November 17, 2017

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When Book Sharing Backfires|Scales on Censorship

I will finish my library degree this summer and would like to work in a school library. I’ve interviewed with three principals. I asked about the school district’s selection policy, and none knew of one. This makes me very nervous. How should I approach this?
Good for you for asking the question. It is troubling that the principals aren’t aware of a selection policy, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Board policy manuals should be available in the administrative office and the library of every school. Ask to see it, and take the time to read the policy. Your question and request may help these principals focus on more than filling a position.

I’m an elementary librarian in a private Christian school. A first grade teacher asked students to bring their favorite book to share. One brought in a “Captain Underpants” title. A parent lodged a complaint because she doesn’t think the school should be endorsing the book. The teacher’s contract wasn’t renewed. How do I help calm a faculty that’s nervous about the outcome of this complaint?
Asking children to share favorite books isn’t an endorsement of a particular title. It is a good way to get students engaged in reading, but if the school is so concerned about what is shared, then there is another way to approach the assignment. Teachers could ask students to select their favorite book from the school library and share it. I’m assuming that the library collection reflects the Christian principles of the school. That said, I think there’s more to this case. My bet is there were other issues, and the administration used this complaint as the final straw needed to terminate the teacher.

Let the administration know that the faculty is nervous and needs reassurance. This should be addressed in a faculty meeting at the beginning of the school year.

An eighth grade social studies teacher requires her students to read and write an analysis of current events. She told them they couldn’t use Internet news articles. We do provide the local newspaper, but we don’t have the budget for magazine subscriptions. I asked the teacher to alter her assignment, and she blamed the library for not subscribing to the resources she needs.
There are many ways that school libraries can provide the necessary resources for students to complete assignments. Databases at most public libraries may be remotely accessed with a public library card. Ask a public librarian to come to the school and take student applications for cards. Then show them how to access articles they need.

Suggest to the teacher that she bring her students to the library for training in how to identify reliable and balanced Internet news articles. This is good training that will serve them well now and for future assignments.

Many schools allow faculty to post material and supply needs on the school website. Appeal to parents to donate news magazines, or ask a civic organization to chip in and help. By no means get into an argument about fault. It’s always best to offer a solution to a problem. Otherwise, the real losers are the students.

I’m a librarian in a public library near a university. Many of our patrons are faculty and their families. The parents tend to think their children are “gifted” and complain that storytime isn’t challenging for preschoolers. I recently read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems. A parent filed a complaint, saying that it was too simple. Now this parent follows me around while I suggest books for children to borrow.
This is a common problem. Let all parents know that pre-school children, regardless of how “gifted” they are, have short attention spans in a group situation. They may sit for a much longer period when a parent reads to them. You should tell them that your goal is to introduce children to age-appropriate books that are “too good to miss,” ones that children respond to with great delight.

Lead parents to classic picture books such as Make Way for Ducklings that have more text. Suggest that they choose a book to read together, and one, or several, that the child chooses. This way, everyone wins.

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Pat Scales About Pat Scales

Pat Scales is the former chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. You can send your questions or comments on censorship to her at pscales@bellsouth.net.

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Comments

  1. I don’t think it’s a “common problem” that someone follows you around while you do your job. I think you should ask the director to speak to this parent and ask him/her to stop harassing you. If the behavior continues, file a stalking charge with the local police. This is a form of stalking for intimidation.

  2. Marcia Brandt says:

    Our censorship issues directly reflect parenting issues today. Read this article recently about, not helicopter parents, but LAWNMOWER parents. http://www.gastongazette.com/article/20151130/NEWS/151139937

    Perhaps libraries need to actively teach parenting classes! Or maybe we need to actively teach about censorship. I just retired from 35 years as a school librarian and in my brief talk with kindergarten parents I always reminded them to please bring concerns to me. But I also cautioned that while they make choices for their child, I am the library “mom” for everyone and my selection and policies reflect the needs of all, not just their family. I educated a bit about censorship. I had very few problems with that approach. Applaud them for caring about their child and what they read… but making sure they know they cannot make decisions for other people’s kids. That is my profession, representing all.

  3. Sue Bartle says:

    I would add two more suggestions to the 8th grade Social Studies current events project.
    Not knowing which state this question is from – I suggest the library double check with their state library agency about the online databases provided statewide. Almost all states have a statewide online database program. Find out about how your school library can use it.
    Second suggestion – contact your local hotels and motels they receive complimentary newspapers daily or subscribe to a set amount for guests at the hotel. Ask if you could have the leftovers for your library.
    Ok, one more I just thought of – check with your community’s business clubs – Rotary – etc.. see if they could sponsor an online subscription for you. Don’t be too shy to ask. Community outreach will build relationships to strengthen your library program. Don’t forget “no” is a very small word.

  4. Barbara T says:

    For 8th gr SS, our local paper runs a program called NIE, Newspapers in Education. They offer the online version of their newspaper free for educators to use with the students. Maybe approach your local newspaper and see if they would offer a similar program.

  5. I agree with the author in stressing to parents that the focus of preschool storytime and enjoyment by ALL children. When you read a longer book, you often lose a child, and once you lose one, it can quickly spiral into craziness. “Classroom management” is critical in maintaining a fun and welcoming atmosphere. Short books with fun rhyme schemes and great stories are key to classroom management.