Banned Books Protected by the Toronto Public Library

When two English majors get married and merge their book collections, their shelves are bursting with tons of titles- many of which have now been threatened, censored or banned. We’ve mostly switched to e-books in our home but many of our classic favourites are still tucked away with the CDs and VHS tapes we couldn’t bear to part with. After hearing the Toronto Public Library has joined the Book Sanctuary Movement by providing access to books that have been challenged or removed from schools or libraries, I went upstairs to visit our book cupboards to see how many would be considered problematic today. Right away I saw The Satanic Verses, Atonement, The Kite Runner, and two copies of one of my favourite books ever, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. When I read it in high school it awed and terrified me and I never imagined the current political climate and ongoing debates over women’s rights and gender equality would give this book a renewed relevance with its themes of totalitarianism, reproductive rights, and gender oppression. I loved it and along with The Edible Woman, these books made me obsessed with Margaret Atwood’s work. (I also never imagined that The Handmaid’s Tale would be adapted into a hugely popular and critically acclaimed TV series that would give me one of the most amazing acting experiences when I was cast as a Martha last season.)

When I went through the list of the 50 books protected in the TPL’s Book Sanctuary, I was alarmed to read that one of the challenged books was Blubber by Judy Blume. In 2018, a request to ban the book was submitted to the library by a Toronto parent who thought “the bullying in the book was too graphic and detailed for children to read.” The decision was made not to ban Blubber because “the bullying was not portrayed positively and bullying is a real issue that children face.” My copy of Blubber is long gone (literally read and reread to pieces) and I can’t imagine having grown up without Judy Blume or Margaret Atwood’s canons. I’m happy the Book Sanctuary exists, not only to preserve these important books but to bring them to the attention of readers who may not have otherwise discovered them. (Scroll down for full list of the 50 challenged, censored or banned books the TPL is protecting.)

The Book Sanctuary movement was first started by the Chicago Public Library to address the “increasing intellectual freedom challenges on a wide range of issues” that libraries are facing. The Toronto Public Library’s Book Sanctuary is a collection of 50 books that have been censored, banned, or challenged by people wanting them removed from North American public libraries or schools. To protect these books and ensure that anyone can have access to these titles at any time, the Toronto Reference Library in downtown Toronto has created a permanent Book Sanctuary Reference Collection (pictured below.) Committed to protecting and defending the intellectual freedom across their libraries, these 50 adult, teen and children’s books are always available for browsing and borrowing in all the Toronto Public Library branches and online.

Permanent Book Sanctuary Reference Collection at the Toronto Reference Library

Here is a list of the 50 challenged/censored/banned books that the Toronto Public Library is ensuring will always available for you to read. If you click on the title, it will take you to the book’s page on the TPL site where you can learn the reason why people contested it and asked the library to have it permanently removed:

Some of these books have been objected to for decades and banned by school boards, libraries, states and even entire countries. The Handmaid’s Tale was banned in Spain and Portugal and is currently banned in the states of Texas and Oregon. Movements like the Book Sanctuary will ensure books like this persist. A completely unburnable edition of The Handmaid’s Tale has since been published, constructed using fireproof materials. What a powerful and indestructible symbol against censorship.

And something important to remember… anyone can create a Book Sanctuary. If you collect and protect endangered books, and talk about them and share them, you are already part of the movement.

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