What books did people want Toronto Public Library to ban?

What books did people want Toronto Public Library to ban?
The Toronto Reference Library. Photograph by Open Grid Scheduler/Flickr

Every year, Toronto Public Library releases a list of all the materials (meaning, books, movies or anything else that could possibly be found on a library shelf) that users lodged formal complaints about during the previous year. Although the complaints are sometimes absurd, library staff give each one careful consideration.

It’s very rare for an item to be removed from the library’s collection in response to a user complaint, but it does happen on occasion. No materials were blacklisted in 2015, but in 2014 the library got rid of a Chinese children’s picture book that was riddled with grammatical errors. In 2012, the only thing removed from the collection in response to a user complaint was an educational video about date rape prevention that turned out to be kinda racist.

What are some of the books and movies people complained about in 2016, and did any of them get the old heave-ho? Let’s see:

Tintin in America
A library user complained about this illustrated adventure book’s “derogatory” depiction of Native Americans. (Racial sensitivities have come a long way since Tintin’s heyday.) Library staff didn’t get rid of the book, but they did move it out of the children’s collection.


Madeline and the Gypsies
Another conscientious library user thought this Madeline title, part of the well-known children’s series, was unfair to Roma people. The book calls them “gypsies” and depicts them as a misfit band of travelling circus people. Library staff kept the book in the children’s collection, but changed its subject heading so that it no longer shows up in catalogue searches for “Romanies.”


The Santa Trap
A user disliked the book’s glorification of the use of dynamite as a means of blowing up Santa, and also its free and easy use of bad words, like “stupid.” Library staff took no action on this one.


The Official Driver’s Handbook
A user complained about the fact that this government publication says it’s legal for drivers to turn right on red—which, in fact, in Ontario, it is. Library staff don’t make the traffic laws, so they left this one as-is.


L’Ecole Autour du Monde
This is a French translation of a Dora the Explorer book, written by Shakira. (Yes, that Shakira. Your guess is as good as ours.) A very woke library user complained about the fact that the book depicts a “blonde woman delivering technology to third world/underdeveloped areas,” thereby promulgating “the first-world saviour narrative.” Library staff decided to keep the book, because it “celebrates diversity” and “Shakira is an appropriate author/character.” Sure, why not?


And Then There Were None
Someone complained about this Agatha Christie novel because of “derogatory comments about Jews.” Library staff agree that there’s some ugly stuff about Jewish people in the book, but they decided to keep it anyway, both because it isn’t dramatically more anti-Semitic than other popular fiction of its time (what, are we supposed to ban The Sun Also Rises, too?), and because the anti-Semitic comments “are the inner thoughts of one character who is later revealed to be contemptible.” Plus, this version of the book is WAY LESS RACIST than the original.


The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Oddly, the only book library staff removed from the collection in 2016 was a Tolstoy classic. They don’t have anything against Russian literature, per se, but a library user complained about this particular edition of this book, by Waking Lion Press, which was full of typesetting and grammatical errors. Toronto Public Library has plenty of other editions of this title on offer, so library staff consigned this version to the recycling bin.


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