Beyond the Pluto Problem

Perusing Debbie’s Reese’s  provocative (to me, anyway!) and useful site American Indians in Children’s Literature, I came across a comment she made referencing and linking to the Texas State Library’s guide to weeding, CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries (link goes to a pdf). Last revised in 2012 by my most respected colleague and […]

The post Beyond the Pluto Problem appeared first on The Horn Book.

weedingPerusing Debbie’s Reese’s  provocative (to me, anyway!) and useful site American Indians in Children’s Literature, I came across a comment she made referencing and linking to the Texas State Library’s guide to weeding, CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries (link goes to a pdf). Last revised in 2012 by my most respected colleague and friend Jeannette Larson, the handbook is a fabulously clear and comprehensive guide to keeping a library up to date.

Librarians seem to hate or love weeding. There are those who can’t bear to discard from their collections a single title, especially one that might be among that librarian’s childhood favorites. It’s a not exactly welcome opportunity to see one’s failures too, like that book you bought because it got five starred reviews and hasn’t been checked out once. But I always enjoyed it, dumping books whose information had been superseded or those for which patrons clamored twenty years ago but sit like tombstones now. I always worked in small libraries and my weeding was haphazard: I didn’t worry about books that were checked out (because someone clearly found some value in them) and would just go shelf by shelf, discarding those books that were beat up (and ordering replacements) or, to the contrary, too pristine for their age; science and technology books that were outdated; books whose time had come and gone ( I remember getting rid of a bunch of how-to-be-an-air-traffic-controller test prep books purchased when Reagan fired them all, and a lot of Belva Plain, whose time had come and gone). It was a very unscientific process and the CREW (which stands for Continuous Review, Evaluation and Weeding) manual would have been a big help.

But while I was reading the manual and daydreaming about life back in the stacks, I came across a recommendation that bothered me:

“Be ruthless in weeding juvenile fiction. While many titles are used for class reading assignments, most fiction is leisure reading. Popular interest is the primary criteria for this section. Weed duplicate copies of past bestsellers if interest has waned, beginning by discarding the most worn copies.

Consider discarding older fiction especially when it has not circulated in the past two or three years. Also look for books that contain stereotyping, including stereotypical images and views of people with disabilities and the elderly, or gender and racial biases.”

Inaccurate, damaged, or unused? Yeah, weed the hell out of those suckers. But to remove a book–fiction, especially–on the basis that it contains stereotyping or bias is a violation of my favorite Right in the Library Bill of such, “[Library] materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

While it seems right and forward-thinking and all to rid a library collection of bias, it is both unfair and impossibly subjective. Determinations of stereotyping and bias are in the eye of the beholder, not intrinsic to a story itself. Whether you think Twilight is sexist or sexy, for example, is up to you; the great thing about libraries is that they don’t care. I’m bothered, too, that the CREW manual calls out juvenile fiction in particular for bias-monitoring, as if the rules are somehow different when it comes to library services for youth. They aren’t.

With its Banned Books Week, the ALA annually bangs the drum for the protection of intellectual freedom from assault (mainly) by conservatives. Do the progressives leave us alone because we’re already doing the job for them?

The post Beyond the Pluto Problem appeared first on The Horn Book.

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