The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
October is Canadian Library Month, when libraries and their partners raise awareness of the vital role libraries play in society. They’re free, welcoming, comprehensive and open to all. This year’s theme: Libraries for Life.
Once upon a time libraries, sometimes called repositories of knowledge, were a place to store and lend books. Over the years libraries have evolved into multipurpose hubs that not only house and lend a variety of forms of information and entertainment but also provide educational classes, cultural events, access to computers, and more. Libraries are a safe community destination where “people can be alone together with other people.” They’re also a refuge for the disadvantaged in times of need, during heat domes for instance. After researching The Public (2018), director Emilio Estevez declares “libraries are the places where class stratification is erased. The middle class and millionaires are working [or reading in my case] the next table [or chair] over from people experiencing extreme poverty or homelessness.”
Freedom to Read Week (Canada) and Banned Books Week (U.S.) celebrate the freedom to inquire, to express, and to read. The weeks also spotlight current and historical attempts to censor books. According to a new PEN America study, book banning in public schools jumped by 33% during the 2022-2023 school year. (Unsurprisingly, Florida overtook Texas as the state with the highest number of titles pulled off the shelves.) A bookmobile tour begun in New York and ending in Texas puts accessibility at the forefront of its agenda.
Appallingly, inexplicably, the list of Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019 in libraries and schools includes lauded titles such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Brave New World, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Kite Runner and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
According to Wendy Wright, chair of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ Intellectual Freedom Committee, “A truly great library has something in it to offend everyone. Librarians will defend maintaining collections of books across a spectrum of views — even those of the people currently fighting against libraries.”
Let’s use public libraries, not just this month but every month, to ensure we — and succeeding generations — enjoy libraries for life. •