Friday, 23 February 2018 06:29

Event to discuss book banned from Swift Current Library in 1923

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Swift Current Branch Library Manager Andrea McCrimmon stands outside the library with a copy of the banned book “The Sheik” by E.M. Hull. Swift Current Branch Library Manager Andrea McCrimmon stands outside the library with a copy of the banned book “The Sheik” by E.M. Hull.

Should Swift Current library users have the opportunity to read a book that was banned 95 years ago from the local library? Swift Current residents will be able to share their opinions on this matter during the 2018 Freedom to Read event at the Swift Current Branch Library, Feb. 28.

The Swift Current Library Board passed a motion in 1923 to remove the book The Sheik by E.M. Hull from the library.
This book was a precursor to the modern romance novel, but at that time it was viewed as a scandalous story.
According to Swift Current Branch Library Manager Andrea McCrimmon this decision to ban the book from the library has apparently never been changed.
The current library board will therefore hold a special meeting during the Freedom to Read event to decide if the book should still be banned and residents are invited to participate in the discussion.
“It will be a good chance for the public and the library board to have a discussion about what the people of Swift Current should be allowed to read, whether there should be limits on what our citizens are allowed to read or not, and then the board will have a debate and vote on whether it should be re-introduced into the library,” she said.
The book is available for free online through the Project Gutenberg website, and she hopes people will have a chance to read it before the Freedom to Read event.
The 34th annual Freedom to Read Week takes place from Feb. 25 to March 3 in Canada. It is organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council to encourage Canadians to think about and to confirm their commitment to intellectual freedom.
“Freedom to Read is an event that libraries across Canada celebrate every year to take the opportunity to discuss principles of intellectual freedom and the roles that libraries play in ensuring that people have access to the information that they want,” McCrimmon explained.
Freedom of expression, as well as freedom of thought, belief and opinion are listed as fundamental freedoms in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but libraries and schools are still being asked to remove books and magazines that are considered offensive or inappropriate.
“I think a lot of people aren’t aware that books are still frequently banned and challenged in Canada and around the world, and here we have an example of a book in our own city that’s been banned from the library since 1923,” she said. “So it’s a good opportunity to really talk about why books get banned and to acknowledge that there can be really problematic things with books that get banned, but also what do we as libraries believe in terms of upholding intellectual freedom.”
The 100th anniversary of the Swift Current Branch Library will be celebrated in 2018. McCrimmon became aware of the 1923 decision by the library board while researching the library’s past.
“I just came across this really interesting line in our history that we have a book removed and I haven’t found any evidence that it was ever unbanned,” she said. “So I thought this would be a perfect Freedom to Read event.”
English novelist E.M. Hull wrote The Sheik in 1919. It became a best-seller, probably due to the shocking nature of the story, and the book was banned in various places.
“It was the first really salacious romance novel that became a best seller,” McCrimmon mentioned. “It was like the Fifty Shades of Grey of the 1920s. … It went through 50 printings alone in 1921 and it was the first novel ever to appear on the best seller list for two consecutive years. It was popular from the 1920s to the 1960s. So it sold over a million copies by 1965.”
The original library board minutes from 1923 does not exist anymore.
The only record of the decision to remove the book is a single sentence in a brief history of the library, which was prepared for the Swift Current library’s 90th anniversary celebration. The library board’s motivation for that decision will therefore remain a mystery.
“That’s a big thing to speculate on,” she said. “On the one hand I can see why people were uncomfortable with this book, because it makes me uncomfortable too, but on the other hand is it fair to have a public library and say you’re not allowed to read this at the public library?”
The Freedom to Read event at the Swift Current Branch Library starts at 7 p.m. on Feb. 28, and everyone is welcome to attend and to participate in the discussion.

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Matthew Liebenberg


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