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Freedom to Read a serious issue for library, customers

"All the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own


risk."– Lemony Snicket

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of all Canadians, and the freedom to read is part of that valued heritage. The Whistler Public Library has a responsibility to the community to maintain that intellectual freedom and to provide access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity.

February 20-26, 2005 marks the 21st anniversary of Freedom to Read Week in Canada. The event is sponsored by Canada’s book and magazine producers, distributors, libraries, and readers, and is intended to focus public attention on the fundamental issue of intellectual freedom. Today, more than ever the right to free expression is a vital and sensitive issue.

In our attempt to provide as balanced a collection as possible, we may provide materials that some people find unpopular, unconventional or unacceptable. People have sometimes asked us to remove certain books from the library. Depending on the action we take, we then refer to these titles as "challenged" or "banned". A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the library, thus restricting the access of others. The top three reasons, in order, for challenging materials are that the material is considered to be "sexually explicit," contains "offensive language," and is "unsuited to age group." (American Library Association Banned Books site)

In 1987, the book Headhunter by Michael Slade was challenged by a customer at the Whistler Public Library, on the grounds that it did not promote "good Christian values," and that it was "offensive and gruesome." In 1998, the book James Dobson’s War on America by Gil Alexander-Moergerle was challenged on the grounds that it was "a pack of lies." In 2000 the children’s book The Bear and the Fly by Paula Winter was challenged on the grounds of "depictions of violence." The board of trustees and the library director take such complaints very seriously. The above books were considered, read, and the final decision was to keep them on the shelves.

Along with our freedom of expression comes the right of privacy. Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association; and, in a library, the subject of customers’ interests should not be examined or scrutinized by others. Most people do not know how seriously the library protects their privacy. We will not tell anyone if you are a member of the library, what you are currently reading, where you live, what you look at on the Internet. To attempt to access that information the police must present a warrant. The threat of access to library customers’ records is evident in the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T Act which allows the Justice Department to demand information about a customer’s borrowing record and even their Internet use. We are fortunate that such legislation has not been approved in Canada.

The Whistler Public Library will mark Freedom to Read Week with information and a display of books that have been challenged in Canada and the United States.


Come and celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday with stories, songs, rhymes and a craft on Saturday, March 5 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the library. This special program is for 3-6 year olds and their caregivers. Pre-registration is necessary. Call 604 932 5564.