FTRW 2007 – Day 2 – What Freedom to Read Week Is *Not*

From my time on the Calgary Freedom to Read Week committee and having planned a student reading at FIMS, I've heard quite a few misconceptions about what “Freedom To Read” is about: 

Here's what Freedom to Read is not:
1. Freedom to Read is not limited to reading.  Freedom to Read means you have the right to read or view any books, web sites, art, music or anything else that you choose to (or that your parents allow you to read/view if you are still not legally considered an adult.) 

2. Freedom to Read Week is not a way to get around the law.  Nobody who is in favour of Freedom to Read is going to promote your right to read things like child pornography, hate literature or other materials that have been declared illegal by the law.  (Okay, there are probably a few libertarian-types out there who think that you should have the right to be exposed to *any* material of your choosing.  I'm not going to split hairs on this.  The majority of people who believe in Freedom to Read draw a line at illegal materials.)

3. Freedom to Read Week is not a way to force someone else to be exposed to something they don't want to be.  To put it another way, just because you can expose someone to challenged/challenging materials, doesn't mean that you should.  The Dutch Muslim cartoons last year are a perfect example – just because you have the right to put them on a poster and march in front of your local mosque to express your “freedom”, if you do that, you're probably just being an asshole.

4. Sort of similar to the last point, Freedom to Read Week is not an excuse to force anyone (or their children) to read something they don't want to.  You can definitely suggest that somebody read something but if they don't like it because of its sex/violence/language (those are the biggies that bring on the challenges) [edit: as well as “big picture” reasons like political, ideological or religious content], the choice of what to view (or not view) remains with each individual.

5. Freedom to Read Week is not an endorsement of materials.  A library may carry Madonna's “Sex” book (the most stolen book in public library history) and other challenged or controversial materials in the interest of providing the widest diversity of opinions.  But it doesn't naturally follow that all staff member have to believe in or agree with the viewpoints or attitudes presented in those materials (although they obviously should be supportive of the idea of Freedom to Read, being a core principle of librarianship.)  

[2007-03-02 – discussion during an appearance on the Book Chick's radio show this week inspired me to expand my list by a couple points:

6.  Freedom to Read is not a “left” or a “right” issue (I think people often believe that only people holding the opposite opinion of their own want to ban books.)  Challenges come from both ends of the political spectrum and are just as likely to come on grounds of political correctness from someone on the left as on they are on morality grounds from someone on the right.

7. Whether you agree or not, freedom of expression doesn't apply in certain situations such as regulated TV and radio broadcasts and also in private businesses.  For example, Heather Reisman, the Chairperson of Chapters books here in Canada, came under fire a few years ago for her decision not to stock “Mein Kampf” in her stores even though she was completely within her rights as a private business person to do so, just as an organic grocery store is within their rights to not stock GM food or something.  Although, just for the record, I didn't agree with her decision either – I think bookstores fill a certain niche, different than a grocery or hardware store, and should be held to higher standards.  Still, the book is available from numerous other sources, including your local independent bookstore and your local public library most likely, so it's not as big of a deal to my mind as some people made it out to be.]

Bonus: Freedom to
Read Week is not something that only has meaning for one week of the
year.  Challenges happen all year round and this is an issue that
shouldn't be forgotten the other 51-weeks of the year.

Comments 3

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I was wondering if you could offer some insight on comment number two with regard to FTRW. Doesn't the introduction of some legal limitations on freedoms to read (namely child pornography and hate literature) open the door for future legal restrictions (primarily the introduction of obscenity based censorship applied using the “community tolerance” standard)?
    I don't mean to give you a hard time, I am just looking for some insight on why we would tolerate censorship under one guise but not another?
    Mike M.

    Posted 27 Feb 2007 at 7:58 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I'm glad I put that little disclaimer about some people thinking that FTR meaning “everything goes”, illegal or not, because you're right, in its strictest definition, not letting people view child porn or hate literature or whatever, is a form of censorship.
    I think the understanding for those of us with a strong belief in Freedom to Read and Freedom of Expression is that we accept that certain laws, enacted by society, outweigh the benefits of the right to freedom of expression, even as core and essential as that right is to a functioning democracy.
    So how do we (all of us) prevent restrictions from being extended, (as you point out, usually under the guise of “community standards”)? One way is that, just as certain laws “trump” the right to Freedom of Expression in some cases, the right to Freedom of Expression, being a Charter right, trumps any laws that may be enacted locally or provincially.
    Does that prevent people from trying to remove books due to community standards? Of course not which is why there's so much attention on this issue, especially at this time of year, but also anytime a book is removed/challenged anywhere in the world.
    Here's a non-legal example – when Micheal Moore had a book coming out that was extremely critical of the US Adminstration, the publisher wanted to pulp it rather than release it after 9/11 happened. It was the advocacy of librarians in the US that played a big part of getting the book released (and ironically, it went on to hit #1 on July 4 as I remember correctly.)
    Hope that answers your question and don't worry about giving me a hard time – I like having a devil's advocate to point out other perspectives and help me think through these issues.

    Posted 27 Feb 2007 at 10:54 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    No one's going to see this probably but I just finished Larry Flynt's “Sex, Lies and Politics: The Naked Truth” and he does go so far as to say that the judge who ruled that you can't yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre did more damage to free speech than anyone.
    He doesn't think there should be *any* limits on free speech – if someone incites a riot by spewing hate, it's the rioters who should be charged for not having the brains to ignore him/argue with him/yell louder than him.

    Posted 24 Jun 2009 at 6:01 pm

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  1. From Head Tale - FTRW 2013 – Day 4 – #ftrweek – Tom Flanagan and the Limits of Freedom of Expression #cndpoli on 28 Feb 2013 at 7:31 pm

    […] I pointed out in a past blog post during Freedom to Read Week, the cut-off for most free speech advocates is when things move into the criminal – hate […]

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