TMC7 Kinney & Oberg

Library Challenges Database: A New Project from the Centre for Freedom of Expression 

by Sheri Kinney and Dianne Oberg

Censorship challenges increase the importance of collection management policies in your school and school district, as illustrated by the recent experience of a B. C. teacher-librarian. If and when the censors come to your library (or classroom), access to a new Canadian resource, a censorship database being developed by the Centre for Free Expression at the Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University), will support efforts to responsibly address challenges. The database adds one more tool to other more traditional resources for school library collection management, such as an updated and approved policy that outlines a process for reconsideration of library and/or classroom materials; colleagues including school and district administrators and school board trustees who are knowledgeable about the principles of intellectual freedom; and teachers associations and school library associations with a commitment to intellectual freedom. The concept of intellectual freedom includes freedom of expression, the rights of children including the right to know. 

Sheri Kinney, MEd, is now in her 31st year in education. Sheri has been a teacher-librarian for over 20 years at the middle-secondary level. She has served her local and provincial library associations in executive positions and continues to be an active member at both levels. Sheri is currently part of her local association’s BCTF Teacher Inquiry: Decolonizing Our Learning Spaces.

Dianne Oberg, PhD, is a Professor Emerita in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Before coming to the university, Dianne worked as a classroom teacher and teacher-librarian in the public school system. Her research focuses on teacher-librarianship education and on the implementation and evaluation of school library programs. Dianne was the editor of the international journal School Libraries Worldwide for 15 years, and she continues to be an active member of school library associations at local, national, and international levels. Recently she co-edited, with Barbara A. Schultz-Jones, Global Action for School Libraries: Models of Inquiry, a book co-sponsored by IASL and IFLA that focuses on the instructional role of the teacher-librarian.

Read the paper.


  1. Sheri and Dianne,
    Thanks for an informative and needed paper about an important issue that is becoming more prevalent as of late. I follow many other school library professionals on Twitter and am dismayed to see how many are being challenged (and bullied/harassed) for bringing a variety of reading materials to their collection. Sheri, your anecdote was a very impactful portion of this paper. It's sad that some of the complaints about books "come from within" and often they aren't addressed in the same professional, thoughtful way that you handled it. We must confront our own biases and beliefs to ensure that we are not limiting our collection development by "omitting to purchase".

    I have only indirectly faced such challenges, first with the Three Wishes controversy from a few years back (see - although I dealt with it differently than my board's recommendation), and then with a parent asking my administrator at the time "what percentage of the books in the library are gay?" - I told my principal that the answer was "not enough", although I think he was looking for a different answer. It is frustrating to see school library professionals (and others) labelled as "groomers" or "pedophiles" for providing age-appropriate books that happen to deal with issues of sexuality and gender identity.

    One of your last sentences read "CFE wants advice from the school library community about the best way to approach school boards and school libraries to encourage them to join this project." You make such a good point about why it's vital to have qualified school library staff - we need people to ensure books aren't quietly removed if there is a single dissenting voice complaining and that due process is followed. Children's rights to freedom of expression and freedom to know are, you rightly pointed out, often ignored. I wonder how I can balance this in my own K-8 library while still maintaining "the best interest of the child". Big thanks to TMU for helping with this important project. How else might it be publicized, especially in school boards with no school library "point person"?
    Diana M

  2. This is a wonderful project that matches what we have in the U.S. and gets lots of traffic. But, I have a wonderment. There is a book: Digital literacy advocate Diana Graber demystifies the complicated digital landscape facing today’s kids and provides answers for parents and teachers eager to show them how to use technology as an empowering force in their lives and in their role as future leaders. Check this out if you can find a copy. The idea is not books, but digital information and is a kind of offense rather than defense. I am wondering if we might create a website like that might be titled something like It would be a fr mentoring site that would feature librarians as mentors of parents across all forms of media including books on how to help your children and teens select the best and reject the rest as a part of a free and democratic society. The message is that we are your trusted friend, not your enemy. I am going to have my collection development students begin to construct such a site. Would anyone out there like to participate? It just seems that since sports teams both offenceive teams and defense teams, perhaps we could also use this strategy. What do you think?

  3. Hi Dianne and Sheri,

    Thank you for such a timely paper on one of the biggest issues facing us right now. Clear and consistent process for all including internal community is so important. It can even help us when our own biases knock up against the process as well.
    I have been surprised about how many of the challenges I've dealt with recently have come more.from the political left than the right. All from a misunderstanding of what the text says sensationalized in their mind by comments the child has made. Similar to the banning of David A
    Robertson's Great Bear, most have come from a fundamental misunderstanding of who the author is and saying they should not be talking about indigenous issues (the name sounded too western for the author to be Indigenous according to one parent...). Yet each time when a clear and consistent process was followed the situation was able to be resolved by clear explanation of.the correct information.

    I'm not sure if informal challenges (we have layers so it goes informal verbal and then a formal paperwork supported challenge,) are ones you want reported or just the formalized ones.

  4. Hi Dianne and Sheri,

    I shared the article with a colleague and this was her response as she was also struggling with "Let's Talk About It'
    Thanks for this...a very timely article for me!

    I appreciate everything that Sheri said in her story and can relate to so much of it.

    Sheri is had glowing reviews and came from a reputable book list. I was excited to purchase it but deflated when it arrived.

    She is also right though...the book is not for me or adults and so our reaction to it needs to be checked.

    I do think that perhaps the article is also right and points out the obvious...gaps in practice, procedure and policy.

    So, as we move towards this, I will feel more confident purchasing these types of things and champion them in the library.

    Keeping it here on my desk and working towards better practice/policy/procedure development and then re-barcoding.


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