Freedom to Read Week is a literary event that was established in 1982 and its purpose is to draw attention to the dangers of censorship. It has become a premier literary event celebrated during the last week of September and it is a national awareness and advocacy campaign around censorship (Frequently Challenged Books). Although libraries and other educational institutions fully support individuals’ First Amendment rights, which gives them the ability to express ideas without governmental interference, and to read and listen to the ideas of others, there have been many wars waged against controversial books and their place within these institutions.
People who don’t support certain books because of its “provocative” content have tried to remove the books from certain institutions to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information. They have also challenged the books due to inappropriate sexual content, offensive language, unsuitable to certain age groups (Smith).
Canada also has its own Freedom to Read week, which is celebrated February 22-28. They recently presented a list of the the top 30 publications that Canadians have tried to ban from public libraries and schools throughout the last few decades. One of the publications deemed “controversial” and on the list is the weekly local news and entertainment publication Vue Weekly. In 2007, the Edmonton Public Library received an oral complaint about this local news and entertainment magazine. A patron described Vue Weekly as “a very negative, even dark publication” and objected to the sex ads. The library retained copies in its collection (Carter, 2015).
The publication is indeed very liberal and contains what some may deem as offensive content from the writers. The publication covers material about the LGBT community, issues dealing with sex, indie art based events, all of which is content that is often ostracized by mainstream news outlets.
Their February 4 issue cover story, for instance, dealt with racism research and detailed some of the most racially discriminatory cities in Canada. Their covers can also be quite distinctive such as the one from their February 11 issue (see right) which features a drag queen from an indie play in Canada.
Based upon its content and graphics, it would be easy to view this publication as very controversial and unfit for library shelves. However, I do not agree with the reasoning for the publication being challenged. The patron suggested that the publication was a “very negative and dark publication” and they objected to the sex ads.” Based off my interpretation of the content, I believe the content is very enlightening, not dark and negative. It offers perspectives that are typically not publicized in other publications due to advertisers and such.
Since Vue Weekly is an independent publication, they don’t have the ethical restrictions that many publications who are funded by major corporations have. They are able to openly express their opinions about controversial issues without being reprimanded. While the library patron may have deemed their content offensive and evil, I believe the writers were simply showcasing another side of journalism. Also, the sex ads were not really taboo, especially since the content in the publication discusses sexual issues so it makes sense that there would be correlating ads in the magazine.
Edmonton Public Library did refuse the patrons request to ban the publication. However, if the library board was considering whether to ban the book, then a considerable argument for retaining it would be the second principle in the ALA Code of Ethics. The second principle states that “library professionals uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources” (American Library Association).
Vue Weekly is a publication that caters to a more liberal demographic, so restricting access to the magazine would be censoring materials that a certain audience prefers. According to J.W. Arns, public libraries are responsible for providing services intended to meet the social, educational, and recreational needs of the people residing in their service areas and their collections typically span the interests of all age groups (Arns, pg. 3283). Edmonton Library may have chosen to house the Vue Weekly publication because it showcases the type of material that Edmonton residents enjoy, so the library would not be fully providing an equal selection of resources for its residents if it chose to censor the publication.
The second statement of the Library Bill of Rights also states that “libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval” (Rubin, 2011, pg 1748). This is another example of why retaining access of the publication is important because it represents a point of view that, although may not necessarily be accepted by all patrons, appeals to certain people. Edmunton Library made the right choice in retaining access to the publication because banning it would have completely violated ethical codes that all library professionals should adhere to.
Arns, J. W. (2009). Libraries. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (pp. 3281-3286). New York: Taylor and Francis.
Carter, Franklin. 30 Challenged Book Publications. (2015). Retrieved from Freedom to Read.CA: http://www.freedomtoread.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/30-challenged-publications-full1.pdf
Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. (n.d.). Retrieved from American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics
Frequently Challenged Books. (n.d.). Retrieved from American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics
Rubin, R., & Froehlich, T. (2011). Ethical Aspects of Library and Information Science. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, (pp. 1743-1757). New York: Taylor and Francis.
Smith, Stephanie. Banned Books Week [PDF document]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Web Site: https://blackboard.wayne.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-4927678-dt-content-rid-1488793_2/courses/LIS_6010_1209_001/Banned%20Books%20Week.pdf