After pulling six Dr. Seuss books, Thunder Bay Public Library takes on comprehensive review of offerings
Plans in place to create community council that will guide future decisions on books, library services
The Thunder Bay Public Library says it is taking a much closer look at the books they carry following a very public debate over the removal of six lesser-known Dr. Seuss books with racist imagery.
That decision to pull the books from stores, schools and libraries, which came after Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced they would no longer publish or sell the six books, prompted a discussion across North America around how to deal with books that contribute to harmful stereotypes but may be considered a classic or part of the cultural record.
The city's chief librarian John Pateman said that debate struck a chord with the public library's management team.
"What we realize is we're not going to be prepared for challenges [against authors or books] in the future. We've got to be more proactive ourselves and carry out what we call a diversity audit of our collection," said Pateman.
Librarians are currently in the process of reviewing every book in the children's collection to make sure "that it's consistent with our strategic objectives," before staff will turn their attention to the adult collection, according to Pateman.
Several ways to deal with 'controversial' books
There are a number of different ways to respond when a book or author is argued to contribute to harmful stereotypes.
The chief librarian says the books could simply be taken out of circulation, like what happened with six of the Dr. Seuss books.
"That's something we're more likely to do when it's a children's book, because children haven't got the same abilities to process information as adults," said Pateman.
But another option the library has considered, is placing a book that has been challenged into a separate collection that becomes a discussion piece and creates conversation around racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.
Pateman says to help make those decisions, they need more public input.
"We were not the only people who should be part of this conversation," he said. "Racism impacts the community; it doesn't just impact the library. So we wanted to turn this into a community conversation."
The library is looking at various options for community consultation, and they are working on creating what they call the "inclusion, diversity, equity and anti-oppression," or IDEA, group.
The hope is people will "join that group on a kind of permanent basis and to work with us going forward, not just on our collections policy, but also on other aspects of our service delivery," said Pateman.
He added the library will eventually be looking to recruit people with a wide range of skills and life experiences.
They do not yet have a date when that community council will be formed.