County library takes aim at banned books

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Erika Heesen at the Alexandria Branch, holding The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, No. 1 on the American Library Association’s list of challenged classics.

When one thinks of banning books, it often conjures images of piles of burning rubbish as smoke and ash waft into the air.

While those days, at least in most democratic countries, have been measured in declining numbers, the SD and G County Library says challenges to reading material are still made on a regular basis in Canada.

In 2011, for example, the Canadian Library Association counted 94 challenges to books in libraries across the country.

"One person even said one of the books should be burned," said Erika Heesen, communications and marketing librarian with the SD and G Library. "The libraries are still doing their jobs to make sure people can read what they want."

Of the 94 challenges, mostly based on books that were deemed too sexually-explicit for young people or contained violence or rough language, 88 were retained without any changes and less than a half dozen were simply moved to another age classification.

Heesen said the challenges can be based on a variety of reasons, from the legitimate to the mundane.

Harry Potter, for example, has been continually challenged because some argue the books advocate the use of witchcraft among children.

"There was one that was about a children's sleepover where they used a Ouija board," said Heesen. "They thought the use of the Ouija board was controversial."

The SD and G Library has received two challenges in "recent memory" said Heesen, adding both books were retained in the library collection.

In honour of Freedom to Read Week, the library is challenging SD and G County residents to find a banned book in their library.

Held Feb. 24 to March 2, Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

During Freedom to Read Week, the Library is holding a “banned book scavenger hunt” contest on Facebook and Twitter.

“Libraries are frequently asked to remove books from their shelves. We’re asking SD and G County residents to find a banned or frequently challenged book in your library branch, and help speak out against censorship”, said Heesen. “Essentially, you find a banned book in the library, take a picture of it, and send it to us on Facebook or Twitter. Then you’ll be entered in our contest to win a set of classic banned books."

There will also be programs and displays at all library branches throughout SD and G during the week, including a a visit by Kathy Dobson, author of With a Closed Fist at the Ingleside Branch and a Freedom to Read quiz in Iroquois and Morrisburg.

For programs at other branches, visit www.sdglibrary.ca.

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