South Shore Public Libraries postings cause stir in BIPOC community


Some recent social media posts by South Shore Public Libraries (SSPL) regarding the popular Dr. Seuss children's books left members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) community with a lot of questions.

Earlier this month, SSPL had used its Facebook page to post an opinion piece that appeared in the National Post newspaper following the announcement from the trust of the late children's author that six of his books would no longer be published. A statement on Seussville.com says the six books, by the author whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, "portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong."

The SSPL linked a post to a piece written by John Robson titled There is nothing in Dr. Seuss that a leftist can't love but the woke hate him anyway.

It has since removed the post.

Troy Myers, the chief librarian and chief executive officer with the SSPL, indicated the post, and one linking to a CNN video of Anderson Cooper discussing the trust's decision with LeVar Burton, was an attempt for conversation around Freedom to Read week.

"The very first thing I noticed was that the libraries was sharing an editorial from the National Post," commented Jessika Hepburn, spokesperson for BIPOC South Shore, which is a collective of BIPOC that organizes advocacy, events and community supports.

"I thought that was a suspect source. When I started reading through it, I thought, 'this is a problem.' Especially for the libraries to jump in during the height of the decision by the trust not to publish those books."

The opinion piece, said Hepburn, was full of "political interests, not human interests."

Hepburn, who is multi-racial and owns a bookshop, is well aware of the books that won't be published in the future. Last month she hosted a Dr. Seuss themed tea party, however those books weren't part of the party.

"These books are part of a huge catalog and they're his least popular books," she said, of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street; If I Ran the Zoo; McElligot's Pool; On Beyond Zebra!; Scrambled Eggs Super!; and The Cat's Quizzer.

"They're not being pulled, they're just not being printed again," she noted.

While Hepburn conceded the books are the intellectual property of the trust so the decision is ultimately theirs, she preferred the books were examined in context.

"It's important to look at them and to recognize the problems within them," she said. "We need to educate. If the books are going to be out in the library, offer five other books next to them to counter those."

The SSPL's Myers was quick to try and turn the page on the controversy.

"We screwed up, we made a mistake," he admitted to LighthouseNOW. "We apologize for the hurt we have made to the BIPOC community."

In the week following the posts, Myers said, he had been talking to those who have called him with concerns. He and the libraries' board chairman, Patrick Hirtle, were to meet this past Friday with some leaders from the BIPOC community as an opportunity for learning and reconciliation, and, hopefully he said, continue to work with them.

"We know these conversations need to happen and we know Facebook was not the right platform."

Myers indicated the libraries try to ensure a safe space for everyone to visit, talk and learn, and suggested the postings were a misstep.

"We realize we were a little too clouded with the way the Dr. Seuss issue was being dealt with," he said, adding some things about the author need to be celebrated, while others don't.

By consulting with the BIPOC community on this issue, Myers hopes it will lead to having a more diverse board of directors, something he says is lacking but which he's been trying to encourage over the last number of years.

When asked why the libraries made the decision to delete the controversial social media posts, Myers said that was done following consultation with those in the social media profession.

"We were told [by leaving the posts up] we would run the risk of hurting people even more, and that was one thing that really resonated with me," said Myers. The move went against his wanting the libraries to be open and transparent, he admitted. "But we didn't want to hurt new people."

According to Myers there are many hands at the libraries who deal with social media posting, which is part of the problem.

"We definitely want to learn and I feel horrible this happened. Moving forward, we are going to make sure posts are well thought out," said Myers.

Regarding the six titles, said the chief librarian, the change had already been made to remove them from the children's collection. The titles are still available at the libraries, however through the resource collection.

"We are not trying to defend the trust's actions. Instead, we would have rather seen them rework some of the imagery in those titles," said Myers. "Some images need to be changed."

He indicated the titles will be available in the resource collection for as long as they can be, "for those teaching moments that are necessary."

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