Libraries aren’t neutral

Submitted by Creston Public Library Chief Librarian Saara Itkonen

Libraries don’t often make the news. Especially not when climate change, federal elections and a housing crisis are happening all around us. But you may have noticed that some libraries have been in the news lately.

Recently Toronto Public Library made headlines when it rented out a room to host a speech by well-known anti-trans feminist, Meghan Murphy. Libraries rent out rooms (or, in the case of Creston Public Library, you can “borrow” the room by donation) all the time.

What has made this particular case notable is that Meghan Murphy has been criticized by trans rights groups for inciting hatred and violence by claiming that trans women are not women and that including trans women in the feminist movement is harmful? She also appeared before the Canadian Senate in 2016 to argue against including gender identity and expression in the legal protections against discrimination.

The Toronto Public Library argued that they are upholding free speech by renting the room out to Meghan Murphy. Toronto’s mayor and city council disagreed and protests broke out at Toronto Public Library (TPL) Palmerston branch library and online. The city instructed the library to reassess their room rental policy. Major authors and one half of a well-loved drag queen storytime duo pulled out of TPL events.

Just as I was moving to Creston last year, the exact same situation occurred at Vancouver Public Library, my former workplace. Meghan Murphy was rented a meeting room to host a talk there. In response, community relationships with LGBTQ+ groups — that colleagues of mine had been working on for years — were severed and Vancouver Public Library (VPL) was banned from Vancouver’s Pride Parade. I can only imagine what trans employees must have felt while this was going on.

Closer to home, in the Okanagan, the Okanagan Regional Library CEO came under fire from the British Columbia Library Association after he recommended that library programming remain “neutral” to avoid “conflict” with communities. This was in response to a highly popular drag queen storytime at a Kelowna branch that drew complaints from some community members (who didn’t attend the program, mind you).

We don’t have drag queen storytime at the Creston Library and we aren’t hosting high-profile controversial speakers.

But in writing today’s column, I wanted to make a couple of things very clear:

Creston Library is not neutral and we will not provide a platform for hate speech.

Here is why:

Advocating for freedom of information and free speech is an important cornerstone of libraries and library services. There are a variety of materials of every opinion in libraries and providing access to these is important. However, providing a space where someone can give a public talk that harms others is providing a platform for hate speech.

The Creston library affirms the Canadian Library Association’s position on diversity and inclusion.

It states: “The Canadian Library Association believes that a diverse and pluralistic society is central to our country’s identity. Libraries have a responsibility to contribute to a culture that recognizes diversity and fosters social inclusion.

“Libraries strive to deliver inclusive service. Canada’s libraries recognize and energetically affirm the dignity of those they serve, regardless of heritage, education, beliefs, race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental capabilities, or income.

“Libraries understand that acceptance of differences can place individual and collective values in conflict. Libraries are committed to tolerance and understanding. Libraries act to ensure that people can enjoy services free from any attempt by others to impose values, customs or beliefs.”

I don’t want anyone to feel that they aren’t welcome at our library unless they are coming to the library to harm others. If you are then please stay away.

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