Canadian Library Association Releases 2014 Survey of Challenges to Resources and Policies in Canadian Libraries: Guaranteeing Library Access to “All” Expression?

>>From the Canadian Library Association

Canadian Library Association Releases 2014 Survey of Challenges to Resources and Policies in Canadian Libraries: Guaranteeing Library Access to “All” Expression?

The Canadian Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee has released the results of its ninth annual survey of challenges to library resources and policies in Canada for 2014.

Nazi occultism in a graphic novel; a DVD laced with the “F word”; a children’s picture book rebuked for”promoting” a negative female body image; a series of graphic novels portraying violence and explicit sexuality; an adult novel deemed “too explicit for a public library collection” and inappropriate for any age group; allegations in a biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower of a wartime extra-marital affair; grammatical errors in two children’s picture books; an audiobook with offensive language and explicit sexuality (“porn”) that was mistakenly thought to be a self-help book; a graphic novel purportedly showing a one-sided view of the Gaza Strip conflict; deeply racist portrayal of blacks in a famous classic film; a DVD with no warning it was about ” the homosexual lifestyle”; a book with allegedly defamatory references; a DVD with disturbing police footage of a crime scene.

All of these were among the 83 items in library collections somewhere in Canada that were challenged in 2014 for expressive content deemed objectionable, offensive, unsuitable, or otherwise unacceptable.Twenty-five library policies involving intellectual freedom and access principles were also challenged.

These resources and policies populate the Annual Challenges Survey of complaints received by publicly funded Canadian libraries about their materials, services, or policies. Now in its ninth calendar year, the Survey is conducted annually under the auspices of the Canadian Library Association, in order to create a national snapshot of such challenges and their outcomes. Documenting and reporting challenges is one way in which these publicly funded Canadian libraries demonstrate their commitment to public accountability and institutional transparency.

The 2014 report includes a full listing of challenged titles and a comprehensive database of challenge details.

The reasons given to justify bans and restrictions were varied, but explicit sexuality, age inappropriateness, violence, and offensive language predominated for the majority of them.

This pattern has remained the same for four years. More than thirty other grounds were mentioned in 2014 for the remainder.

While few titles were withdrawn from library collections, library staff never dismiss lightly the concerns expressed by complainants. Every request for reconsideration of library materials or a library policy requires library staff to strike a defensible balance between the rationale for the complaint and the public’s right to know, within a context of professional values and the mission and policies of the library. As Sandra Singh, CLA President and Chief Librarian of the Vancouver Public Library, notes:

“Intellectual freedom is fundamental to a free and democratic society, innovation, and human advancement. For well over 100 years, school, public, and academic libraries across Canada have worked tirelessly to ensure that every Canadian has access to the ideas and information they need to explore our world and enrich their lives. At times, this work has involved helping community members understand why libraries build broad collections that may contain materials considered offensive to some, as well as taking a stand against censorship when the need arises.”

Survey results are widely shared with the Canadian public, library associations at home and abroad, and other groups interested in freedom of expression issues. The annual reports and databases of challenged titles and policies can be accessed on the CLA website.

For more information, visit the Canadian Library Association website.