Freedom to read

Jim Gray, Reg Erhardt Library supervisor at SAIT, sat down with The Weal to discuss Freedom to Read Week. The event raises awareness of the need to protect public access of information, whether it be through novels, newspapers or blogs. Everyone deserves the freedom to read.

Freedom to Read Week takes place Feb. 26 – March 4, 2017 and will be hosted in the Reg Erhardt Library.

The Weal: What is Freedom to Read?

Jim Gray: Freedom to Read is a national event celebrating our fundamental rights to freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.  It is a week we encourage everyone to celebrate those rights by reading something that someone, somewhere felt should never be read.

TW: Tell me a little bit about how you got involved in the event.

JG: My first experience with Freedom to Read was a vice principal at a school I worked at telling me we couldn’t do a display because it would likely cause parents to challenge the books we were trying to encourage students to read.

TW: Can you tell me about why these books have been banned or challenged?

JG: Books get challenged for lots of reasons. In schools, it is often a question of age appropriateness.  In public libraries, people can get upset over sexual content, vulgar language or religious views. Recently, people started to threaten book burnings of Harry Potter, not because of the ‘witchcraft’ in them but because J.K. Rowling expressed her personal political beliefs.

TW: How and when did Freedom to Read arrive here at SAIT?

JG: As far as I know, we started doing displays around nine years ago when we began developing our fantastic fiction section.

TW: Why is Freedom to Read Week important to us as a community?

JG: Intellectual freedom is a core principal in journalism and library sciences. Placing limits on what people are allowed to read and write is an act of tyranny. Plus, a lot of challenges are made against works of fiction.  Some of the greatest books I have ever read were banned or challenged at some point.

TW: What is your favourite banned book?

JG: My favorite is actually the ‘His Dark Materials’ series by Philip Pullman.  A new series of books by Pullman just got announced. I am so excited for a return to that world.

TW: How can we encourage people to read banned books?

JG: Listen to someone read. Last year, I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower after I heard someone read out loud from it.  Reading is a community thing. It’s meant to be shared.

The event will kick off with a reading marathon of banned books, which is made possible by the more than 60 volunteer readers who are celebrating their right to access censored, banned and challenged publications. 

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