Report on Freedom to read week event

Guest blogger: Paula Rosenquist, student at Algonquin College.

On Feb. 23rd, in the back corner of the Royal Oak Laurier,  LANCR members  and guests had the privilege of participating in a lively discussion, led by three very passionate panellists.

The topics up for discussion included:

  • Is it appropriate for book sellers to apply digital locks to e-books?
  • Intellectual Property vs. Intellectual Freedom
  • Governments limiting access to the internet:  Human rights violation?
  • Schools or Parents:  Who decides what children can read?
  • At what age do children take responsibility for their own reading choices?  (Think – When did we (adults) get to decide as children?)

Panellists:

Donna Presz – Library Services Supervisor, Ottawa Catholic School Board
Alan Cumyn — Author, Advocate and Writer’s Union Chair (Canada)
Dr. Mary Cavanagh – Librarian and Assistant Professor U of O, SIS

Donna Presz started things off with anecdotes from her own experiences in Catholic schools, telling us of books that had come under attack because some parents felt that the material covered in these books wasn’t appropriate for young children.  Some of the contentious issues included sexual content, violence, real life accounts of children’s experiences in war torn countries and feelings that some books were in bad taste or morally deficient.  Yet, what often happens is that books under debate end up being more frequently read, because of the controversy.  If they had been ignored, their influence on the universal psyche may have been less.

Alan Cumyn brought his perspective as a writer, teacher, traveller, and advocate for free speech.  He repeated some very shocking stats on the state of literacy in Canada – 48% of the population have a very low level of reading, 28% cannot read directions and have a hard time understanding written material, 42% of University graduates do not read books after graduating and only 15% follow federal politics closely.  Rather poor showing Canada!  Alan also reported that if one doesn’t read regularly one can lose the ability to understand complex arguments!  Ouch!  He also brought some humour and insight into the discussion with his comments, on his young audience: “When you have a kid as a fan there is no better feeling”, and on trying to protect young readers from the dangers of growing up: “Life is not a safe experience.”

Dr. Mary Cavanagh has a background in public librarianship and is now an assistant professor at the U of O  School of Information Studies.  Her core belief in the principles of free speech is unapologetic.  She spoke of being mindful of biases and cultural choices, and trying not to judge information and books in terms of a “good read” vs. a “bad read” or “good info” vs. “bad info”.  Freedom of access isn’t easy to maintain when you consider internet policies on pornographic sites in public libraries!  Sometimes, in order to be enlightened, one must read controversial material.  Otherwise, certain topics don’t get talked about.  Her statement that “All books are dangerous!” was a positive one.

The discussion was then opened to the floor and participants contributed comments relating their own perspectives on these issues in their everyday lives, with children, at work and on the wider world stage.  Recently, Canada has been taken to task by the international community for lagging in their lack of up-to-date policies on copyright protection and censorship issues in the age of the internet.

Finally if you feel strongly about preserving intellectual property rights, freedom of speech and freedom to read, or anything else you think we may be losing (or going overboard on) get out there and advocate for your beliefs.  Hey — I guess that’s really what it’s all about!

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