September 1, 2014

Subscribe to SLJ

Fresh Paint: Membership and Censorship

No matter how many school classrooms I visit, tours I lead, or new patrons I welcome into the Gum Spring library, I cannot help but stare in shock every time I am asked, “What is the cost of a membership?” Once I realize they aren’t asking me a reference question (the local Costco fee is $55 per household, and the nearest gym charges $83 per month), I respond, “Unless you drop a book in the bath tub or return something past its due date we will never charge you for anything—ever—at this library.”

The look of surprise on their faces reminds me that many of our neighbors never experienced a library until we opened six weeks ago. I take that as my cue to deliver my thorough yet brief elevator speech on the fabulousness that is the public library. The breadth of our collection, the number of programs we host, and the Teen Center Game Room piques their interest, 41713teencenter Fresh Paint: Membership and Censorshipbut I end my spiel by giving the patrons the power: “The library is here to serve you, so please let us know what we can do to make you want to be come back.” As they leave the Teen Center (pictured right) shaking their heads in amazement, I know I have turned yet another person on to the potential that lies within the public library. I truly believe that it is my job to deliver what patrons want and need in the format they desire, be it online, print, or face to face.

But as any librarian can tell you, not everyone is excited about the library’s array of offerings. Some people believe our collection should be strictly educational and appropriate for all ages, with no regard to entertainment value. Within weeks of opening our doors we began fielding questions from a few concerned citizens who were voicing dissatisfaction with the library owning and circulating video games. These games are available for browsing both online and in-person, and are available for check-out to anyone with a library card. Anyone of any age can check out any video game the library owns. That is a standard that we follow as endorsers of the American Library Association Bill of Rights, part of which reads:

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library services.

But that standard is not endorsed by these community members, who are concerned about children being able to access materials with mature content. Our director, Chang Liu, responded publicly to this concern at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, saying: “The responsibility of controlling or monitoring children’s access to the library materials resides with the parents or legal guardians. We expect parents to be with their children if they are concerned about what kind of materials, books, magazines, or other things that their children might be getting.” The conversation will likely continue, as the Board of Supervisors is also in the people-serving business and must practice due diligence.

The ALA Bill of Rights was established in 1939, and 74 years later we are still having the conversation about what is appropriate for whom, and if the library is the proper place to be offering certain materials. Even a brand new library with all of its shiny new things and endless possibilities isn’t immune to censorship and opposition. I choose to see this as a positive situation; as just one more opportunity to show our new patrons how seriously we take our mission, how high we set our standards, and how much effort we are willing to put into defending the rights of patrons of all ages to check out the materials they require and the materials they desire. All for the low, low membership fee of $0.00.

SLJTeen header

This article was featured in School Library Journal's SLJTeen enewsletter. Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month for free.

April Layne Shroeder About April Layne Shroeder

April Layne Shroeder is a Teen Services Librarian in a Northern Virginia public library system, and loves it! One of her favorite job duties is reading/being knowledgeable about YA literature, and discussing/recommending it to young people (and open-minded adults).



  1. Bravo, April! Thanks for another great article. :)

  2. Great article, April!