". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Woke Weeding in Canadian School Library Creates ‘Empty Shelves’

September 22, 2023

“This year, I came into my school library, and there are rows and rows of empty shelves with absolutely no books,” said Reina Takata, a 10th grader at Erindale Secondary School outside Toronto, Canada. The desolation appears to be the result of local librarians misinterpreting their instructions to conduct an “equitable” and “inclusive” weeding process. Yet their mistake was not that they deviated from the goal of woke library weeding, but that they reached the end goal a little too quickly.

The Peel District School Board (PDSB), which oversees Erindale, had recently ordered an “equitable curation cycle” in response to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s directive to “evaluate books, media and all other resources … for the purpose of utilizing resources that are inclusive and culturally responsive, relevant and reflective of students, and the Board’s broader school communities.”

Erindale staff had informed students in May, “If the shelves look emptier right now it’s because we have to remove all books [published] prior to 2008.” Takata estimated that 50% of library books were gone when she returned to school this fall. The purge eliminated everything from “Harry Potter” to “The Hunger Games,” and from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank.

“I think that authors who wrote about Japanese internment camps are going to be erased and the entire events that went on historically for Japanese Canadians are going to be removed,” said Takata, who is of Japanese descent. “That worries me a lot.”

Leece’s office responded that the widespread removal of books was not what he had in mind. “Ontario is committed to ensuring that the addition of new books better reflects the rich diversity of our communities,” said Lecce.

“It is offensive, illogical, and counterintuitive to remove books from years past that educate students on Canada’s history, antisemitism, or celebrated literary classics.”

PDSB agreed, permitting older books to remain in libraries if they were “accurate, relevant to the student population, inclusive, not harmful, and support the current curriculum.”

“Books published prior to 2008 that are damaged, inaccurate, or do not have strong circulation data (are not being checked out by students) are removed,” PDSB explained. Their policy provided for replacing damaged books with strong circulation, regardless of publication date, and preserving older titles that were “accurate, serve the curriculum, align with board initiatives, and are responsive to student interest and engagement.”

Good libraries weed their collections continually to remove and replace damaged, moldy, or outdated books. Canadian School Libraries use the “MUSTIE” acronym as their standard for removal, which stands for:

  • “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.”

What is unique about the PDSB debacle is the wholesale removal of any book published more than 15 years ago.

PDSB compiled a detailed manual titled “Weeding and Audit of Resource in the Library Learning Commons collection,” which launched an “equitable curation cycle.” This cycle was created to comply with Education Minister Leece’s Directive 18, quoted above, which instructed the board to complete a diversity audit of school resources, including libraries. It also responded to “a 2020 Ministry review and report on widespread issues of systematic discrimination within the PDSB.” In other words, the provincial government had imposed multiple layers of top-down pressure on the school board to be woker.

The “equitable curation cycle” itself consisted of “a three-step process that holds Peel staff accountable for being critically conscious of how systems operate, so that we can dismantle inequities and foster practices that are culturally responsive and relevant.” Step one was to review books published more than 15 years ago according to the MUSTIE acronym. Step two was an “anti-racist and inclusive audit, and Step three was a “representation audit” to make sure “resources reflect student diversity.”

Only PDSB librarians messed up big-time. Instead of reviewing books older than 15 years according to the MUSTIE criteria, they simply threw out all books older than 15 years, leaving empty shelves all over. “When you talk to the librarian in the library, the books are being weeded by the date, no other criteria,” trustee Karla Bailey told the PDSB at a May 8 committee meeting. “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.” PDSB superintendent of innovation and research Bernadette Smith responded that was “very disappointing” to hear and not the directions the board had given in its training.

PDSB passed a motion at its May 24 meeting to clarify that librarians must document a reason for removal during the anti-racist or representation audits.

But maybe, just maybe, the librarians who flushed the stacks into the dumpster did better than they knew. They were tasked with purging the school library with any books deemed offensive, racist, non-inclusive, non-representative, or incompatible with the woke education system’s woke education goals. Given the authoritarian intolerance of that education system, and the flexibility with which it applies labels like “offensive” and “non-inclusive,” they could be forgiven for assuming that any ideas circulating before today’s high schoolers were born should be automatically disqualified.

Indeed, so rapid has been the change in prevailing ideas that, not only was the currently dominant ideology not widely circulating 15 years ago, but commonplace notions from 15 years ago are not impermissible.

This maleficent tyranny — often expressed as “cancel culture” — has not exempted authors dead or alive. Just since COVID, censorship campaigns have targeted a range of classic authors, ranging from Roald Dahl to J. K. Rowling to Dr. Seuss. It’s hard to imagine non-fiction authors — such as Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, or Jordan Peterson — faring any better. And let’s not even start on the outdated ideas of the classics — from Homer or Shakespeare to “The Last of the Mohicans” or “Gone with the Wind.”

After reflection, is it any wonder the librarians interpreted their woke directives so extremely?

Perhaps a reader might think that this is going too far, that neo-Marxist ideology does not necessarily lead to long lists of banned books. But, once we start judging books by anti-racism or inclusivity, where does it stop? As Tom Ellard, a PDSB parent and the founder of a group called Libraries not Landfills, put it, “Who’s the arbiter of what’s the right material to go in the library, and who’s the arbiter of what’s wrong in our libraries? That’s unclear. It’s not clear to the teachers who’ve provided us this material, and it’s not clear to me as a parent or as a taxpayer.”

Americans, take note of the nonsense taking place across your northern border. Canadian progressivism leads its American counterpart by a few years, but America is often close on its heels. On this issue, progressives don’t need to even generate a political movement or convince any voters; they can cloak this Trojan Horse under the auspices of “best practices in library weeding.” In fact, it may already be here. The current president of the American Library Association is a self-described “Marxist lesbian” who lectures on topics like “teaching the radical catalogue,” “decolonizing the library catalog,” and “critical librarianship.”

From the perspective of these extreme Marxists, the error committed at Erindale Secondary School was not the act of eliminating older books, but rather the act of doing it so quickly that people noticed the empty spaces on the shelves. The best revolution is one so subtle its victims don’t even understand that it is taking place.

In fact, the activist librarians and educators seeking to indoctrinate America’s kids would much rather capture the public sympathy against censorship by projecting their motives onto their political opponents. They claim that it is actually right-wing extremists who want to ban books and leave children helpless and ignorant. In fact, the overwhelming majority (87%) of books removed from libraries in Florida and some Virginia classrooms were pornographic, violent, or entirely inappropriate for students’ grade levels. One book is so graphic and extreme that a school board cut off a parent’s microphone when he tried to read a passage at a meeting last summer, and the book’s author admitted this week, “I don’t recommend this book for kids.”

In Canada, school libraries are emptying shelves in an attempt to comply with new, woke directives about equitable and inclusive content. In America, parents and state legislatures are expunging a handful of indecent works that never belonged in school libraries in the first place. One of these should rightly be called book banning. The other is slandered as such.

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.