Ontario's education minister has asked a school board west of Toronto to immediately stop its so-called "weeding" of school libraries after concerns were raised about how it was carrying out the process of assessing and removing older books.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Wednesday that he wrote to the Peel District School Board asking it to halt the process, a move that came after some Peel Region residents said libraries appeared to be removing books simply because they were published before 2008, based on new board guidelines.
"Ontario is committed to ensuring that the addition of new books better reflects the rich diversity of our communities. It is offensive, illogical and counterintuitive to remove books from years past that educate students on Canada's history, antisemitism or celebrated literary classics," Lecce wrote in a statement.
"I have written to the board to immediately end this practice."
But the board said on Wednesday afternoon that regardless of publication date, older books that are "accurate, relevant to the student population, inclusive, not harmful, and support the current curriculum" may stay within schools.
"PDSB teacher librarians have not been given the direction to remove all books published with a publication date older than 2008, nor has the board received provincial direction to remove particular books from our collections," the board's director of education, Rashmi Swarup, wrote in a statement.
"To be clear, books such as 'The Diary of a Young Girl' by Anne Frank and the 'Harry Potter' series remain in our collections, and where needed, newer versions may be purchased if the book is in poor condition."
The process of "weeding" library collections isn't new and has long been carried out to ensure collections are up-to-date and in good condition.
Swarup said the Peel board follows library weeding guidelines set by the Canadian School Libraries Association. She also said the board will be reviewing its training process to ensure consistency across schools.
"The weeding and seeding, or replenishment, of school book collections has always been a part of the responsibilities for all teacher librarians within Peel District School Board and at school boards across Canada," she wrote.
"The replenishment process significantly enhances the school libraries' capacity to offer a more precise, inclusive, culturally relevant, and responsive collection of texts for students."
An advocacy group made up of teachers, students, staff, and principals in Peel Region said some books appear to have been removed from libraries based only on their publication date as the weeding process was carried out with an equity lens.
The group, called Libraries not Landfills, also said the board's own guidelines appear to suggest books older than 2008 should be removed.
Tom Ellard, a spokesman for Libraries not Landfills, said the board updated its weeding guidelines earlier this year after the province asked for a comprehensive audit.
"We agree that adding and addressing issues of equity and supporting more marginalized voices in our education system is of paramount importance," he said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
"However, what's really concerning is the wholesale removal of huge swaths of books from before 2008. That's really not that long ago. That's when Barack Obama was elected."
Ellard said the Peel board guidelines on weeding appear to direct librarians to follow a three-step process, with the first one appearing to place a 15-year age limit on books in a collection.
Books are also to be assessed for their physical condition and their circulation data is to be reviewed, according to details of the process shared by Ellard's group.
The second and third steps in the weeding guidelines direct librarians to remove books that may have misinformation, are misleading, or reinforce racist content or information that is not gender affirming.
Ellard said that since the latest board weeding process began, thousands of books including "The Diary of Anne Frank" and other classics, have been removed from several school library shelves in Peel Region.
Ellard said a Peel Region landfill recently reached out to his group to say they are looking to hire new staff just to help them destroy the large amounts of books they are receiving.
"Because books are mixed media, the hard covers have to be removed, they contain plastic materials and then the paper sources are being shredded," he said. "It is the wholesale destruction of all of these fiction and non-fiction materials."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2023.
Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press