November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ Columnist Pat Scales Addresses Censorship Concerns in Libraries

Librarian and SLJ columnist Pat Scales responds to a range of censorship issues from librarians around the country.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Challenge-Ready: Using Thoughtful Leadership to Promote the Freedom to Read | Scales on Censorship

Chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee Pat Scales offers advice and resources to educators looking to promote the freedom to read in their classrooms and libraries.

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Foster Stronger Schools by Supporting Reading Freedom | Scales on Censorship

Chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee Pat Scales responds to questions about book challenges, dystopian novels in elementary school, and the age-appropriateness of Bullying Prevention displays.

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Give Children a Choice: Advocating Open Access to Materials | Scales on Censorship

Chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee Pat Scales responds to questions about book challenges, summer reading lists, and boundaries for school library parent volunteers.

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

A Formal Challenge Process Provides Teaching Moments | Scales on Censorship

Chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee Pat Scales tackles censorship questions about The Hunger Games, grammar in “Junie B. Jones” series, and why reporting materials challenges to the ALA OIF is so important.

Childproofed: When Your School Has Inflexible Filters | Scales on Censorship

Pat Scales, chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, answers readers’ questions about censorship. This month, Scales addresses what to do when your school has inflexible or strict Internet filters, including strategies for aiding students in completing research assignments and advice on instituting new policies for challenged materials.

Oh, Mama!: What to do when a parent wants to narrow her child’s reading choices | Scales on Censorship January 2013

As I was preparing a library card for a new student, she handed me a two-page list of books that her mother won’t allow her to read. Then later on, her mother called and told me she expected me to monitor what her daughter was reading. What should I do?

You need to tell the mother that it’s not your role to monitor students’ reading. If she has an issue with the titles that her daughter chooses, then she […]

Mum’s the Word: What to do when a pushy principal has questionable principles | Scales on Censorship

In addition to reading your column, what’s the best way to keep up with news about censorship?

Start by checking out the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (, which maintains a database of challenges to library materials. These challenges are reported in its Intellectual Freedom Newsletter ($50 a year), unless the person reporting the challenge asks ALA to keep the information confidential. Another helpful resource is Robert P. Doyle’s Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read […]

What To Do When Kids Aren’t Allowed To Read Digital Books in School | Scales on Censorship

Parents who visit our library’s children’s room have told me that ereaders have encouraged their kids to read. My son is a struggling reader, and he was very excited when I bought him one. But then we found out that his reading teacher won’t allow her students to read ebooks—they can only read books from the school library. How do I handle this?

How Low Can You Go?: What to do when young students want to read ‘The Hunger Games’ | Scales on Censorship

Our fourth and fifth graders (and a few third graders) have been asking for The Hunger Games. I love the novel, but it’s not in our elementary school’s library collection because it’s a YA book. I think my students would enjoy reading it when they’re a bit older. I need your advice.

Addition by Subtraction: What happens when Accelerated Reader books aren’t appropriate?

The district just told us that we can’t use any upper-level Accelerated Reader (AR) books in our elementary school reading program because the topics may be too mature for our students. We think they’re censoring the program and our students will suffer.

I’d say the students are the winners. Maybe they can finally read books that interest them without being tested on everything they read. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have these books in the library. The students […]

Principals and Policies: What to do when your boss wants to ban banned books

Our new elementary school principal, who comes from a fairly conservative private school, doesn’t want our library to have any banned titles. He recently told me that he’d personally check our catalog to make sure that there weren’t any titles on the banned books list. Since our district doesn’t have a library coordinator, I feel like I don’t have an advocate. Fortunately, our district has a selection policy and reconsideration guidelines. What should I do?

Perhaps the […]

Avoidance Behavior: Moving children’s books to the teen collection is the coward’s way out | Scales on Censorship

We’ve always kept Robie Harris’s books in our children’s room. But after a mother complained about them, our public library director asked us to put the titles in our teen collection. Although I was reluctant to move them, I felt I had to comply. Is this a form of censorship?

Yes. Harris’s books are written for children and families and should be available in your children’s collection. I’ve heard the argument from public […]

Through the Wringer | Scales on Censorship

As a boy approached our circulation desk with a copy of Jerry Spinelli’s Wringer, his mother grabbed it and said, “I just checked reviews of that book on my iPhone, and I think there’s sexual content and violence.” They got into a tug-of-war, and I didn’t know what to do.

It’s tough to come between a parent and a child, but I’d ask to speak with the parent privately. I’d tell her about […]

Hello Madduh, Hello Faddah | Scales on Censorship

Fielding parents’ complaints about summer reading programs

We just passed out information about our public library’s summer reading program, and a parent has already complained because it excludes 12-year-olds. She thinks this is a form of censorship. What’s your advice?

I assume that your summer reading program is for elementary school children. I hope that there’s a similar program for teens and preteens. My hunch is that even if there’s one for teens, that […]

Policy Buster | Scales on Censorship

Is it legal for an administrator to make sweeping changes?

What happens to challenged books after they’ve been removed from a library collection? Are they ever returned to the collection? Or are they destroyed?

It depends on the library and its board of trustees. Sometimes, books that have been removed from a collection are stored in the library director’s office or in a back room. Unfortunately, sometimes they are actually destroyed. Yes, removed books […]

Just Say No: It’s essential for librarians to resist censorship | Scales on Censorship

One of our parents returned from a religious retreat with a 10-page list of books that elementary school children shouldn’t read. When she asked me to remove them from the library, I said, “No.” Now I’m afraid she’ll rally other parents behind her. What should I do?

Good for you for standing up to her. Now, don’t worry about it until something happens. Here are some things you can do to […]

Preventing Cyberbullying | Scales on Censorship

Who’s responsible for teaching kids how to behave online?

Our community has had several unfortunate incidents of students involved in cyberbulling. I’d like to work with our middle schoolers on this issue. Some of our faculty members are supportive of my plans, but others feel that our students’ parents are responsible for teaching their kids appropriate online behavior. What’s your suggestion?

This is a hot topic that affects every community, and it’s important for students to know how to conduct themselves appropriately […]

What’s New Pussycat? Should Edward Lear’s classic poem be banned from the classroom? | Scales on Censorship

I had a parent question why our public library has picture books on the Civil Rights Movement. He feels these books are inappropriate for young children, especially since our community is predominantly Caucasian. He wasn’t satisfied with my explanation and plans to take his complaint to the library board.

I hope you told him that children of all ages need to know our nation’s history, and that communities all across America, especially predominantly Caucasian ones, need to […]

Success Stories: It’s tough to remove labels, but it’s not impossible | Scales on Censorship

In my last column, I asked readers to write me if they had reversed their school’s practice of putting Accelerated Reader (AR) labels on library books. I was surprised by how many librarians responded. Here’s a sampling of some of the messages I received. Please keep sending me your success stories; they may appear in future columns.

—Pat Scales

When I moved from an elementary school that labeled its library books to a new school, one of the first things I did […]