professornana (professornana) wrote,


I read a post to a professional listserv today. The original question had been about one book and whether it belonged in the adult or the YA section. Several folks weighed in with answers, but there was one post that sort of stunned me. It concerned labeling books. The library in question was one that served 7-12 grade. Now I understand the particular issues in a library that serves a wide range of readers (sort of like one that serves PK-5 or even 6-8) by the labels were determined by the presence of f-bombs and/or sexual content. THAT is the piece that concerns me the most. Why do we think 4 letter words mean the book should be for older readers (in this case, high school instead of middle school)? What sort of sexual content? And the person in question used Common Sense Media as the guideline for the labels.

I spend some time each semester in my classes trying to make certain that future school librarians understand the difference between selection and censorship. I have noticed over the years some changes in how students react to the content of their requited reading. When I first began using SPEAK, for example, there were many students who would argue for placing that book in a high school collection. Next to be relegated to the high school was IT'S PERFECTLY NORMAL. In the past couple of years, however, SPEAK and NORMAL have become more accepted. Now the desire to push a book into the high school collection falls to GEORGE and other books with LGBTQ content.

When I witness this in the writing of my students, I can address their concerns. I can indicate that they need to SELECT and not CENSOR or even GATEKEEP. But it is obvious that there are those in the profession who would delegate books based upon their level of discomfort with the topics and issues of the book rather than using the generally accepted criteria. They are limiting access to books based, not on their own evaluation of the books, but using web sites. Worse, they are using variables that are bot cut and dried. When is it permissible to use harsh language within the pages of a novel? Would it not be acceptable for for someone who is being bullied to use the f-bomb? Do middle school students engage in any sort of sexual activity? What about drugs? How about abuse?

Where so we draw the line? When do we cross from using our selection tools to limiting access to readers? These are tough questions, ones not easily answered. But drawing a line and saying THESE books but not THESE is not the best way to determine the audience for books. I can only hope there are policies in place for collection development and that professionals follow their own policies. Otherwise, why have a professional in charge?
Tags: censorship, selection
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