There is increasing concern from libraries and organizations that represent libraries in Manitoba about attempts at censoring and banning books in the province, and about what the Manitoba Library Association (MLA) says has become a growing threat to “intellectual freedom.”

MLA, a provincial and not-for-profit organization that provides leadership and support to library and information services in Manitoba, released a statement on Friday reacting to the news that on May 8, a delegation spoke during a Brandon School Division (BSD) trustee meeting, and asked that some books that touch on issues of sexual identity and gender identity be removed from book shelves in schools in the division.

“This delegation has falsely equated 2SLGBTQIA+ materials selected for school libraries as ‘pedophilia’ and ‘grooming,’” MLA’s statement reads.

“In addition to condemning these attempts at censorship, MLA condemns the discriminatory characterization behind these calls for censorship. We consider this an affront to our professional values of intellectual freedom and equity, diversity, and inclusion alike.”

Talk of banning books has also been a growing issue in the city of Winkler recently, as during a council meeting on March 14, a delegation asked Winkler city council to stop funding the South Central Regional Library (SCRL) until certain books that touch on issues of sexuality and LGBTQ issues are removed from any areas of the library where they can be viewed or borrowed by children.

One Winkler woman even accused the library of distributing “child pornography” during the March 14 council meeting.

MLA says they are concerned about what is happening both in Winkler and in Brandon, and said the issue has become so problematic recently that they have now released an online “toolkit” that they said will help Manitoba’s public libraries that are facing “intellectual freedom and censorship challenges.”

The toolkit, according to MLA, includes sources of information, resources, and recommendations for public libraries to use when issues of censorship arise, and is available at MLA’s website at mla.mb.ca.

And the issue, according to SCRL director of library services Cathy Ching, has already led to some library staff in Winkler being “harassed.”

“We have had people phone and tell long-time staff how disgusting they are, and that they are pornographers and promoting child-grooming.” Ching said during an April 13 interview with the Winnipeg Sun.

MLA said they believe those wanting to see SCRL defunded want to do so because SCRL “continues to abide by the core tenet of intellectual freedom to provide free and open access to information for everyone.”

MLA added the release of the toolkit is “timely” as they prepare to host a virtual Manitoba Libraries Conference on May 18 and 19 that will include a panel discussion and a keynote presentation and conversation on the topic of intellectual freedom.

The Brandon School Division has said the issue will be discussed at the next BSD meeting scheduled for May 24, and that they are encouraging people on all sides of the issue to register to speak at that meeting, or to submit written correspondence.

The May 8 delegation has also prompted a Brandon-based post-secondary institution to weigh in, but with just one word and a very simple message, as this week Brandon University put out a media release reacting to attempts at banning books that touch on LGBTQ issues and issues of gender and sexual and gender identity that simple said “Don’t”.

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 13, 2023 at 18:21

This item reprinted with permission from    The Sun    Winnipeg, Manitoba
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