Harry Potter books won’t be banned here, school librarians say

Not in the restricted section: Stath LaPointe at work in the Crossing Park School library in Calgary on Sept. 11, 2019. LaPointe said the banning of the Harry Potter books was ridiculous. (Photo by Brennan Black/The Press)

Calgary Board of Education (CBE) students are unlikely to see the Harry Potter books banned from their libraries this school year, according to three board educators.

Their reaction came after a Catholic school in Tennessee made international headlines by banning the books because they contained “actual curses and spells.”

“If those spells were real, we would have seen a lot of levitating things,” said Stath LaPointe, a librarian at Crossing Park School, in a recent interview.

LaPointe said she could not see how rational adults could think that uttering words from a children’s book could result in something malevolent happening in the real world.

LaPointe’s sentiments were echoed by Leanna Darling, a library commons teacher at James Fowler High School, who said the whole situation was silly.

“Scientifically speaking, spells don’t exist so therefore the books cannot contain actual spells,” said Darling.

Another educator, Kathleen Shaver, said she believes the ban was based on narrow mindedness and fear, and was made by someone who had clearly never read the books.

Shaver, who is an assistant principal at Crossing Park School, in Martindale, said the Harry Potter books have done so much for children’s literacy and imagination that it would be ridiculous to ban them.

All three educators said they could not imagine a circumstance in which the book series would be banned in CBE schools.

Shaver said if there was ever a circumstance where the books were going to be restricted or banned by the board, she would not want to be a part of it.

Despite the consensus that the banning of the Harry Potter books was ridiculous, all of the educators did emphasize that the board has protocols in place to evaluate books that may contain questionable content.

LaPointe said there was originally a committee that would evaluate books, examining them for criteria like quality of writing, fit within school curriculum and potential concerns that parents may raise about content.

However, LaPointe said this committee was scrapped due to budget cuts. So schools are now left to their own devices when compiling their library collections.

The switch from the committee to school-based evaluation of books has had some pros and some cons, according to the educators.

Shaver said that the committee made broad strokes, mentioning that a school that taught kids from kindergarten to the fourth grade would only have books that the committee had designated as appropriate for those age groups.

Darling said while she appreciated the autonomy that the school-based evaluation process gave her, the process can often be time consuming.

The school-based evaluation of books leaves most of the responsibility for the development of the library collection to the librarians.

LaPointe, who purchases the books for the Crossing Park library, said she purchases books based on their popularity among the student body, if older books have become worn out, and to make sure the non-fiction books are up to date and relevant.

Darling said while the CBE has guidelines for her to follow when building and maintaining the school’s library collection, she does look out for books that have questionable content.

“I choose not to purchase books that are discriminatory toward a certain group, outdated, inaccurate or pseudoscientific in nature, or excessively violent or sexual,” said Darling.

LaPointe has similar criteria for building her school’s collection.

However, she said books that contain questionable content but have an important message which is useful for children are given some leeway.

In the case of non-fiction books, the educators said giving access to books like The Communist Manifesto, or Mein Kampf should be considered in terms of grade level.

“Those books in particular are historical primary sources and relate directly to content studied in school,” said Darling, who teaches at a high school.

Scientifically speaking, spells don’t exist so therefore the books cannot contain actual spells. – Leanna Darling

Shaver, whose school teaches kindergarten to ninth grade, said students wishing to read those titles would have to demonstrate an interest in the subjects and have permission from a parent to read them.

Besides content of specific books, the educators said a lot of consideration is given towards the reading level of the student body as a whole when compiling the library collection.

“The hardest thing for a librarian is to create a diverse library which caters to the needs of all of the students,” said LaPointe.