March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Parental Demands and Accusations | Scales on Censorship

I need encouragement and advice. I earned an MLS 15 years ago, but I never used the degree because my husband’s job required that we move every two years. We are now settled in one place, and I have a job as an elementary school librarian. Censorship was never addressed in any of my library school classes. I live in fear of a book challenge. How do I prepare myself?
It is too bad that issues related to censorship weren’t covered in your library school classes. Usually the subject is addressed in collection development and administration courses. Some library schools actually devote an entire course to the topic. In spite of this void in your coursework, there is plenty you can do to prepare yourself should you have a book challenge. First, talk with librarians in your school district and ask if there is a collection development policy in the school board policy manual. Such policies should provide procedures for dealing with book challenges. Note censorship cases in your district and state, and learn how librarians handled these cases. Read professional books and articles on censorship trends, and how to deal with parents who want to control what students read. Let your principal know your concerns and share some of the guidelines that you have discovered. It’s always best if the librarian and principal are united in dealing with such issues. Finally, the following websites offer invaluable resources:

• ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom,
• Comic Book Legal Defense Fund,
• National Coalition Against Censorship,
• National Council of Teachers of English,

Please don’t be afraid. You may go years without a challenge, but good for you for wanting to be prepared.

I’m the librarian in a very affluent private school, and parents demand intellectual rigor. The mother of a third grader recently complained that I wasn’t leading her daughter to books at the child’s ninth grade reading level. She accused me of stunting her daughter’s intellectual growth.
Let the mother know that you understand her daughter is a good reader, but that eight-year-olds are rarely ready to read what high schools students read. Tell her that chronological age is more important than reading level when selecting books for enjoyment. If she insists that the child read beyond her years, encourage her to allow the child to take out a book for fun and one that is more challenging. I just bet the child will curl up with the more age-appropriate one.

Our branch libraries have designated shelves but not a separate room for the children’s and teen collection. A parent just stormed into the library and complained because her 12-year-old son borrowed Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. She thinks books like that trigger her son’s nightmares. I need help dealing with this.
I have had questions regarding trigger warnings, and librarians need to understand that such warnings label books and are a form of censorship. If Schwartz’s book scares the child, the mother needs to take up the issue with her son. She can come to the library and guide him to other books, and she can always just tell him that she prefers for him to avoid the book until the problem with his nightmares is solved. Make sure she understands that it isn’t the role of the librarian to police what patrons borrow.

We are having a problem with the IT guy in our public library system. He likes to call the staff’s attention to Internet sites that patrons have viewed. This is especially unsettling to the staff in my branch library.
This has long been a problem with IT staff. They are often not professional librarians, and they don’t fully understand privacy issues. It may be time for the director of the library to review the IT job description. If it’s not already included, a statement should be added that outlines patrons’ right to privacy. Many states have privacy laws and mandate that the laws be posted in the library so that patrons are aware of their rights. Alert the IT staff to these laws, and by all means let the library director know what is happening. It’s also a good idea to have an annual review of these laws with the entire library staff.

This article was published in School Library Journal's March 2018 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

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  1. Anonymous says:

    “I have had questions regarding trigger warnings, and librarians need to understand that such warnings label books and are a form of censorship.”

    Uh, no. They’re not a form of censorship. They simply let the reader know what’s contained in the book. I’ve never seen a TW that says, “DON’T READ THIS!” or similar sentiment. Also, the original question doesn’t actually mention trigger warnings. It’s disappointing to see a lack of understanding of what TWs are and what their function is.

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