CEO Statement: Racist Imagery and Children’s Books
I am sharing information with the community today about how recent news concerning racist content in children’s books is being dealt with at Pickering Public Library.
In early March 2021, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company in charge of the legacy of Theodore Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), released a statement to say that it would cease publication of six Dr. Seuss titles due to racist and insensitive imagery. Included in its statement were these remarks:
“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”
“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalogue represents and supports all communities and families.”
In late March 2021, Scholastic released a statement to announce that they would cease publication of Ook & Gluk, a children’s chapter book by Dav Pilkey, for perpetuating “passive racism”.
When questions or concerns about titles in our collection are raised, our Selectors consult the Resource Development Policy to evaluate the issues and make recommendations to leadership for what should be done. In some instances, we may decide to retain the items but move them to a more mature collection (i.e. teen or adult collection) if we believe that the materials are not appropriate for children; in others, we may decide to keep the items in its original collection or remove the items altogether from the Library.
The Selectors reviewed the Dr. Seuss and Dav Pilkey titles in our collection and noted several instances of racist imagery including obvious anti-Asian racism. Given that the audience for these materials are children and the considerable potential for these images to be harmful to children, we have made the decision to remove the physical titles from our collection. Digital copies are controlled by a library consortium in which we have a membership. We are advocating that the digital copies of these titles also be removed. This work is ongoing.
As you are aware, there are many recent, tragic examples of hate crimes in the news including violent attacks on Asian-Canadians in the GTA and the tragic killing of eight Asian-Americans in Atlanta. Race-based attacks cause physical and psychological harm to people in our community and it is important for institutions like the public library to ensure everyone in our communities feels welcome and has a sense of belonging.
As part of the Pickering Public Library’s commitment to providing inclusive spaces that promote belonging, we recognize the role we can play to reduce children’s access to racist imagery. We will soon begin a project to examine the content of all children’s picture books and early readers in our collection to find issues similar to the ones contained in the Dr. Seuss and Dav Pilkey books. We want children and families in Pickering to find titles that build understanding for others and do not cause harm through stereotypes or perpetuating racist imagery. Many new books are published each year and we look forward to continuously evolving a children’s collection that better reflects, celebrates, and includes the valuable diversity within our community.
We acknowledge that we have much more listening and learning to do. We are striving to provide library experiences that honour and amplify the unique stories and voices of Pickering. We will continue to seek opportunities to do better as we carve a new path and explore different ways to make the lasting change we seek.