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Banned Books Week September 29, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Politics, Pop Culture.
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Yup, it’s that time of year again: Banned Books Week, which runs from September 25th to October 2nd. In Canada we’re supposed to celebrate Freedom to Read Week in February, but I say why limit ourselves to one week? In celebration of the freedom to read, here are some of my favourite books which have been subject to bans and challenges. You can find another good list at the Ms. Blog and see the top 10 challenged books of 2009 at The Guardian. Other great resources are the extremely thorough database at The Beacon for Freedom of Expression and the Banned Books blog.

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. In 2006 the novel was banned from the AP English curriculum in Maryland because a parent complained it was “sexually explicit and offensive to Christians”, although the ban was eventually overridden. In 2008 a parent in Toronto officially complained about the book, but the School Board recommended in 2009 keeping the book in the Grade 11 and 12 curriculum.

2. Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks. In 1993 a shipment of books was held up at Canada Customs as possible hate literature, but was released a day later.

3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Banned from a number of school districts in the 70s and 80s, Slaughterhouse-Five was also “burned on political, religious, and vulgarity grounds.”

4. The Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry.These were some of my all-time favourite books as a child, but was one of the most challenged books in the States in the 1990s, apparently due to references to beer and Playboy.

5. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. In 2000, Reform Party Executive Council member Terry Lewis tried to get the book removed from school reading lists and distributed 10,000 pamphlets against it, arguing the book’s frequent use of “God-damned”, “Jesus”, and “God” in prophane ways offended Christians. No action was taken by the district he targeted.

6. Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Couldn’t find examples, but it’s one of the top 100 banned books of the 20th century.

7. Plays by Shakespeare. In 1999 a teacher in Savannah, Georgia, required students to obtain permission slips before reading Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear, citing “adult language” and sexual and violent content. In 1996 a highschool in New Hampshire pulled Twelfth Night from the curriculum, after the school board passed a resolution prohibiting “prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction”, although that school board was voted out and the decision reversed in 1999.

Little did you know you were looking at something obscene...

8. Where’s Waldo? has apparently been challenged at several libraries for having an illustrated teeny tiny topless woman sunbather lying face down on the beach page of the original book. I guess I was so busy looking for Waldo I never noticed.

9.  The Freedom Writers’ Diary. In 2008 a teacher in Indiana was suspended for a year and a half without pay for using this book in her class against the wishes of the school board. Note, the book is WAY, WAY better than the terrible movie with Hilary Swank.

10. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax was banned in the Laytonville, California School District for being allegorical and “criminaliz[ing] the forest industry”.



Why We Can’t Afford to Abandon Libraries July 28, 2009

Posted by Jarrah H in Politics.
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“And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.”

-Kurt Vonnegut, “I Love You, Madame Librarian”

We’ve been hearing a lot in the news over the past couple of weeks about impending provincial cuts to services. We’ve seen the BC Liberals propose cuts of 50% to arts and culture, and a funding shortfall in the Fraser Health Authority which is likely to cause operating room closures and cuts to day care for seniors. And in yet another example of misplaced priorities the Liberals are imposing a regressive tax that will make average British Columbians pay more for school supplies, funeral services, and haircuts while the provincial services our taxes are supposed to fund also get clawed back.

Now those of us who have been awake for the last 8 years of Liberal government are only somewhat surprised, but I feel more worried about this round of cutback rumours than I have in the past. That’s because our libraries are facing a more serious provincial funding shortfall than they have in a long time.

Last week Public Eye reported that BC’s libraries have not yet received their annual operating grants from the province, nor any indication of the amount they will be receiving. For some libraries, the grant makes up over 10% of their budget.  The BC Library Trustees Association is scheduled to meet with Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid today, after their President Andy Ackerman expressed great concern that libraries will be facing deep provincial cuts.

I worked in libraries for seven years – three at Vancouver Island Regional Library in Courtenay and four in the Vancouver Public Library system, and I’ve seen first-hand how important libraries are to the life of our communities. Now, more than ever, we can’t afford to abandon our libraries.

Some people argue that in a recession, cutbacks are inevitable and perhaps even desirable. However, library workers and patrons know how crucial library resources are to job seekers. During my career planning class we spent a morning at the nearby public library and several of my classmates expressed gratitude at learning about the helpful resources the library had for us. In this economy, library usage is going up, not down.

Online resources are extremely helpful to the job seeker, and our local libraries provide access to newspapers and databases where we can look up potential future employees, conduct labour market research, learn to put together an effective resume, and browse job postings, all from the comfort of our own home just using our library cards. Stopbclibrarycuts.ca reports that cuts could inhibit patrons’ access to these crucial resources.

Gordon Campbell vowed that he’d make BC the most literate jurisdiction in North America by 2015. That will be a lot harder if libraries end up being forced to cut funding to early and adult literacy programs.

As Vonnegut points out in the quote above, libraries fight censorship on a daily basis and ensure that the public have access to a wide range of ideas. Libraries support life-long learning for everyone, regardless of race, gender, or income. Libraries are vital to the strength of our communities.

So now’s the time to check out Don’t Pull the Plug on Libraries at  http://www.stopbclibrarycuts.ca/ and join the Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=115269260975.

Let’s make sure that we tell Gordon Campbell that cutting library operating grants would be short-sighted and detrimental to our economy and our communities.