A Canadian high school is under fire for removing thousands of books from the library to comply with a new equity-based book vetting process.
Students at the Erindale Secondary School returned last week to find “rows and rows of empty shelves with absolutely no books,” according to 10th grader Reina Takata.
She estimated that more than 50 percent of the school’s library collection was gone.
Students were told by staff that if the shelves look emptier it is because they had to remove all books published prior to the year 2008.
The removal of books followed a directive from the Minister of Education who ordered the Peel District School Board’s (PDSB) Equity Office to conduct diversity audits, which includes books, media and all other resources in use for teaching and learning.
“The Board shall evaluate books, media and all other resources currently in use for teaching and learning English, History and Social Sciences for the purpose of utilizing resources that are inclusive and culturally responsive, relevant and reflective of students, and the Board’s broader school communities,” the directive states.
A 2020 Education Ministry review of the Board made a series of recommendations with an intensive focus on “equity” using the word in more than 100 instances in the 46-page document.
Education officials wanted the audits to be “among the first priorities” of the school board” and ensure that learning materials are “inclusive and culturally responsive.”
Librarians were ordered to focus on reviewing books older than 2008 and used the “MUSTIE” acronym to consider whether to exclude books from libraries based on the following criteria:
- Misleading – information may be factually inaccurate or obsolete
- Unpleasant – refers to the physical condition of the book, may require replacement
- Superseded – book been overtaken by a new edition or a more current resource
- Trivial – of no discernible literary or scientific merit; poorly written or presented
- Irrelevant – doesn’t meet the needs and interests of the library’s community
- Elsewhere – the book or the material in it may be better obtained from other sources
During the second stage of review, curation was supposed to evaluate books based on a standard of anti-racism, cultural responsiveness, and inclusivity. The third step was a review of how books reflect student diversity.
However, PDSB staff were simply tossing books based on the date alone, according to CBC News, which referenced the testimony of trustee Karla Bailey, who told a committee focused on the book review process.
“That is where many of us have a real issue,” Bailey said. “None of us have an issue with removing books that are musty, torn, or racist, outdated. But by weeding a book, removing a book from a shelf, based simply on this date is unacceptable. And yes, I witnessed it.”
The blanket policy to throw out books simply based on publication date drew outrage and sparked allegations of censorship, even from students.
“No one asked for our opinions,” Takata said. “I feel that taking away books without anyone’s knowledge is considered censorship.”
David Green, trustee and chair of the school board, told CBC that the weeding out process was done incorrectly.
“We have to make sure that we are meeting the needs of the students and not just rolling something out because we were told to do it,” said Green. “We have asked the Director [of Education] again to make sure that if that is taking place, then that is stopped, and then the proper process is followed.”