Ontario education minister asks Peel board to halt library book removals in Mississauga and Brampton

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Published September 13, 2023 at 3:43 pm

Ontario’s education minister has told the Peel District School Board to immediately stop its so-called “weeding” of school libraries after concerns were raised about how the board is carrying out the process of assessing and removing older books.

The move comes after critics say Peel school libraries have been removing books simply because they were published before 2008, based on board guidelines.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says it is “offensive, illogical and counterintuitive” to remove books from years past that educate students on history, antisemitism or are celebrated literary classics.

But in a statement sent to insauga.com, the Peel District School Board said “teacher librarians have not been given the direction to remove all books published with a publication date older than 2008, nor has the board received provincial direction to remove particular books from our collections.”

“Regardless of publication date, older or damaged books that are accurate, relevant to the student population, inclusive, not harmful, and support the current curriculum may stay within the school or schools have the opportunity to repurchase newer copies of the same title to replace the damaged ones,” the board statement continued.

An advocacy group made up of teachers, parents, students and school staff who are against the board’s weeding process says it appears the board asked its libraries earlier this year to remove fiction and non-fiction books published before 2008 while assessing collections through an equity lens.

Tom Ellard of the group Libraries not Landfills says, since then, thousands of books including “The Diary of Anne Frank” and other classics, have been removed from several school library shelves in Peel Region.

The process of “weeding” library collections isn’t new and has long been carried out to ensure collections are up-to-date and in good condition.

But Ellard says the Peel board guidelines on weeding appear to direct librarians to follow a three-step process, with the first one appearing to place a 15-year age limit on books in a collection.

Books are also to be assessed for their physical condition and their circulation data is to be reviewed, according to details of the process shared by Ellard’s group.

The second and third steps in the weeding guidelines direct librarians to remove books that may have misinformation, are misleading, or reinforce racist content or information that is not gender affirming.

Ellard says members of his group agree that addressing issues of equity and supporting more marginalized voices in Peel libraries is of paramount importance, but the decision to remove books simply because they were published before 2008 is arbitrary and concerning.

His group says the new weeding guidelines were crafted by the board in response to a provincial directive to undertake a comprehensive audit of all books to ensure collections are inclusive and reflective of the student population.

There has been a change under one of 27 directives from the Ontario Ministry of Education. The directives came after the ministry stepped to address concerns about systemic racism.

Directive number 18 states the board should be “evaluating books, media, and other resources currently being used in schools for teaching and learning English, History and Social Sciences to ensure that they are inclusive and culturally responsive, relevant, and reflective of the student bodies and voices, and broader school communities.”

But the school board said the weeding and seeding, or replenishment, of school book collections has always been a part of the responsibilities for all teacher librarians within Peel District School Board and at school boards across Canada.

The Peel District School Board follows the library weeding guidelines set by the Canadian School Libraries Association.

These guidelines direct the teacher librarians at 259 schools to keep books with any publishing date that are accurate, relevant to the student population, inclusive, not harmful, and support the current curriculum from the Ministry of Education.

“The replenishment process significantly enhances the school libraries’ capacity to offer a more precise, inclusive, culturally relevant, and responsive collection of texts for students,” the board said in a statement.

The Canadian Press

With files from Karen Longwell

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