The Town of Strathmore Council has proclaimed this week (February 18–24) as Freedom to Read Week.  

In an interview with Rachel Dick Hughes, Director of Library Services with the Strathmore Municipal Library, she discussed the significance of this week. 

“Freedom to Read Week is traditionally the third week in February, and it is a week where libraries in particular celebrate intellectual freedom and access to information,” Dick Hughes said. 

It is a time to appreciate differing opinions and values, and it is an opportunity to try and see things from the other side. 

“Public libraries really stand by the value of making sure information and cultural materials are accessible and affordable for everyone. And sometimes that is challenged in different ways. This week reminds us of how important it is to hold this principle in a democratic society and reaffirms our commitment to ensuring people have access to whatever reading material they want without censorship.” 

Throughout history and even today, many books have been banned or deemed controversial. 

Books get banned for many reasons, but it is typically due to content that some may find offensive. 

Children and youth books are often challenged the most due to some parents finding certain content inappropriate for their children. 

“Our basic principle is that parents are responsible for monitoring what their children are reading, and we trust them to make the decisions for their own children. But we don't accept the idea that someone can deny access to someone else based on their own opinions.” 

Dick Hughes says that sometimes, when books are challenged by concerned parents or citizens, library staff will often relocate the book to a different section of the library. 

For example, if someone is upset by the content of a youth novel and feels as if it is inappropriate, the library will reassess it and move it to the adult section. 

Dick Hughes emphasizes that there is always room for conversation, and if someone is concerned by the type of content in a book, library staff will listen to their concerns. 

“The underlying principle is that you can determine what you access, not what other people get to access.” 

Many books have been banned throughout history; for example, Harry Potter was challenged due to depictions of magic. Works by Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, and many more that are deemed classics today were once seen as controversial. 

Books that may seem harmless on the surface, such as Beatrix Potter’s children’s classics The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, have also been challenged in the past. 

“There is a statement on intellectual freedom and libraries that the Canadian Federation of Library Association has issued, and it essentially says that it is up to the courts to decide what is incitement of hatred or obscenity, and that it's not something that librarians make the decisions on. Libraries just make content accessible within those boundaries.” 

Dick Hughes says that it is all about finding balance within the library. 

“You want to tailor the collection to the community. You want to have a lot of books that most people would want to read, but you also want to make sure that you present a wide variety and a full range of perspectives and experiences on an issue.” 

Freedom to Read Week is not only about celebrating intellectual freedom; it can also be a time where people challenge their own beliefs, biases, and opinions. 

“It is important to have differing opinions, even if people are upset by them. The dialogue on the internet today really encourages entrenchment in your own position and reinforces your own opinions.” 

To celebrate Freedom to Read Week, Dick Hughes encourages all to read something you think you're going to disagree with. 

“Try to expose yourself to a different viewpoint, and maybe by the end you’ll be more frustrated with the opposing position. But maybe you’ll see something from a different point of view or change your opinion even,” Dick Hughes said. 

“For the good of society, our communities, and our relationships with our neighbours, it is important to be open to different perspectives and to just hear the other side out and listen, even if you're not going to change your mind or agree.” 

The Strathmore Municipal Library will be hosting an event tomorrow afternoon (Friday, February 23) to honour Freedom to Read Week, with a cozy reading corner, activities, a selection of banned books, and a photo booth where you can get your “mug shot” taken with your favourite controversial novel. 

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