Monday, February 26, 2007

Freedom to read and beyond

This week is Freedom to Read week, the week where we celebrate the ability to read books without censorship.

You might be thinking, "But, Anne, we're in Canada. That doesn't happen here." But, it does. Books are routinely challenged by parents, community leaders, and the customs officers at the border. We may live in a free and democratic society, but that doesn't mean that we don't have to worry about censorship. Many forget that we are a very diverse country - we are home to multiple groups of people with differing religions, values, cultures, and so on. Inevitably, there will be a book that I think is great, but that you think is offensive.

Though I may have the right to access what ever book or intellectual property that I want (assuming that it is not illegal, like child pornography), you have the right to be offended by it and complain about it. The problem lies with giving the people who support the content access to it. While any library would love to be able to make all of its patrons happy, sometimes you have to say no to removing or banning a book just because one person or group finds it offensive. The idea is that if they don't like it, then they don't have to read it.

And, what about outside of Canada. Many countries are very intolerant of content that they find questionable. And, when I say "questionable" I mean anything from comments that are against the beliefs of the prevailing religion (or the religion in power) to comments that offend the leader (heaven forbid someone question a leader's actions). The Guardian recently reported that an Egyptian blogger was jailed for insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak. And, it's not just officials who are infringing on peoples freedoms. In a recent IFLA listserv posting, it was reported that (a Chinese portal and blog-hosting service) has been censoring blog posts by bloggers on its system.

These examples may not seem to be directly related to our freedom to read, but if you can't access a blog post or if the creator of the blog is jailed, you lose your right to read what they have to say. Freedom to read is tied directly to freedom of expression.

So, celebrate your right to read whatever you want. Find a book that has been banned or challenged and devour it. Try to guess how many of your favourite books have been banned or challenged somewhere. And, above all, count yourself as being one of the lucky ones - you won't get jailed for calling Stephen Harper a nitwit.

- anne

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