The School Library and Your Freedom to Read

Democracy is under attack in the world, and sadly, even here in Canada. Your democratic rights and freedoms as citizens in this country are built upon concepts such as voting rights; the rule of law; the equality of all people; freedom of thought, including political and religious beliefs; the freedom of the press; balancing government of the majority with protection of the rights of the minority; and more.

This week we celebrate and explore the freedom to read, which is interconnected with many other vital concepts, including freedom of expression, the the right to choose to read what you want to read, including access to information, the freedom to seek, use and share information and literature, all of which are integral to democratic citizenship.

Stereotypically, the library is seen as a quiet place, silent even, where not much happens. Yet the library, and especially the school library, has always been a target of censorship, and as such has always been in the middle of the ongoing struggle between democracy and the forces of authoritarianism. School libraries are now battlegrounds at the center of our current polarized political and cultural climate.

The recent news has been rife with reports of book challenges, book bannings– and terrifyingly, even book burnings– in many U.S. states, school districts, and school libraries. As Canadians we cannot assume that this is only an American problem. We must be vigilant in protecting our students’ freedom to read.

Freedom of expression rights are essential to education in a free and democratic society. These are the rights of everyone in the school community, including students. Teacher-librarians are charged with ensuring that those rights are acknowledged and respected.

Diane Oberg

Some students are fortunate enough to have many places to turn to for books and other sources of information. Collections at home, public libraries, books stores, and of course, the internet(!). However, access to those things may be very limited, censored, or non-existent for some students. The school library is often the safest and most accessible place for a wide variety of books and other sources of information that are relevant and essential for students.

All Canadians who value democracy have an interest in protecting and building up the institutions that support democracy. The school library is one of those institutions.

Read more about the vital role of the Teacher Librarians and of the school library play in protecting and empowering a student’s Freedom to Read:

Freedom of Expression Rights and the School Library: Who Speaks for the Kids in Your School When the Censor Comes Calling?” by Diane Oberg (from

Freedom to Read Week

Find out more. Here are some informative and thought provoking articles on the freedom to read, censorship, book banning and free access to information:

Freedom to Read Week

Do you see any common themes amongst all these books?

These are just some of the books that have been challenged, banned and removed from school libraries in the USA, just this year. The freedom to read what you want to read is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy. However, just as democracy itself is under siege around the world, the freedom to read cannot be taken for granted. Anti-democratic forces are always at work to undermine your freedom to read and other democratic rights. You must stand up for those rights.

Is it a coincidence that the books seen above deal with themes such as discrimination, racism, and oppression, or have central characters that come from marginalized groups?

What do you think?

Find out more:

Coming Soon: Freedom to Read Week

February 20-26 is Freedom to Read Week in Canada.

While this is always an important week on the calendar, this year it seems more vital than ever that we understand and celebrate our freedom to read. South of the border books are being banned at an alarming rate. Throughout the world, the freedom of journalists continues to be threatened. As authoritarian and fascist movements rise around the globe, they attack such things as libraries, a free press, and other cornerstones of democracy and human rights.

Look for more to come on this vital topic, as we prepare for Freedom to Read Week.

If you don’t read, they don’t need to ban books.

People need to read books for book banning to even be a thing. This idea has been expressed in many different ways.

So Read. Keep reading. Read some more. Read what you want to read. Read what you decide to read.

Read for information. Read to learn. Read for fun. Read to escape. Read for entertainment. Read to experience the world from the point of view of different people. Read to cry. Read to be scared. Read to laugh.

Read to understand. Read to learn new things. Read to learn more about things you already know.

Read to learn the point of view of people that you might disagree with, even when you are certain that you will disagree with them. Read to consider new information, new evidence, new perspectives. Read critically, even skeptically, but read with an openness to change your mind when faced with rational and logical reasons to do so.

Read for whatever reason you decide. Stand up for your freedom to decide for yourself what you want to read.

That doesn’t mean you should read anything and everything. People that care about you might know why reading some things, at certain times, might not be so good for you. You might decide not read some books because of your age, maturity, or history. Some books might not be right for you because of your current mental or emotional health. Perhaps some material has nothing to offer you of any value. But that is for you to decide in cooperation with the people that you trust. That is not for other people, other groups, organizations or governments to decide for you.

People try to ban books because they don’t want you to read those books. If you don’t read books to begin with, you are doing their work for them.

Book Banning: Not Just History but Current Events

It can be tempting to think of the banning of books as something that happened in the past, only by extremely conservative types, or in authoritarian regimes. Sadly, book banning is alive and well here and now. Sure, it is not shocking that anti-democratic governments in places like China, Russia, Iran, Hungary or Venezuela strictly control the flow of information and literature. Yet in our society, where we make claims on being champions of democracy and freedom, book banning is on the rise.

Kara Yorio writes in School Library Journal: “It has been a busy Banned Books Week, as the stepped-up challenges to books and their authors continue,  with books by kid lit creators Jerry Craft and Kelly Yang added to the list of titles some parents claim are objectionable.” Read the rest of this article.

Meanwhile “Ruby Bridges Goes to School” has been targeted by book banners as well. Author Ruby Bridges recounts the true story of her experiences as a 6 year old girl who became the first black student to attend a formerly whites only public school. An organized group of parents wanted their local school board to ban this book, “for supposedly “explicit and implicit anti-American, anti-white” bias (source).” Read more in this Miami Herald article.

Here are four of the most challenged books from the last year, all available in our school library:

  • George by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism and because it was thought to promote antipolice views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and it included rape and profanity.

Read the rest of the “The Top 10 Challenged Books of 2020” from the American Library Association.

Banned Books Week

September 26 to October 2 is Banned Books Week.  Established in 1982 and currently sponsored by the Banned Books Week Coalition, which is, in their words:

…an international alliance of diverse organizations joined by a commitment to increase awareness of the annual celebration of the freedom to read. The Coalition seeks to engage various communities and inspire participation in Banned Books Week through education, advocacy, and the creation of programming about the problem of book censorship.

Come down to the School Library to see our display of “Banned Books” and books about censorship, your rights and freedoms, and all the issues surrounding the banning of books.

Find out more about Banned Books Week: