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Thursday, April 18, 2024
Letter: Librarian’s opinion piece was misinformed
Letter to the editor. File

Dear editor:

I read Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library CEO Cathy Simpson’s opinion piece about Freedom to Read Week, (“Censorship and what we are allowed to read,” The Lake Report, Feb. 22).

Unfortunately, it was misinformed.

Simpson correctly says, “The American Library Association reported book ban requests in 2023 were the highest on record,” but she omits the context that “the vast majority of challenges were to books written by or about a person of colour or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

She also says “hidden library censorship” happens by the “defence of books promoting diversity of identity, but little to no defence of books promoting diversity of viewpoint … librarians are quick to defend books written by authors from ‘oppressed’ groups and books that promote critical social justice.”

The reason librarians would be defending books on topics such as racism, queer issues, decolonization, equality, etc. is because those books are intended to remedy such social issues.

These are not alleged issues. These are real problems, affecting real people.

To name a few, supported by statistics: Black males being stopped by police more often, people with an English-sounding name being hired more often, high rates of incarceration of Indigenous people, and harassment of transgender and non-binary people.

Simpson says books with positive messages about such groups or tackling social issues related to them need to coexist with books with “other points of view.”

That assumes these issues are simply opinions. They are not.

They are violence and bigotry toward people in our community, people you know. It makes sense to only have books defending oppressed groups and not books intending to continue oppression.

But it doesn’t sound very nice when you put it like that. So people will use statements about “viewpoints” and “opinions” to hide the fact the ideas they want to spread are based on continuing oppression.

Another example of this is using the term “transgender ideology,” as Simpson does. Transgender people are not an ideology. They are people who are simply living as they are by transitioning, just as you live as you are.

All of these marginalized people are neutral. They just exist and the act of acknowledging the issues they face is neutral. No good will come from providing information that tries to denounce that.

The second way libraries supposedly censor books is “the purchase of books promoting ‘progressive’ ideas over ‘traditional’ ideas,” Simpson says.

I am not sure what she means by traditional. If she means ideas intended to contradict social justice, then I firmly disagree with the idea books like that should be bought for a library at all.

Perhaps she means books that have straight, white characters. If that’s the case, I could not find any data saying libraries are not buying books with these any more.

Simpson also writes about the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. Known as FAIR, it has stated it is “at the forefront of efforts to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,” which letter writer Matthew French noted, (“Opinion piece espoused right wing talking points,” Feb. 29).

According to FAIR’s website, among other things, it doesn’t believe in white privilege, doesn’t want students punished for exposing the gender identity of other students and fought against scholarships in memory of George Floyd specifically for BIPOC students.

Simpson also wants publishers to “no longer prioritize an author’s identity over their work’s merit.”

But identity plays a factor when that’s what a book is about. Even if we’re ignoring that, the opposite of what Simpson claims is actually what is true.

Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly discovered that “white contributors accounted for 76 per cent of books released in the 2019-2021 period” by Penguin Random House.

I implore anyone who read Simpson’s article and agreed, and Simpson herself, to consider these points. Marginalized people are seen as inherently political or “ideologies” just for existing.

We shouldn’t encourage books that have a “differing viewpoint” on their existence and the issues they face.

Sophia Voogt

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