February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

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

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deenie by judy blumeI’m the manager of a small branch of a large library system. I don’t have a children’s librarian on staff, but the children’s librarians at the main library choose the books for the collection. A parent has filed a formal complaint that my staff allowed her nine-year-old daughter to check out Deenie by Judy Blume. How should I handle this?

It sounds as if there are two issues: (1) A problem with your staff (2) A complaint against the book. Make sure that the mother understands that it’s never the role of the librarian to monitor what children read. Then invite the mother to file a book reconsideration form, which I assume is part of your library system’s policy. Deenie is appropriate for most nine-year-olds. The mother needs to tell her daughter if she doesn’t want her to read it. I do think it wise to ask the children’s librarians at the main library to conduct a workshop in children’s services for your staff. They may need reassurance about their roles.

50ShadesofGreyCoverArtA seventh-grade student brought his mother’s ereader to class on the last day of school. He passed it around so that students could read passages from Fifty Shades of Grey. It created an uproar and the teacher came to the library to ask my help. I really didn’t know what to do.

This is no different from my generation passing around dog-eared copies of Peyton Place. Don’t make a big deal out of the situation. In the future, advise the teacher to simply ask the student to focus on class work and continue reading the book when he gets home.

My friend’s son (an advanced eighth-grade student in the middle school where I’m a librarian) may take ninth-grade English for credit. The summer reading selection for ninth-graders in the school district is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. He is registered for freshman English in the fall, but she doesn’t want him to read the novel. I was her easiest target because she doesn’t know the English teacher. I didn’t know how to handle this.

Do you know for a fact that students weren’t given a reading choice? Many school districts allow students to make a summer reading selection from a list of books provided by English teachers. This accommodates various interests and maturity levels. If this isn’t the case, then the mother has a choice. She can elect to take her son out of the class and put him in regular eighth-grade English. If she insists that he stay in the class, then he needs to complete the requirement. It sounds as if she will listen to you.

curiousI’m taking an online course in children’s services from a university that is located in another part of the country. I have an issue with some of the theories about public library services to children. In my public library system, children are welcome to use the entire library collection. The professor defines children as birth to 11 years old. This makes me feel that I have to defend the policy of my library system.

Children should have free and open access to books and materials. Most children will reject what they aren’t ready for, especially if they don’t feel the materials are forbidden. What about 12- and 14-year-olds who simply want to continue using the children’s room? Does this professor think that they should be banned because they grew up? Your library is on the right track.

Another elementary school in my district had several challenges last year. Since my school library has a number of parent volunteers, I thought it wise to provide them training in hopes of avoiding challenges in my school. What should I tell them?

Two main points: (1) Student privacy is a requirement (2) Leave reader guidance to you. I personally recommend that parent volunteers be used for more clerical types of jobs. If parents want to read aloud to students, then make the reading choice together. Never ask a parent to read aloud something they aren’t comfortable reading.

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

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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