported 101 challenges in the 2011 survey that is conducted annually by the Canadian Library Association (CLA) Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee. Of these, 93 challenges involved library resources and eight were to policies. These challenges were reported by 32 libraries, most of them public libraries, serving patrons across six of Canada’s most populous provinces.

Love and Rockets was not the only series targeted in calendar year 2011. Three other series were also challenged: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy; one season of four episodes of an ITV series titled “Trial and Retribution” on DVD; and, one season of nine episodes of “The War Years,” volume two in “The Adventures of the Young Indiana Jones” television series, also on DVD.

As in previous years, the reasons prompting challenges to library materials in 2011 were multi-layered. Challenges to library resources were prompted by more than 240 reasons – a reminder that the ideas communicated in books, movies, and other materials can trigger strong reactions in readers and viewers. LGBTQ books are a case in point. At least one LGBTQ-positive title for children has been challenged in all six years of the survey. In 2011 it was The Sissy Duckling, by Harvey Fierstein. The LGBTQ titles reported in previous years were And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, which was reported four years in a row 2006-2009; King and King, by Linda de Haan; and, My Princess Boy, by Cheryl Kilodavis.

Four major reasons accounted for two-thirds of all complaints to library titles: violence, sexually explicit, age inappropriateness, and offensive language.

Six in ten challenges involved books and most of the others were to DVDs. Of library books targeted, graphic novels for adults accounted for over half of the titles. Non-fiction titles were the other major category. There were a few challenges to children’s fiction and children’s picture books.

Three in four challenged items remained on library shelves, while others were relocated, reclassified, or in a very few cases, restricted. Most challenges were resolved quickly, within a month, but a few took six months or longer.

Eight policy challenges were reported in 2011, including a collection policy dispute, several borrowing and labelling policies for both print and non-print materials, and a software resource policy. One challenge was triggered by a library’s failure to follow its own policy on restricted borrowing of DVDs.

It should be noted that the survey is voluntary, and the self-reports forwarded to the Committee represent only a fraction of all challenges that occur during any calendar year. As CLA President Karen Adams commented: “Findings of the 2011 survey provide clear evidence that attention to the core value of intellectual freedom remains central to the advocacy work of Canadian librarians and their allies. Libraries have a basic responsibility to maintain the right of all persons in Canada to have access to all expressions of knowledge, creativity, and intellectual activity. I would like to thank those library administrators who participated in the 2011 survey, and strongly encourage everyone to report any challenges next year in the 2012 survey.”

Some members of the general public appear to be misinformed about the work of the CLA. One inquiry about the frequently challenged book And Tango Makes Three asked, “Why is it that the book (even though it has been challenged) still remains as a part of the CLA? Do books get ‘banned’ after they have been challenged or are there really no repercussions?” The purpose of the survey is to document challenges and inform the general public, not ban library materials. Misunderstanding of CLA’s role in Canadian librarianship points to continuing public education, awareness, and advocacy needs. The Committee encourages all library administrators to contribute to future surveys if they experience resource or policy challenges. Official policy prevents public disclosure of institutions and municipalities, but province and type of institution are permitted. Identifying data are collected for statistical purposes, verification of authenticity, and follow-up with reporting agencies if data elements are unclear.

Survey results are widely shared with the CLA membership, other library workers and advocates, the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council and the annual Freedom to Read Week publication, the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association (ALA OIF), and the Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression Committee of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA FAIFE).

The full report of the survey with a complete list of challenges can be found at: www.cla.ca. And for the first time, all six years 2006-2011 of the Annual Challenges Survey databases and listings of challenged titles and policies are now available for public consultation. The Canadian Library Association is Canada’s largest national and broad‐based library association, representing the interests of public, academic, school and special libraries, all who work in libraries, and all those concerned about enhancing the quality of life of Canadians through information and literacy. Information about CLA and its programs and services is available at: www.cla.ca.

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Media Contact: Judy Green, (613) 232-9625 ext 322 or [email protected]