Censorship discussed

Freedom to Read week is celebrating its 27th year educating people about censorship in literature.
Freedom to Read week is celebrating its 27th year educating people about censorship in literature.

For the second year in a row, Queen’s is celebrating Freedom to Read Week in order to raise awareness about issues surrounding censorship and freedom of expression.

Natalie Colaiacovo, ArtSci ’11, read Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to a crowd of nearly 30 people in Stauffer Library on Feb. 15.

She said that she chose to read from the book because of how controversial its subject matter was at the time of publication.

“While it wasn’t officially banned or censored, the book was criticized for its portrayal of a strong independent woman, which was a no-no in the 19th century, and its realistic depiction of the power dynamics of marriage at the time,” Colaiacovo told the Journal in an email. “[People] thought that the book would encourage increased female independence. One critic asserted that ‘it was utterly unfit to be put in the hands of girls’.”

She said that as an aspiring librarian, it’s important to understand how censorship works in order to avoid it.

“While librarians are often thought to be associated with anti-censorship, in that they provide public access to a wide variety of books, they can often be guilty of the very censorship they’re trying to fight against even simply by letting their personal decisions interfere with how they select books for their collection,” she said. “That’s why it’s great that Stauffer holds Freedom to Read Week … it encourages students to think about the role of the library in their education, what [they’re] reading and how they access it.”

Freedom to Read Week and is organized annually by Canada’s Book and Periodical Council. Freedom to Read is in its 27th year. Individuals working in libraries across Canada volunteer to host Freedom to Read events at different locations. School of Graduate Studies Director Jeanette Parsons read The Golden Compass on Wednesday, to an audience of students, staff and faculty members. The book was featured last year as well.

“This book wasn’t deemed appropriate for Catholic children, and was actually banned in many Catholic schools because it discussed atheism,” she said.

Parsons, who also participated in Freedom to Read week last year, said it’s important to raise awareness about controversial issues.

“We don’t necessarily live in a society where everything is free and open and it’s important to challenge assumptions that we do,” she said. “It’s about how choices of what to read are limited. When books are banned, as a parent I have to ask what does that mean for what my kid can read in school?”

Other works read this week included Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, Beyond Vietnam by Martin Luther King Jr., and lyrics from the recently banned-on-Canadian radio Dire Straits’ song ‘Money for Nothing.’

Readings of these and other controversial works were held in Speaker’s Corner in Stauffer Library from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. from Tuesday until Thursday.

Nathalie Soini, Learning Commons coordinator and Freedom to Read committee member, said that works are deemed controversial if there has been any discussion in the news to remove them from bookshelves.

“It’s important for people to hear texts. You may not agree with them, but you should have the freedom to read it,” she said. “As a library we are very anti-censorship. We believe in people having the freedom to read and have control over the content of what they are reading.”

Freedom To Read will conclude today with a panel discussion with professor of education Elizabeth Lee, professor of English Laura Murray and history professor Barrington Walker. They will be discussing changes made to Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in Speaker’s Corner of Stauffer Library.

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