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Freedom to Read Week Vs. Freedom to Read What We Decide You Should Read Week

2024 marked the 40th Anniversary of Freedom To Read Week. From February 18-24, libraries across the country celebrated the annual event that ‘encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom.’

Cathy Simpson, the CEO of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s public library, took to her local paper to express her concern about the increasing pressure to suppress certain viewpoints and select books that promote “progressive” ideas over “traditional” ideas. After engaging with other librarians who also believed in library neutrality and pluralism, Cathy was  introduced to FAIR.

“FAIR… supports Freedom to Read Week’s principles of intellectual freedom, freedom of expression, freedom to read and resistance to censorship.” 

Unfortunately, a local resident and some co-workers did not share Ms Simpson’s sentiments.  The library’s board of directors went on to terminate Cathy’s employment, just three years shy of her retirement.

In response to this turn of events, Monica Harris (FAIR’s Executive Director) penned a thoughtful letter to the National Post: the unjust firing of Ontario librarian who challenged DEI orthodoxy

FAIR stands against censorship of any kind and advocates respectful disagreement because we believe bad ideas are best confronted with good ideas — and never with deplatforming or blacklisting.”

“ Ultimately, the best way to promote tolerance is through education and open discourse. To this end, the goal of FAIR’s library program is to assist librarians in their efforts to include the widest possible range of perspectives in curating their collections. ….

“Lastly, and most importantly, the contention that certain views are unworthy of representation in a library misunderstands the responsibility of public institutions. Libraries have a sacred duty to provide access to all citizens, including those whose perspectives are deemed offensive or heterodox. It’s dishonest to advocate for human rights while denying citizens the most fundamental of rights in a free society: intellectual freedom.”

Those critical of Ms. Simpson’s viewpoints would also do well to reflect on Ms Harris’ TedX Speech, Overcoming the Illusion of Division.

Have a listen to her conversation with Canadian journalist, Tara Henley, on her podcast, Lean Out

To preview the conversation, “.…when I looked at the bigger picture, I could see how we arrived at this point. It’s been a steady progression of increasing dehumanization, of groups that we have suddenly othered and shamed. We rationalize this othering and the shame through fear and other means….

“One of the reasons that I took this job is because it’s an organization that’s dedicated to preserving our common humanity and our mutual respect and dignity for other people. We are committed to the principle that Martin Luther King Jr. introduced decades ago, and many people have clearly forgotten.

To dive further into this subject, we have Ms Harris’ book, The Illusion of Divison, “Is America really as divided as it seems, or has our collective reality been distorted?”