Amid increasing challenges across North America, Toronto Public Library protects and defends intellectual freedom with new initiatives

February 22, 2023 | Media Relations

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During Freedom to Read Week, Toronto Public Library (TPL) is highlighting the increase of intellectual freedom challenges across North America and reaffirming the important role public libraries play in protecting this freedom. Today TPL is joining the Book Sanctuary movement, started by Chicago Public Library, recommitting the library to protect and defend Torontonians’ rights to freely access a broad range of diverse materials – including those that have been challenged or banned – online and at its 100 branches across the city. TPL has created a Book Sanctuary collection consisting of 50 adult, teen and children’s books that have been challenged, censored or removed from a public library or school in North America. The collection isn’t comprehensive, but highlights the different types of content and subjects that have been challenged or banned over the past several years.

TPL is also announcing a new programming stream dedicated to exploring and discussing topics related to intellectual freedom as part of its popular On Civil Society series. These are the first of many initiatives that TPL is undertaking this year to promote and defend intellectual freedom, and the democratic values it supports. More information is available about intellectual freedom, challenges and the Book Sanctuary collection at tpl.ca/intellectual-freedom.

Intellectual freedom challenges in Canada

Intellectual freedom is the right to read, seek information, and speak freely as protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and is a core public library value. Intellectual freedom challenges can limit access to information, stifle civic engagement, and silence voices, especially those of more marginalized communities. While the rapid increase in intellectual freedom challenges in the past year has mainly been seen in the United States, there are some disturbing trends emerging in Canada. Challenges are coming from all sides of the political and social spectrum.

Libraries are facing challenges on a wide range of issues, not just with physical materials such as books, music and movies, but also with programs, e-content, Internet access, room bookings and exhibits. In particular, there are increasing demands to cancel programs in an effort to shut down topics, issues, experiences and speakers that some find offensive. Examples include demands to cancel drag queen story times or programs on topics such as drug use or populist political movements.

Book Sanctuary

The Book Sanctuary initiative, launched by Chicago Public Library in 2022, draws public attention to banned and challenged titles, and protects the right to read them by encouraging individuals and organizations to commit to ensure their availability.

Today, TPL is joining the Book Sanctuary movement, declaring its 100 library branches across the city and its online spaces as book sanctuaries, places where the public can have unrestricted access to all materials, including titles that have been challenged or banned. As part of this commitment, TPL has created a Book Sanctuary collection of 50 adult, teen and children’s books that have been challenged, censored or removed from a public library or school in North America. The 50 titles are available for browsing and borrowing in branches and online, and a permanent Book Sanctuary Reference Collection of the titles is available any time at the Toronto Reference Library, ensuring that Torontonians have ready access to all the titles any time.  Library customers are encouraged to explore the collection, and the accompanying webpage, to learn more about how the titles were selected, and the threat of intellectual freedom challenges more generally.

A photo of a shelf with 50 books. Above the book shelf, a banner reads The Book Sanctuary Collection.
The Book Sanctuary Collection at the Toronto Reference Library highlights 50 books that have been challenged, censored or removed from a public library or school in North America.

Intellectual Freedom Programming

TPL’s On Civil Society program series, available in person and online, encourages audiences to take part in conversations where they can expect to challenge their own perspectives and learn from one another through civil discourse, creating opportunities for voices to be shared and ideas to be explored. TPL is announcing a new stream of On Civil Society programs dedicated to exploring and discussing topics related to intellectual freedom.

Highlighting TPL’s Freedom to Read Week programming, the first event of the series features an in-person discussion with the Director of the Bodleian Libraries and Head of Gardens Libraries and Museums at the University of Oxford, Richard Ovenden, at the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon on February 23. Ovenden will also be doing a national virtual program with libraries across the country discussing public libraries' unique role in promoting and defending intellectual freedom in light of recent challenges.

The series continues throughout the year with a challenging and engaging line-up of in-person and online events. This new series is generously supported by the Toronto Public Library Foundation.

Quotes

It’s never been more important to stand up and speak out for intellectual freedom, and to ensure voices, especially those of marginalized and equity-deserving communities, are not shut down. TPL will continue to take a leadership role in protecting and defending intellectual freedom. In this spirit, we have declared all of our locations as book sanctuaries and launched a new stream of programming to explore intellectual freedom challenges and topics and ideas related to this subject. I invite everyone to learn more about these initiatives during Freedom to Read Week and throughout the year at tpl.ca/intellectual-freedom.”

Vickery Bowles, City Librarian, Toronto Public Library

“Intellectual freedom is a fundamental principle and core value for public libraries, and essential for a democratic society. We strongly support TPL’s book sanctuary and programming initiatives that will raise awareness of intellectual freedom challenges facing our society today.”

Alim Remtulla, Vice Chair, Toronto Public Library Board

About Toronto Public Library

Toronto Public Library is the world's busiest urban public library system, with more than 46 million annual visits to our branches and online. We empower Torontonians to thrive in the digital age and knowledge economy through easy access to technology, lifelong learning, and diverse cultural and leisure experiences, where, when and how our customers need us. To learn more, visit tpl.ca, email Answerline at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and subscribe to email updates.

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