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Canadian Federation of Library Associations / Fédération canadienne des associations de bibliothèques

CFLA, Intellectual Freedom, and the Canadian Library Community

September 22, 2021

The Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA) this week released a response to an Open Letter to the CFLA Board on Intellectual Freedom, signed by members of the Canadian library community in response to the CFLA’s statement regarding challenges to the book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.

Response to Open Letter on Intellectual Freedom Statement

The CFLA-FCAB Board of Directors acknowledges receipt of the Open Letter to the CFLA Board on Intellectual Freedom received on August 23, 2021.

We thank those who drafted and signed the letter for expressing their views in an open and constructive manner. CFLA encourages discussion and dissent as an integral part of the decision-making process. It is only in encouraging free and open dialogue and debate that we can discover and refine the ideas that should guide our future progress.

As the letter acknowledges, the balance between intellectual freedom and inclusion continues to be a matter of debate within our profession. Due to the COVID pandemic, a planned 2020 National Forum on exactly that topic had to be cancelled.It is our hope that circumstances will permit us to plan a national event to explore these issues in the near future, in order to have a constructive and nuanced conversation.

However, the Board stands behind the advice of its Intellectual Freedom Committee and the assertions of the statement in question. It is our contention that the statement is consistent with both CFLA-FCAB’s Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and Libraries and its Position Statement on Diversity and Inclusion. The standard that has been established by the courts for the abridgement of freedom of expression is very high, and we believe this standard applies to challenged materials in libraries. Moreover, we believe that libraries can serve their communities through targeted partnerships, programming, and collection development without restricting other materials or thought that might provide an alternate point of view.

The Board and the Committee are aware that there are many challenges launched by users and community members to materials and programs that libraries provide access to, and that not each one can be commented on. The Board has chosen to comment on situations in which the decision of one or more libraries to retain the challenged work, or make its facilities available to a controversial speaker, faced significant pushback and media attention. In some of these situations, the libraries in question sought confirmation of their approach and, when warranted, CFLA-FCAB provided it. In others, CFLA-FCAB responded to high-profile challenges occurring in multiple libraries and receiving national attention. Going forward, the Committee is developing criteria for when, why and how it responds to intellectual freedom challenges.

Again, we are aware that our position on this particular issue is not unanimous within the Canadian library community. However, unanimity is often not possible. Instead, CFLA-FCAB’s governance model relies on a board nominated by member associations to represent the interests of the broad library community, with advice and input from representative committees of experts.

Thank you again for your input and your interest in this matter.

Open Letter to the CFLA Board On Intellectual Freedom

The Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA) positions itself as the “united voice of Canada’s Libraries.” However, we are not united behind the three position statements put out by CFLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee since 2017, all of which defend works or events that are critical of trans peoples’ gender expression. Using Intellectual Freedom only to defend transmisia does not reflect the views of many in the CFLA’s affiliated membership, does not represent the myriad of challenges to intellectual freedom posed to library workers in all sectors of libraries, and does a disservice to the need for open dialogue about the concept and practice of intellectual freedom in libraries. The IF Committee statements, instead, cause active harm to the trans library workers in our field, as well as our communities and patrons. To be clear, we believe that intellectual freedom is a complex issue worthy of discussion; the humanity and fundamental right to gender expression for trans people is not. CFLA needs to reckon with what happens when abstract principles are prioritized over real people’s lives.

National advocacy is about empowerment, but there is little empowerment evident from the IF Committee for trans library workers, community-responsible collection development, 2SLGBTQIA+ books and events, and marginalized patrons and the library workers who work to support them.

The CFLA Intellectual Freedom Committee’s statements do not reflect willingness to engage in an open and transparent dialogue about a contemporary and nuanced position on intellectual freedom. These statements do not reflect the position of the undersigned.

To CFLA, we say: not in our names.

(Full letter with additional background information and list of signatories)