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CLA Annual Survey of
Challenges to Canadian Library Resources and Policies

Alvin M Schrader, Convenor
Canadian Library Association Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee


The Annual Challenges Survey was initiated for the Canadian Library Association in 2006 by Dr. Toni Samek, Professor of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta, who was then Convenor of the Association’s Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee. The primary goal of the Annual Challenges Survey is to gather information about the nature and outcome of challenges experienced in each calendar year by publicly-funded libraries across Canada to their materials and policies. Data from the survey help to inform the Association’s policy and advocacy work for intellectual freedom on behalf of the CLA membership. A corollary aim of the survey is to encourage library documentation, public reporting, and transparency about challenges to materials and policies.

The Canadian survey was inspired by two precursors, the Edmonton Public Library’s in-house challenged materials spreadsheet, and the confidential database maintained since 1990 by the American Library Association (ALA). ALA’s online challenge reporting form is available online. The form can also be printed as a pdf. Following ALA’s working definition, a resource challenge in the CLA Annual Challenges Survey is an attempt to remove or restrict materials based on objections of a person or group, in order to prevent or limit access. A policy challenge is an attempt to change access standards for library resources.

The Annual Challenges Survey has been enhanced and refined on a periodic basis. For the first time the 2009 version was made available in both official languages. An important innovation, not found in the U.S. approach, was the inclusion on the 2007 survey of questions about challenges to library policies related to intellectual freedom or access to resources. Although the survey has evolved over its history, it has also been constrained to date by the maximum ten questions that can be asked using the free version of Survey Monkey. Background information and the latest version of the survey instrument may be found on the CLA website.

In 2011 the CLA Executive Council adopted a policy that the names of institutions and municipalities identified in the Annual Challenges Survey shall not be disclosed. Those data are collected only for statistical purposes, verification of authenticity, and possible follow-up with reporting agencies in the case of incomplete data elements. Permissible geographic and jurisdictional disclosures are as follows: province or territory; type of institution; and type of complainant.

These results are widely shared with the CLA membership, other library workers and advocates, the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council and the annual Freedom to Read Week publication, the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association (ALA OIF), and the Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression Committee of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA FAIFE). Check their websites for reports. For the first time this year, access is available for each survey year to the complete database of challenged titles and policies, as well as to the complete listing of resource titles and policies (see below).

It should be noted that the Annual Challenges Survey is voluntary, and the self-reports forwarded to the Committee represent only a fraction of all challenges that occur during any calendar year. The American Library Association’s estimate is that for every challenge reported in their Web database, four to five go unreported.

For more information about the Annual Challenges Survey, please contact the CLA Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee.

Press releases, annual reports, challenged title lists, and databases for the years 2009-2011 (and title lists and databases for 2006-2008) are available below in pdf format:

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© 2011 Canadian Library Association/Association canadienne des bibliothèques