Censorship resisted: A look at the Edmonton library's shortlist of banned books

The days of book burning may long be over, but the conversation around censorship is far from extinguished. 

'It's very rare that would ever remove an item from our collection'

Every year the Edmonton Public Library fields complaint from the public questioning the content on its shelves. Each time, a formal investigation follows. (Shutterstock)

The days of book burning may long be over but the conversation around censorship is far from extinguished. 

Every year, the Edmonton Public Library contends with complaints about books, comics, magazines and movies occupying its shelves. 

These are the library's "challenged materials" that director of branch services and collections, Sharon Day, is responsible for.

Complaints are few and far between, Day said. True banishment is almost unheard of.

"It's very rare that would ever remove an item from our collection," Day said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"There would have to be a very good reason for us to do it."

Day can only recall two instances when books were removed from the collection, one for misinformation, one for plagiarism. 

In one case, a soap-making guide included incorrect instructions for mixing lye and water that could have caused toxic burns.

Another book, a manual for 3D printing, was pulled because it appeared to have been copied directly from Wikipedia. 

In the interest of transparency, the library has listed every single complaint it has received since 1998 on its website. The list includes the complaint in full, an official response from the library staff and their final ruling on the book's fate. 

Sexually explicit or violent passages are most often cause for complaint with concerns about "raunchy" or "pornographic" material appearing repeatedly in the list. 

Among the challenged titles Sports Illustrated, Archie Vs Predator and Star Wars, Darth Maul-Sith Apprentice. 

One complaint from July 2018 targeting Everybunny Dance!, by Ellie Sandall, described the picture book as "anti individual, anti-evolution and pro-conformist." 

Most of the complaints, Day said, are focused on the content of the library's child and teen collections.

Some asked for books to be banned. Others want explicit warning label, she said. 

When a book is challenged, it will be pulled from the shelf pending review. Then, the EPL's team of librarians will read the passages of  concern, and review any other challenges the book has faced. 

"There is a very formal process," Day said. "A formal investigation is triggered. 

"That item along with the request goes to our collections and management division ... and then they'll forward a recommendation to me, so the final decision is mine." 

    Day said she welcomes the complaints. They are well-intentioned and prompt important conversations about what belongs in the library, she said.

    The library has drafted its policy around the Canadian Library Association's position which states that "libraries provide, defend and promote equitable access to the widest possible variety of expressive content and resist calls for censorship."

    Libraries are designed for diversity of thought, Day said. 

    The library stacks should be a place where readers can explore new ideas, even those some consider unorthodox, unconventional or morally unacceptable. 

    "Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction," she said. 

    "For that reason, attempts at censorship are resisted."


    Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.