Freedom to Read Week
February 24 – March 2,2013 is Freedom to Read Week in Canada – a week set aside to celebrate our right to express ourselves and the freedom to access those expressions. Access to the written word - and all other forms of expression - is essential in the development of informed and active citizens, and for the proper functioning of democratic societies. The week is also a time to remember that sometimes in countries throughout the world, including Canada, people are denied the right to expression and the freedom to read.
Freedom to Read Week, organized by the Book and Periodical Council and supported by publishing and library communities, publishes a list of challenged works, examples of where books, magazines and other materials are banned at the Canadian border or attempted to be removed from Canadian libraries, schools, and bookstores.
Similarly, the Canadian Library Association publishes an annual report on challenges to material in Canadian libraries.The report informs the library community on attempts to restrict access to material and reinforces the libraries’ role in supporting intellectual freedom including access to information for its patrons.
Here are some examples and resources that show how censorship continues to be a serious issue throughout the world:
Index on Censorship, a monthly journal and website which documents free expression abuses worldwide, campaigns for change to legislation that limits and restricts expression. It also provides practical support for governments, the media, and arts organizations.
PEN Canada is an organization that works to support writers throughout the world who have been persecuted, imprisoned and tortured for expressing themselves. They also work to educate Canadians about freedom of expression and envision “a world where writers are free to write, readers are free to read, and freedom of expression prevails”.
Our capacity as human beings to transform information into knowledge is dependent upon our unfettered ability to express and communicate ideas, and for others to be given the opportunity to listen, process, and respond to these expressions. Restricting the ability for people to communicate ignores the principles that are stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Ensuring the public has free and equal access to the expressions humans create is one of the core values of librarianship. The role librarians play in fighting censorship, supporting intellectual freedom, and helping people locate and access information they desire and require was a major reason I chose this profession. I’m reminded of this often as we continue to build our collections and the services that will be offered through the Museum’s Reference Centre. I urge you to visit the websites mentioned in this post. Take the time to reflect on the importance that freedom of expression (and access to those expressions) holds for all of us.