Libraries must stand up against censorship efforts
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The value public libraries add to communities is immeasurable.
For many patrons, libraries are essential for growing literacy skills and accessing educational tools that might otherwise be financially inaccessible. They also create opportunities for socializing, being creative and learning new hobbies.
It is a wonder then why anyone would want to censor the benefits of such a public facility.
A small group of Manitobans have been protesting a few sex and gender education books that have been on display throughout the South Central Regional Library (which has branches in Altona, Manitou, Miami, Morden and Winkler).
The issue dates back to last July, when the SCRL received a book challenge seeking to remove three books from the shelves, citing “illegal and pornographic” imagery.
The books in question feature discussions on gender, sexuality and how to give consent, and are aimed at children and young adults. The public library agreed to move one of the books to the young adult section, but kept the others where they were.
The small group of critics have now taken the issue to city councils across southern Manitoba, accusing the SCRL of promoting child pornography and demanding the regional library be defunded until it reviews its policies — which it already has done three times since last summer.
Winkler and Altona councils have generally shut down the critics’ demands, stating the regional library can make sound decisions without government intervention. Meanwhile, the SCRL says it will continue to stand its ground.
There are similar battles going on in the United States, where thousands of book titles have been banned from schools in the last few years due to their content. The subject matter discussed in many of those prohibited books cover LGBTQ+ and sexual themes, according to PEN America, a literature advocacy organization.
This type of censorship, whether it is happening in Manitoba or Texas, does more harm than good. The message it sends to young people, and the general public, is that these subjects are inherently bad, which only serves to further stigmatize them and create spaces where people feel unsafe to ask questions and express themselves.
Sexual and reproductive health is possibly the most important but overlooked component of Manitoba’s health education curriculum, at least in communities where those topics are still considered taboo. But research shows when a child misses out on formal sexual health education, they become more at risk for sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.
Many families prefer to keep sex education at home, but youth don’t always find the information they are seeking there. So, they turn to other sources such as the internet and their friends, but that information is not always reliable or accurate, and this can lead to worse outcomes. That is why it is important to have reliable and factual information available at places like public libraries, which are supposed to be safe spaces for learning.
As the Manitoba Library Association’s advocacy director, Richard Bee, told the Winnipeg Free Press this week, it appears this small group of critics is attempting to impose their own personal beliefs and ideals on a publicly funded system.
But as publicly funded entities, libraries have a responsibility to reflect the demographics they serve and protect intellectual freedom, even if some taxpayers do not agree with all the content they offer.
And to those critics we say, open a book — it may open your mind.