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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

In 1984 Canada’s Book and Periodical Council announced that it was sponsoring a new initiative, Freedom to Read Week. It declared: “While there have not been any public book burnings, a quieter form of censorship exists in Canada. Often the suppression of a book is done so quickly the public is not even aware it has happened. Censorship is becoming an acceptable way of dealing with social issues of concern to Canadians.”

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By the late 1980’s there were almost exactly a thousand public libraries and library systems throughout Canada, with more than three thousand service points. In 1988 the Canadian Library Association undertook a survey of Canadian library censorship of incomparable scope, depth, and geographic coverage. That study found that 70 percent of public libraries had some or all of the basic institutional access policies that relate to intellectual freedom. These include policies relating to selection of materials, patron objections, and donations of materials; objections forms; and support of the Canadian Library Association’s Statement on Intellectual Freedom. Some 60 percent of the libraries also reported that they did not restrict the access of children and young adults to materials. Nevertheless, the study found that between 1985 and 1987 an average of one direct challenge a day to materials occurred throughout the country.

Almost as many different titles were challenged between 1985 and 1987 as there were challengers: more than 500 titles by fewer than 600 persons. The most common grounds for these challenges were sexual content, violence, and unsuitability for particular age groups. Three out of four complainants wanted the challenged materials removed from the shelves. In 86 percent of the cases, however, public library staff did not remove the offending items. The study also found that at least 10 percent of public libraries experienced incidents of covert censorship—theft, defacement, alteration, mutilation, or destruction of materials. Twenty percent of the public libraries were pressured unduly to acquire or accept materials for their collections. The only empirical study done in the academic library sector was limited to the three prairie provinces. Among school libraries there have been a small number of province-wide and state-wide studies.

Professional library publications in Canada contain many exhortations, especially to public librarians, to uphold the principles of intellectual freedom. These statements of principle include the formal statements on intellectual freedom of various local, regional, and national associations. Much of Canadian public library philosophy and practice with respect to intellectual freedom emanates from the United States. Although there have been many exhortations, there have been few empirical investigations assessing the relevance of statements of principle to professional practices. Much of the censorship research that has been done has concentrated on librarians and their practices of self- censorship.

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