Intellectual Freedom Challenges Survey

Intellectual freedom is a fundamental value for libraries. As the voice of the Canadian library community, CLFA-FCAB affirms that libraries have a responsibility to support, defend, and promote intellectual freedom. On February 1, 2017, the members of CFLA-FCAB endorsed the Statement on Intellectual Freedom and Libraries. It reads in part:

Libraries have a core responsibility to safeguard and facilitate access to constitutionally protected expressions of knowledge, imagination, ideas, and opinion, including those which some individuals and groups consider unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable…

Libraries provide, defend and promote equitable access to the widest possible variety of expressive content and resist calls for censorship and the adoption of systems that deny or restrict access to resources.

(Note: Prior to 2016, the Intellectual Freedom Challenges Survey (formerly known as the Annual Challenges Survey) was conducted under the auspices of the Canadian Library Association).

History of CLA/CFLA/CFE intellectual freedom surveys

While the Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom existed in the Canadian Library Association (CLA-ACB) since the late 1940’s, the organized survey of incidents challenging intellectual freedom began in 2007 with a review of incidents from 2006. Each year, the results of an appeal for report was issued and the results posted on the CLA website. In some years, a list of titles abstracted from the survey itself was posted as well.

In essence, this pattern was followed through the 2017 report year and the annual reports can be found below. With the decision in 2016 to dissolve CLA and create the Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA-FCAB), the Advisory Committee continued to finish the 2016 survey and conduct the 2017 edition.

In 2018 CFLA-FCAB established an Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) to advise it of matters related to intellectual freedom and to continue the Challenges Survey. Using the 2017 survey as a guide, and with cognizance of ALA’s similar survey, the IFC conducted surveys in 2018 and 2019. In response to requests from the community, the survey was revamped for the 2020 year and the tool was opened all year, reports being created when appropriate. Annual reports for 2020 and following years were created along with lists of most challenged titles. These, too, are found below.

With the survey itself under control, the IFC undertook to create a reference database of all previous reports. That comprehensive database contained information from 2006 forward and was updated annually from the survey questionnaire.

Also in 2020, the Centre for Free Expression (CFE) at Toronto Metropolitan University began planning for its own database of incidents in libraries that challenged intellectual freedom.

While incorporating much of the same data as the CFLA-FCAB survey, its design differs in three major respects. First, the data submitted would be public on or about the time of its submission, rather than in annual reports as was the case with the CFLA-FCAB project. Secondly, for those libraries that wished to supply it, CFE would publish internal documentation relating to individual incidents, including the review process for written complaints. Finally, records in the CFE public database would include the name of the library involved whereas the data in the CFLA-FCAB survey, following the practice of its CLA predecessor, did not publicly identify the library reporting.

In 2021, the IFC initiated discussions with CFE regarding two projects that aimed to collect similar data from the same community. These conversations culminated in an agreement in January 2024 to merge the two initiatives into a unified database. The resulting database will integrate the advanced features of the CFE effort, including documentation and near-real-time publication. Importantly, contributors will still have the option to submit data without publicly identifying their respective libraries.

The Canadian Library Challenges Database will allow Canadian libraries to submit reports of incidents affecting intellectual freedom to a single site, and to review the responses of other libraries to titles and programs frequently challenged in real time.

For its part, the IFC will continue to issue reports on current trends as it has in the past, both on its own website and through programs like the Freedom to Read Week.

Requests for research access to the entire database, including earlier data and data submitted by libraries not allowing public identification, will be evaluated by a joint CFE-IFC committee.

Questions or Comments?

If you have questions, comments, or are interested in participating in this effort, please contact us!