What's it like to live in a city where you don't have free access to books?
Local residents will find out next week when the Prince George Public Library holds seven titles under lock and key during Freedom to Read Week.
The national campaign aims to raise awareness about challenged books and materials and while most library's create a display of banned books, hold contests or film viewings, chief librarian Allan Wilson came up with a more thought-provoking event.
The library is holding seven of the most-commonly challenged books under ransom between Feb. 24 and March 2 and it's up to the community to donate enough money to set them free.
"People will come and try and take them out... but the fact is they're going to find it difficult [until ransom is reached]. What would be the consequence of that? So that kind of raises awareness," Wilson said. "I want to just remind the public that it's a right to free information in Canada... When you need a law that gives you access to something you have a fundamental right to, you're in a weird world."
The kidnapped titles bound with chains and locks at various locations around the city with available donation boxes to post their bail are:
n The Bible, held at CBC Radio for $700;
n The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, held at Zoe's Java House for $600;
n Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling, held at Ruins Board Shop for $500;
n To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, held at Nancy O's for $400;
n The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, held at Hummus Brothers for $300;
n The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, held at The Copper Pig for $200;
n And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, held at Books and Company for $100.
The ransom goal of $2,800 will go back into collections, which would add approximately 80 new books to library shelves.
"We had a zero-based budget this year," Wilson said. "I'm just trying to find inventive ways to keep our collections up - I have the same amount to spend, but it does get eroded."
The price tag for freeing the kidnapped books was set based on how frequently the titles are challenged.
The Prince George library has never removed material from circulation after someone filed a complaint, but they have responded to challenges by moving items to different sections.
"Last year actually was very light," Wilson recalled. "I think I only had one or two challenges."
But his arrival to Prince George in 2006 sparked a flurry of complaints, making the local branch the second-most challenged library that year with around 14 challenges. "It probably has to do with that I had just arrived and I was improving the collection so I added a lot of new material. Particularly, I brought graphic novels for the first time to the library and that upset the public to a certain extent," Wilson said, adding his frequent refrain is that "there's something here to offend everyone."
Freeing the books will be a community effort, with no minimum donation required, Wilson said. "Free your mind, free a book. That's the idea."