In Canada: Censorship and Library-Patron Interest in Books

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The English-language book industry agency BookNet Canada sees library loans and holds revealing interest in censored books and series.

At the central branch of the Calgary Public Library, designed by Snohetta. BookNet Canada says it has found substantial increasing library-patron interest in the Canadian market in books and series targeted for book-banning efforts and other censorship. Image – Getty iStockphoto: JeWhyte

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Tracking Library-Patron Interest in Censored Books
The Unites States’ struggle with recent years efforts in book bannings has taken much focus in international book publishing circles—as evidenced by the inclusion in late May of the American author Laurie Halse Anderson at Norway in the World Expression Forum (WEXFO)’s focus on threats to the freedoms to read, to publish, and to unfettered expression.

Much less has been heard in international discussions of the issue in the States’ neighboring market of Canada.

BookNet Canada, a support agency for the English-language Canadian book industry, has produced a series of focused considerations around the issue of book banning and how it manifests its peculiar form of censorship in that market.

The agency has identified some 614 unique titles and/or series either banned or challenged in the Canadian English-language market between 1923, using publishers’ metadata to surface those books. It’s not entirely clear why this method is thought to be better than surveying the Canadian market’s publishers and asking which titles have been the targets of censorship. This method depends on publishers putting indicators of bannings into their metadata to catch the attention of those who are searching for such terms.

This method surfaced data indicating that 23 percent of the books seen as censored have been published since 2020.

These are the Top 10 series the BookNet program has identified as having the most banning action as registered in metadata. Links provided by BookNet, are to publishers’ pages for these books.

  1. House of Night series by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast

  2. The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman

  3. A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle

  4. Jasmine Toguchi series by Debbi Michiko Florence

  5. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series by Alvin Schwartz

  6. Cilla Lee-Jenkins series by Susan Tan

  7. Aristotle and Dante series by Benjamin Alire Saenz

  8. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis

  9. Maus series by Art Spiegelman

  10. The Luck Uglies series by Paul Durham

And these are the Top 10 titles of books that publishers’ metadata flagged as having run afoul of censorship. Links provided by BookNet, are to publishers’ pages for these books.

  1. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence

  2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

  3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  4. Ulysses by James Joyce

  5. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

  6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

  8. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

  9. Animal Farm by George Orwell

  10. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

BookNet has found that its Top 20—10 books and 10 series targeted—are titles originally published between 1884 and 2017, a remarkable date range. “Interestingly,” BookNet’s team writes, “the top individual titles identified as banned or controversial had much earlier first publication dates than the top series titles.”

Image: BookNet Canada

By using library and sales data, BookNet has been able to demonstrate that library loans of the 20 titles and series indicated in metadata to have been censored have “steadily increased 690 percent from July 2020 to June 2023. The agency also looked at holds placed on these titles, to account for the fact that all libraries may not have adequate numbers of copies to satisfy all loan requests. There, too, in holds on censored books, BookNet could see substantial increases in library-patron interest.

Series books targeted by censorship were loaned by libraries more frequently by individual titles, with 62% going to series books and 38 percent going to single titles.

But if anything, the implication is that censored literature in Canada has been seen to generate increased library-patron interest and particularly in the most recent years of right-wing politically tinged (often orchestrated in the United States) efforts in censorship.

While authors who are the victims of book bannings and other efforts in censorship differ in their opinions of whether such unwanted visibility created more sales, it appears that in the realm of library-patron interest—and based on publisher metadata to indicate which titles have been subjected to banning efforts—censorship action has led to sharply increasing interest from readers.

Image: BookNet Canada

Again, BookNet Canada’s group of small articles from its research on book bannings is here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Canadian market is here, more on industry statistics is here, more on bookselling in the international publishing industry is here, and more on book bannings and other forms of censorship is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.