Challenging books, and other milestones

Mike Selby’s history of the Cranbrook Public Library continues in the 1980s

Mike Selby

On January 23, 1980, the Board of the Cranbrook Public Library had a decision to make.  A patron had filed a “request for reconsideration” complaint against a book found in the library holdings. While books are frequently challenged for a variety of reasons, this one was different.

The book in question was ‘Let’s Get Well’ by Adelle Davis. First published in 1965, Davis — a trained nutritionist — wrote numerous bestselling health books in the 60s and 70s, and was a popular fixture on television talk shows. But her advice was dangerous. After her documented references in ‘Let’s Get Well’ were discovered to be mostly bogus (some bizarrely linking to aviation articles), a presidential commission found her to be “the most damaging source of false nutrition information in the nation.”  Her book ‘Lets Have Healthy Children’ was responsible for a series of infants developing brain tumours, impaired growth, and even one death.

Finding ‘Let’s Get Well’ to be “dangerous and nutritionally unsound” the Board agreed to have the title removed from the Library shelves.

Which was not the case with another book challenge, this time the year before. Mel Frank’s ‘Marijuana Grower’s Guide’ was challenged by a patron who did not feel it to be appropriate material. The Library, who is not only legally but ethically bound to “guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable,” voted to keep the book on the shelves.  Unhappy with the Board’s decision, the patron reported the Library to the RCMP, who also ended up disappointing the complainant.

The next book challenge came in 1986, this one regarding ‘Your Child’s Mind’ by Herman and Anne Roiphe. The charge against this title was that it cautioned against integrating intellectually disabled children into public schools. The Board consulted child development professionals from the College of the Rockies (then called East Kootenay Community College), who found the book to be professionally sound, if a little dated. They recommended the Library retain the title, but also to add additional titles which are in favour of public school integration. The Library then worked closely with the complainant, to purchase books which represented the most current thought on the subject.

This is just some of the ongoing saga the Cranbrook Public Library experienced as it entered the late 1970s and 80s.

1978 was the busiest year in the Library’s long history, requiring it to open on Sundays. For a full week in April, all fines for overdue books were forgiven, with — thanks to McDonalds — a free Big Mac for every late or lost book returned.

Music on cassette tape was also introduced, as were large print and foreign language books. Books on tape were available, as well as two cassette recorders. Puppet kits had arrived, as well as a summer reading program.  To end the 70s the Library was seriously considering solar panels (a environmental solution very much en vogue at the time).

The 1980s saw the Library add a Califone Listening Centre, a 16mm projector, an in-house videocassette recorder (those massive 3/4 inch ones), an overhead projector, and a typing room. Photocopying was available, which was fed by rolls of paper instead of sheets.

1982 saw the “Fact Finder” program introduced on CKEK radio. Here listeners could call the radio station with a question, and staff from both the Cranbrook Public Library and the College Library had a week to find the answer.  This program was a popular success in those pre-internet/pre-Google times.

One thing the Library was not, however, was pre-computer. The Chief Librarian at the time, Patricia Adams, was an early adopter of computer technology. As early as 1982 she was streamlining the Library’s collection into ACS (automated circulation system). This was no easy thing, as computers cost a small fortune back then, and it would take countless hours of full time staff and two dozen volunteers to input the data.

But the massive benefit to the Library patrons was undeniable. By being so early in the game, the Library was toured by librarians from all over BC to see just how the jump from card catalogs to computers could be done.

In 1988 the Library was recognized as “the most progressive and leading library in the East and West Kootenay.”

Just ahead lay the 90s, the toughest decade the Library ever had to face in its long history.

Mike Selby is Reference Librarian at the Cranbrook Public Library