Freedom to Read at the Oshawa Library

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Story and images by Emily Wood
With Freedom to Read week behind us, staff at the McLaughlin branch of the Oshawa Public Library admit that participation at their main event was disappointing.
Canada’s annual Freedom to Read week creates awareness surrounding issues of intellectual freedom and censorship.  This year’s week ran from February 24 to March 2 and, in support of it, Teresa Gawman, teen librarian at the McLaughlin branch, organized a night of bingo for youth – with a twist.
She called it Banned Book B.I.N.G.O. Rather than sporting columns of numbers, each card was printed with images of different book covers that have been banned across the globe at one time or another. The titles included 1984, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, Captain Underpants and many more.

The bingo cards for Banned Book B.I.N.G.O.

“For me it’s important just because it stresses the idea of intellectual freedom,” Gawman said. “I think in our society, specifically in Canada, we are really lucky in that we don’t really have a lot of books that get banned. But in other countries, even in the United States there are a lot of books that get banned constantly.”
The event was organized in the hopes that kids, ranging in age from 12 to 18, would be able to have fun while at the same time develop a sense of understanding that here in Canada, readers are fairly lucky to have access to almost anything.
“It’s just to bring awareness to kids about free speech and how important that is, and to value it,” said Gawman. “It shows kids what some of the different books are that have been banned, and open up a discussion as to what are these books, why do we think they were banned, and get input on whether or not they agree with it.”

Teresa Gawman, teen librarian at the McLaughlin branch, shows books that have been banned from libraries.

But Freedom to Read week wasn’t just for kids. As another activity, the library also spread banned books throughout the community, in places like doctors’ offices and lobbies. People could log on to a website to find where the library books had been placed, read them and either pass them on or place them back in the community.
Despite four kids registering for the Thursday evening event, none showed up for Banned Book B.I.N.G.O. Gawman guessed that the snowy weather kept people away.
“It does happen, so I don’t take it personally,” Gawman said of the disappointing turnout. “Sometimes it’s hit, sometimes it’s miss, sometimes it’s weather. There’s all kinds of variables.”
Staff at the library typically expect between 20 and 30 kids to attend, depending on the event. But Gawman admits that it can be challenging to get teenaged kids to participate in events like this one.
The library website and social media outlets will soon undergo major change in order to streamline communication more directly to the community, and provide easier access to information about programs and events.
“We’re always looking for new ways of letting the teams and the community know what we’re doing,” Gawman said, who hopes to draw much more participation for the Teen Art and Writing Contest she organized for this spring.
Details about the art and writing contest or other upcoming library events can be found at the Oshawa Library website.

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