Teacher Shames Students for Book Selection, Reading Ability | Scales on Censorship

Pat Scales advises school librarians on teachers judging a book by its page count and forcing students to return books above their reading level.

My third grade son participated in the summer reading program at the local public library. One book he borrowed came with a verbal warning from the librarian. I’m a middle school librarian, and I would never warn a reader about the content in a book. The librarian told me she couldn’t personally endorse the title.

Libraries provide access to books and materials that may not be endorsed by every staff member or every member within a community. But the librarian has a professional responsibility to serve patron needs and requests without judgment. Perhaps this librarian should read the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Bill of Rights. Look at the fourth paragraph:

Prejudicial labels are designed to restrict access, based on a value judgment that the content, language, or themes of the resource, or the background or views of the creator(s) of the resource, render it inappropriate or offensive for all or certain groups of users. The prejudicial label is used to warn, discourage, or prohibit users or certain groups of users from accessing the resource.

The librarian is also violating ALA’s Code of Ethics for ­Librarianship. Take a look at the seventh statement:

We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.

Make an appointment with the library director and alert them to this librarian’s behavior. She is allowing her personal views to interfere with her service to patrons. It’s obvious your son was bothered by this warning. He’s lucky to have a parent who cares deeply about this issue.


I’m an elementary school librarian, and I have had a problem with a first grade teacher who doesn’t think her students should be allowed to borrow books they can’t read. Last year, I saw her humiliating students by stating in a very loud voice, “You know you can’t read that book. Put it back.” How should I handle this?

I would arrange a meeting with this teacher, or maybe all the first grade teachers, and help them understand that many students have families who read aloud to them. The school should want to promote this shared experience. Then, when first graders come to the library to borrow books, lead them to titles they can read—and ones that someone may read to them. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to take several? Perhaps the teachers will embrace this idea.


I’m a new school librarian, and I’ve spent the summer reviewing the library policies set by the past librarian. I’m struggling with the policy that states, “Students owing fines for lost library materials in the previous year will not be issued library cards.” How is this policy related to the principles of intellectual freedom?

This policy relates to intellectual freedom because it denies students access to materials that they may need to become successful learners. We want to promote library use, not discourage it. Many school libraries don’t charge fines; it’s unfair to students from homes that can’t afford to pay. Also, lost books often reappear the next year. A school library is a “lending library,” and some materials will be lost. I suggest you rewrite the policy, stating, “It is expected that library users respect library materials by returning them on time or by renewing them should they need them longer.”


I’m a middle school librarian, and I’ve had parents call me to complain about one English teacher who thumbs through a book and notes the number of pages before she approves it for a book report. She doesn’t even know the titles. This eliminates shorter books that students are excited about reading.

The parents should be calling her, not you. That said, try having a conversation with the teacher and tell her that you want to lead students to books that meet her approval and challenge them intellectually. Point out that some of the most challenging books are short. Suggest that the two of you work together to identify such titles. Perhaps you can take turns sharing them with students. I bet you can convince her that the number of pages isn’t an appropriate way to judge a book. That’s like judging a book by its cover.

Pat Scales is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Send ­questions to pscales@bellsouth.net.

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Christina Johnson

Thank you for responding in this manner. I can’t tell you how many times teachers/other staff members have asked for books on the child’s reading level. I always ask my children if someone at home reads to them or use the 5-finger rule when choosing a book. Then I have a conversation with the child about reading the pictures in the book. It is the same strategies that I use with my granddaughter and she loves books. When I ask her to read to me she always says, “Nana, you know I can’t read!” And then she proceeds to “read” the pictures to me. (Lol). I love it when a child learns to read the pictures.

Posted : Oct 13, 2019 01:45



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