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Centre for Free Expression appoints Smithers librarian as senior fellow

Wendy Wright takes on new role as a champion for freedom of thought
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Wendy Wright has been appointed a senior fellow by the Centre for Free Expression. (Marisca Bakker/The Interior News)

When Wendy Wright was a 10-year-old girl, she loved reading at the library.

At some point, she had read all the children’s books and picked through the teen section when she found herself wandering into the adult section.

Her father had always let her read whatever books he had taken home, giving her a wide range of reading tastes. However, it wasn’t until a librarian kicked her out of the adult section that she realized she had a freedom that was being taken away.

After running home crying to her father, he took her back to the library and told the librarian she was allowed to read whatever she wanted. After a small argument ensued, Wendy was able to take out some new reading material.

“I suppose it takes for some people, and probably for me, it takes the experience of tasting freedom and having it taken away, to really make you realize how precious it is,” she said.

“It’s seared on my mind. I felt humiliated, frustrated, demeaned, and shackled.”

That moment propelled her into a life of adovocating for others, and for the human right to hold opinions and to seek, receive and share information and ideas.

“And that’s what I want to be for other people, because my dad was my champion, he championed my right to explore, to discover, to tackle big ideas, things that were beyond my ken, but things that I could begin to think and wonder about, and learn about and ask questions about and talk about.

“And some of the stuff that I read went right over my head because I wasn’t ready for it. And others I didn’t understand and I asked questions. But I had the opportunity, and I was not limited to someone else’s opinion of what I was able to read or what they thought was appropriate for me to read.”

Now, Wright, who is the the director of the Smithers Public Library, has been appointed a senior fellow by the Centre for Free Expression.

She is a past chair of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ (CFLA) Intellectual Freedom Committee, has chaired and co-chaired the British Columbia Library Association’s (BCLA) Intellectual Freedom Committee, and is a past BCLA Board member.

She had done a bit of work with the Centre for Free Expression in her capacity as chair of the CFLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. She was on that committee for six years, which is the maximum term.

And for the last year, she was the chair of that committee until the end of February. They had been working with the Centre for Free Expression to come to an agreement around merging their two databases because both organizations have been tracking challenges to library materials and programs and services.

She said it was very confusing for the library community when they wanted to report a challenge, they weren’t sure who to report it to. Wright said they all realized it would be better to just have one database.

“So we were working together, the two organizations were working together to find a way to merge those. And I’m happy to say that there is now one database, the Canadian Library Challenges Database, which lives on the Centre for Free Expressions’ website, along with many other terrific resources that they have.

“And I was mentioning to the director that I would miss working with him because I’d really enjoyed our time when we collaborated with another organization with similar goals, there is just such a great sharing of information. And we each learn more and more about that subject that we are focused on.

“I let him know my term was coming up. And the day after my last day with the committee, I was appointed a senior fellow at the Centre for Free Expression. So there’s no rest for the wicked.”

Wendy has provided intellectual freedom webinars and advice to public library boards and staff and has helped raise public awareness about the harms of censorship. Her current focus is on the intersection of the intellectual freedom rights of children and youth with parental rights and responsibilities.

“With more than 30 years of working in bookstores, publishing, and libraries across Canada and with deep experience in promoting intellectual freedom, we are delighted Wendy is joining CFE as a senior fellow,” said CFE Director, James L. Turk in a press release.

“She will play an important role in our work fostering public discourse and opposing censorship.”

Wendy said her role is more important than ever with an increasing number of challenges to books.

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group, she explained.

“It’s a lifelong passion,” she added. “And it’s something I have been doing, wherever I am. Throughout my whole life, I have spent 35 years, approximately, working with books in bookstores, libraries, and briefly for a publisher. And it has been my driving force making sure that people have access to anything they want to.

“And that is not the same thing as making everyone happy. Sadly, in fact, it can get pretty fiery, very spicy. We here at the library and every public library, our goal is to have something for everyone.”

She said that is usually in direct conflict with some people who would rather the library didn’t have certain materials.

There has been a huge upswing in recent challenges primarily involving opposition to books that deal with sexuality, 2SLGBTQ+ themes or gender diversity.

“But under the value of intellectual freedom, what we’re trying to do is make sure that even that person who is offended by some of our materials or programs will find things that they are interested in that reflect their worldview in the library, which means there will always be conflict,” she said.

“Everyone has opposing ideas. And the library’s role is to have all of those ideas under one roof, so that people can not only see themselves reflected, but they can also learn about other people’s perspectives, either to develop empathy, have a better idea of where they’re coming from, or to more effectively argue against those ideas,” she said.

“There’s a very popular saying by a librarian named Jo Godwin that a great library has something in it to offend everyone. And while our goal is certainly not to offend anyone, our goal is indeed to have the full range of human thought and expressions.”

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Smithers Public Library director Wendy Wright adjusts a display of banned books at the entrance to the library in preparation for Freedom to Read Week. (Thom Barker photo)


Marisca Bakker

About the Author: Marisca Bakker

Marisca was born and raised in Ontario and moved to Smithers almost ten years ago on a one-year contract.
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