Intellectual Freedom and Libraries

“A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone”

– Jo Godwin 

This quote is provocative and surprising. So let us consider the opposite. What would a library look like that had nothing in it that might offend? Many popular and famous books, TV shows, movies and authors would be missing. No Game of Thrones or Hunger Games or 1984. Goosebumps, Maus and Bridge to Terabithia would all be missing.  

Something you cherish would certainly be banned from the shelves of this inoffensive library. Personal tastes are broad and diversethis is why public libraries defend intellectual freedom as a core value. 

Intellectual Freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and gather information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas, allowing all sides of a question, cause or movement to be explored. 

Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive, and disseminate ideas. 

- American Library Association 

Why does Intellectual Freedom matter?

Under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the fundamental freedoms of thought, belief and expression allow every Canadian the right to explore different ideas, hear all sides of an issue and gather information to make well-educated and informed decisions.

Intellectual Freedom supports Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom by protecting your right to read, listen, write and speak your beliefs and opinions. Everyone has the right to have or hear an opinion on any topic.

How does EPL support Intellectual Freedom?

EPL supports Intellectual Freedom by protecting your right, and the right of others, to explore ideas to inform your opinions. Exploring an idea, work of fiction or other piece of media does not mean you agree with it. 

We champion the right for all ideas to be heard.

EPL presents programs and services and offers a collection that reflects the various interests of the communities we serve.  

 As Ideas Champions, EPL plays an important role in protecting your right to uncensored access to content (collections, classes and events) of varying topics, beliefs and opinions. We: 

  • make our meeting rooms and event spaces available to the public. 
  • promote equitable access to our services and spaces.  
  • maintain a welcoming and supportive environment free from discrimination and harassment. 
  • invite guest speakers to our spaces and encourage a broad discourse on a wide range of topics presented. 

Each year tens of millions of items are borrowed from EPL—books, magazines, music, movies, video games and more. The materials are selected to offer a diverse, balanced and high-quality collection representing all viewpoints. EPL’s selection criteria include:

  • relevance to community needs
  • importance as a historical document or a current event
  • relation to the existing collection and other materials on the subject
  • popularity and local demand
  • comprehensive treatment of a subject and clarity

There may be an item in our collection you don’t like or find offensive. Tell us about it. Share your concerns with a staff member. If you think our collection is missing material that shares diverse viewpoints, let us know that by suggesting an item for purchase. If you want the Library to host a particular speaker or present about a specific topic, reach out to us!

Books, films, speakers and events that present a different viewpoint or a new situation are excellent opportunities to explore topics from a new perspective. For example, the Library carries a range of content to help parents and caregivers explore difficult or sensitive topics with children

Parents and caregivers are the best suited to guide the reading and viewing selections of their children. We encourage you to discuss with your child what is appropriate for them to read, listen to, view and play, and to actively involve yourself in their borrowing decisions. What is appropriate for one family is not appropriate for another. We understand these differences of taste and sensibility exist and we collect items with this breadth of parenting style in mind. For further context, check out past banned and challenged picture books.

Children under the age of 18 must have permission from their parents or guardians to get a library card and you can conveniently review your children’s borrowing activity online. 

Intellectual Freedom is one of the deepest and most foundational values of a library. At this time of significant polarization, when suppression of dialogue seems to be on the rise, upholding and advocating for this fundamental value is of extraordinary importance—or we might be left with a library with nothing in it that could offend anyone. A library missing many great works of literature and some of the most popular and influential media of the day.  

Libraries have a core responsibility to safeguard and facilitate access to constitutionally protected expressions of knowledge, imagination, ideas, and opinion, including those which some individuals and groups consider unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. To this end, in accordance with their mandates and professional values and standards, libraries provide, defend and promote equitable access to the widest possible variety of expressive content and resist calls for censorship and the adoption of systems that deny or restrict access to resources. Libraries resist efforts to limit the exercise of these responsibilities while recognizing the right of criticism by individuals and groups.

-Canadian Federation of Library Associations

Online Intellectual Freedom resources

Listen to our Overdue Finds Podcast about banned books.

Banned Books