Literature’s place on library shelves often challenged at local level

Book censorship exists all over the world, preventing the sale and circulation of controversial literature to the public.

The contents of books subject to censorship often contain offensive language, sexual or violent material. Books that have been banned or challenged in various countries include Stephen King’s Carrie and Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.

In 1960, the uncensored edition of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover was tried in the United Kingdom under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. The verdict of the trial was “not guilty.”

However, in Canada today literature is still being censored – whether by being prevented from entering the country at the border, or by being removed from the shelves of bookstores and libraries.


“It’s amazing how much the occult comes up, that’s why Harry Potter was banned, because people felt it promoted occultism, Satanism, that sort of thing. So a lot of children’s books are scrutinized for that reason.”

– Jessie Loyer, co-ordinator of Freedom to Read Week

While books can be banned outright on a national level, forms of censorship also take place on a local level. A challenge to a book on library shelves can be filed by anyone – including teachers, parents and concerned readers.

“A lot of public libraries and school boards often get challenges for books that deal with sexuality, so homosexuality, overt sexuality, anything like that…sexuality, violence and obscenity are things that come up again and again,” says Jessie Loyer, a librarian at Mount Royal University who helped to coordinate Freedom to Read Week in 2013.

The contents of a book are reviewed once a challenge is submitted and the library decides how to proceed from there.

Outcomes of book challenges include the book being moved to a more age-appropriate area of the library, access to the book being restricted, or the book being returned to its central public library location from a public school that feels the material is inappropriate for its students.


Many challenges are aimed at books classified as children’s literature. Twenty-seven children and young adult titles were challenged in Canada in 2011, according to data collected by Freedom to Read.

“It’s amazing how much the occult comes up, that’s why Harry Potter was banned, because people felt it promoted occultism, Satanism, that sort of thing. So a lot of children’s books are scrutinized for that reason,” Loyer says.

In Canadian Public Libraries, patrons submitted challenges to the presence of the Harry Potter series on library shelves in 2010 and 2011.

There is no definitive online list concerning the most challenged books in Canada. However, the American Library Association [ALA] keeps a list of the top ten most challenged books on library shelves in the United States, which are often challenged in Canada for the same reasons.

In 2012, some of the books on the ALA’s list include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, as well as And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson for homosexual content.


The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Cbkosky, and Lolita by Vladmir Nabakov have all been challenged or banned in various locations. This material is all available to patrons at the Calgary Public Library.

Photo by Cal Poly/FlickrIn 2009 in Alberta, a teacher and a parent submitted a challenge to And Tango Makes Three. The document recording the complaint states that both the parent and teacher of the child found the content debateable, and were concerned about the lack of a content warning.

And Tango Makes Three is a children’s book about two male penguins raising a chick and is based on true events that occurred at the New York Central Park Zoo. The unidentified library in Alberta retained the book, sending a copy of the Library’s Material Selection Policy and positive reviews of the book to the parent.

A data search conducted by the Calgary Journal showed that the Calgary Public Library carries all of the top ten most challenged books of 2012 on the list compiled by the ALA. The Calgary Public Library also carries literature that has been subject to bans such as Vladmir Nabakov’s Lolita and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

However, it does not carry the controversial publication The Anarchist Cookbook, written by William Powell in protest of the Vietnam War. The book contains recipes for explosives and phreaking (telecommunications exploring and experimentation) devices.

The Calgary Public Library did not respond to The Calgary Journal’s requests for an interview.


Sometimes the publicity generated from banning a book works against the goals of the people who want the book banned.

“I think sometimes it definitely works against what the people who ban it want to do, because any time someone is told that they can’t see something, they generally go out of their way to find out ‘what is it they’re trying to hide from me?’” says Loyer.

Despite the low amount of literature removed from schools and libraries each year, and the availability of controversial literature at the Calgary Public Library, different forms of censorship are still a concern.

“I think there can be a more subtle way of banning books or of challenging books. Sometimes if authors don’t have funding or if they’re talking about something that is not part of the mainstream, their words might not get out to a greater audience…it’s not necessarily a ban but it’s still limiting their intellectual freedom because if they cannot continue to write on that specific topic, it’s very difficult for that information to get out,” says Loyer.

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