Do you believe that you should be able to choose what you read? Or should other people be able to decide for you what you can read? Freedom to Read Week celebrates our fundamental freedoms as citizens of democracies and our fundamental rights as human beings. Freedom to Read Week also asks to to beware of the forces at work which erode and seek to destroy your rights and freedoms.
This isn’t just happening in authoritarian states such as North Korea, Iran, China or Russia. This is happening in the so-called free world. This is happening in the United States. So far it hasn’t been as bad in Canada, but challenges are growing here and there are too many who want American censorship to come to Canada.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The rights and freedoms of Canadians include the right to read what you want to read. Such rights and freedoms are fundamental to democracy. Yet there are forces at work in our society that seek power by attaching your rights, including attempts to censor or limit your freedom to read.
Authoritarian forces and totalitarian states know that uneducated and illiterate citizens are easier to control and oppress. Such forces can only celebrate that the work is much simpler when significant portions of the population choose not to read. Censorship becomes less pressing when “aliteracy” becomes prevalent.
A true democracy guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms to its citizens. But to work effectively, indeed, to survive, democracy requires that citizens exercise those rights. In particular, democracy breaks down if citizens aren’t educated, informed and active.
The rise of powerful new information technology in the last few decades has made it more important than ever that citizens are highly “information literate.” Citizens must not only have access to information, they must have the tools required to wade through increasingly destructive levels of misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and outright lies. Citizens need to have access to information that is credible, accurate and trustworthy.
The rise of anti-intellectualism and anti-science movements, perhaps most recently represented by anti-vax conspiracies, are part of the wider breakdown of democratic institutions. There is little doubt that attacks on public education over many years have reaped some these results and are integral to the rise of authoritarianism.
It is not enough to celebrate the Freedom to Read. As citizens of democratic societies, we have an obligation to exercise our Freedom to Read, in part so that we are equipped to defend our democratic rights and freedoms.
It is clear that democracy is under attack, throughout the world, and in our back yard. We must act.
Note* The above quote, or variations on it, are often popularly attributed to Mark Twain. However the original source of this quote, or its variations, remains unclear.
Freedom to Read Week celebrates your freedom to read what you choose to read.
These books have all been challenged.
A challenge means that at some point in Canada, someone or some group has said that you shouldn’t be reading these books in school, or borrowing them from libraries, or in some cases, even buying them from stores.
Freedom to Read Week is a chance to celebrate your freedom to read what you choose to read. It is also a time to reflect on the ongoing battle to protect that freedom. What better way to celebrate Freedom to Read Week, and to exercise your rights and freedoms, than to read a book– maybe even one of these.
Find out more about books that have been challenged in Canada:
February 21 to 27 is Freedom to Read Week in Canada in 2021. Come down to the School Library to find out more. We have a display of books and other resources related to our freedom to read, our right to have access to information, and our responsibility to exercise those rights and freedoms as informed, free-thinking citizens.
Along with our in person display of books, magazines, audiobooks, playaways and more, we will will also feature online resources, such as ebooks, digital audiobooks, online databases, and more, so be sure to check out our site, tweedsmuirlibrary.ca.
February 26 to March 4 is Freedom to Read Week in Canada.
What do Harry Potter, The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Bible have in common? Some groups have attempted to ban these books, from schools, or libraries, or bookshops, in Canada. Find out more: freedomtoread.ca