“People came in and said they didn’t want any books burned,” Merrick said. “I didn’t have a single person come out and say that burning books would be a good thing.”
The event ran from February 26 to March 3 as a part of Freedom to Read Week.
Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that “encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed to them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” according to a mission statement on the organization’s website.
Freedom to Read Week is organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council. The Canadian counterpart to the American Library Associations Banned Book Week, which itself is held the last week of September in the United States, is shared by National Read Across America Day on March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss and aimed at inspiring literacy.
The books represented those that have been banned or challenged at some point. Each person at the library was only allowed to save one book; altogether 47 books were saved during the week-long public awareness event. Some of the titles featured were “Little Women,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Catcher in the Rye,” “The Holy Bible” and “Harry Potter.”
“We wanted to get the word out there that a banned book might as well be a burned book,” Merrick said.
“I’m so happy, because if people in the community didn’t stand up, I don’t know what I would have done.”
The plan worked and people throughout the community were drawn out, curious over the very notion that a librarian would burn a book.
The Canadian Library Association started cataloguing censorship attempts in the 1980’s and quickly learned of hundreds of incidents involving books, magazines, music CDs, and DVDs; the most recent examples include 139 challenges in 2009 and an additional 92 titles in 2010.
The plan, in part, was to also widen public consciousness in the face of increasing incidents of books and magazines that are being seized by Canadian Border Patrol agents.
In 2011, five copies of the comic book anthology Black Eye 1: Graphic Transmissions to Cause Ocular Hypertension and the graphic novella Young Lions were seized by officials of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in Buffalo, New York, when artist Tom Neely and a colleague were travelling to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival because customs officers found images of sex and violence in Black Eye 1 and pencil sketches of young fictional characters having sexual contact in Young Lions. They sent the books to the capital in Ottawa to determine whether the publications were legally obscene.
Upon review, the CBSA ruled that Black Eye was not obscene and therefore legal to possess, while Young Lions was ruled obscene and its importation into Canada banned.
Also in 2011, the CBSA seized and detained copies of this U.S. gay mens’ magazine, Instigator, when agents suspected the magazine was legally obscene.
The man who possessed the publication, who lives north of Vancouver, informed Xtra about the incident. Xtra publishes news for and about Canadian gays and lesbians. When Xtra exposed the story on November 3rd the CBSA released the magazines to the owner.
The Canadian Library Association\’s Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom has developed an annual survey to investigate challenges to material in Canadian libraries. The results of the second survey (2007) can be viewed here.
For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html
Sources: Wikipedia, Merritt Herald (British Columbia), freedomtoread.ca,
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions