SLJ Controversial Books Survey Responses: Weighing Subject Matter

SLJ's 2016 Controversial Books Survey, addressing self-censorship, asked school librarians: "When making purchasing decisions, do find yourself weighing the effect of controversial subject matter more often now than you did one or two years ago?" Here's what respondents who answered "yes" had to say.

SLJ's 2016 Controversial Books Survey, addressing self-censorship, asked school librarians this question: "When making purchasing decisions, do find yourself weighing the effect of controversial subject matter more often now than you did one or two years ago? If 'yes,' why?"

Here's what respondents who answered "yes" had to say. Use the interactive controls provided to sort the comments below. Selecting an option in one of the three dropdown menus will filter the results to show only the comments for that region, locality, or school level. These filters can also be combined to see a very specific list. To clear any filter, simply choose the "ALL" option.
FILTER RESULTS (select filters for one or more fields; select ALL to clear a filter):
A middle school library's collection should cover a wide range of topics that enhances the core curriculum. The level of maturity of the readers influences the types of books purchased. Midwest Small Town M
A parent complained and the principal asked that the item be removed. Northeast Suburban M
Actually I find I am being more liberal with content because I think that our parent population is more tolerant. South Central Urban EM
Actually less, since society and our local community members are more broad-minded than in previous decades. I am also bolder in making selection choices. We are a very large school with a diverse population. We can't ignore providing reading materials which reflect the realities of all our students' lives. Midwest Suburban M
Administrator pressure Northeast Rural EM
Adult level controversial subject matter is making its way into literature for younger readers. Without the benefit of mature discussion or the understanding of unintended consequences of behavior, a younger reader could draw the conclusion that certain behavior is less harmful or even acceptable in society. South Atlantic Suburban EM
An administrator at one of the buildings at which I serve as the library media specialist pre-censored several books for his school at the direction of the superintendent, and I now consider controversial subject matter more carefully at other levels. Midwest Small Town EMH
Authors are actually writing more books about controversial topics, which is a good thing, but people are also much more angered by and vocal about controversial topics than ever before. I think parents are more engaged in their children's lives and what they are reading, which is also a good thing. Pacific Small Town E
Authors are more forthcoming in addressing controversial subject matter in current YA books. Small Town H
Because authors are including more controversial subject matter in their books, and also many parents and school board members are getting more involved. South Central Suburban H
Because families are very sensitive to what is available to their children and are often vocal in a negative way when it comes to difficult subject matter being openly available in the library. Northeast Small Town EM
Because of administrators or school board members Northeast Suburban E
Because of the demographics of this particular school and area. The Principal and the parents prefer not to have this type of subject matter in the younger grades. I would possibly include it in our designated 7th/8th grade only section. Mountain Suburban EM
Because our curriculum director has begun censoring my purchases. Midwest Suburban M
Because several issues in society have become more opened and acceptable. Midwest Suburban H
Because so many are about things that I don't feel are appropriate for middle school children (or anyone for that matter). South Central Small Town M
Because the issues appear in more books. South Atlantic
Because there is so much more of it. South Atlantic EMH
Because there seems to be more people censoring our selection. Midwest
Because these issues are in many more books. South Atlantic Suburban EM
Being more aware of the content that the books discuss and how it is discussed. As long as it is presented in an informational or helpful manner versus  "everyone is doing it and so should you." South Atlantic Rural M
Being more mindful of School Board policies in order to minimize challenges. Northeast Small Town EM
Believe it or not, the district has become more conservative and whereas I did not have a problem ordering books on any topic in the past, as long as it was age level appropriate, today my choices are continually questioned by administrators. Northeast Suburban M
Books are more graphic. Midwest Urban H
Budgets are in jeopardy and I must purchase wisely without controversy. Midwest Suburban E
Children's books have more sexual content at earlier reading levels. Publishers will do whatever it takes to sell books. South Atlantic Suburban E
Climate of school. Midwest EMH
Community is more polarized over many issues. Midwest Small Town H
Community standards have changed and the administration has changed. Mountain Rural MH
Concern over parent complaints and potential scrutiny by supervisors. South Atlantic Suburban M
Controversial matter is not only much more prevalent in children's lit, but often treated in a flippant manner. South Central Suburban EM
Controversial topics seem to be more prevalent now than a decade ago. I don't know about one or two years ago. Mountain Rural MH
Controversial/Inappropriate subject matter used to be something that was confined to young adult and adult selections. It is now appearing in younger and younger literature and it is difficult to trust reviews. It's often "slipped" in and it isn't until you've purchased the book and read it in its entirety that you realize it's not appropriate for your collection. South Atlantic Suburban EMH
Everyone is offended by everything these I weigh how I will defend the book even before it is challenged. Midwest Small Town MH
For the tweens, some of the topics can be "touchy subjects" so you need to be careful. Today, our students are much more aware of things. Northeast Suburban M
General conditions warrant that we be cautious in our choices so as not to exclude/inflame. Pacific Suburban M
Greater opinions of the crowds. Northeast Urban E
How will students process the subject matter and what effect will this have on them. How will parents feel about their children reading certain controversial books. Many times I have to ask myself, how would I feel if my child was reading this material. South Central Small Town M
I am in a 5-8 grade school - which is really tricky because I don't separate the collection. Swearing and relationship/sex content is showing up in books for younger children now. What used to be 9-12 is pushed down to 7th now. Also I feel like there is an expectation that content provided from a school should be sanitized? I don't know if that is the right word. But even kids say - "oh there's a swear word in that book." Like they haven't heard that on TV, music lyrics - or the Republican debates! Midwest Suburban EM
I am in a smaller suburban school and two years ago I was in a more urban, culturally and racially mixed school. Northeast Suburban M
I am looking to increase our collection in the areas of LGBTQ, Residential Schools, current topics in that are relevant, such as missing and murdered indigenous women, discrimination, etc Canada Urban EM
I am more aware of how often stereotypes (of American Indians for example) are perpetuated in children's books. South Atlantic Suburban E
I am more sensitive to violence because of a thoughtful comment by a teacher. Northeast Urban E
I do not have the staff to allow me to deal with controversy - meetings, letters, etc. - nor do we have the budget to buy books that will not work for the whole student body. Midwest Suburban E
I don't believe in any form of censorship.
I have found that some topics (LGBT and racial for example) are less controversial to talk about and therefore, read about. Northeast Suburban EM
I have had administrative push-back regarding the books I am buying that ignores the established book complaint process. I am also told that selecting these books puts my job at risk because I am not promoting the "values" of my school community. Northeast Urban EM
I need to physically see or get recommendation from another librarian before I purchase. Pacific Suburban E
I notice a lot more books that are controversial. My school does not support this trend in children's literature. Midwest Suburban E
I pass on titles that are poorly written and full of vulgar slang and or inappropriate dialog just for the shock value. I bought The Martian for my middle school even though it has profanity because we offer Engineering as an 8th grade elective. The title celebrates engineers and science. Pacific Suburban M
I purchase more new fiction. South Central Small Town H
I read for an Awards program where the publishers allow us to keep our books at the end of the year. Sometimes I am a little shocked about what I find in a few of these books. I am of two minds about them. One is that it is censorship to not put these books on the shelves. The reality is that some kids are very interested in them. The other is that some of the sexual content is almost (not quite) pornographic and I am not sure they are appropriate for high school students. Feedback about this would be nice. :-) Pacific Urban H
I select for children as young as 10 years old....I need to be very thoughtful of their age when choosing appropriate material. Northeast Rural EM
I think teen books are much more graphic than they were a few years ago. Before it was considered horrible if it had the f word in it once and now some books have it multiple times on every page. South Central Rural H
I was at a middle school previously and am at an elementary school now. Also, many people are more verbal about 'triggers' than protecting free speech. Northeast Suburban E
I was involved in a book challenge several years ago and it was horrific. I was the victim of attacks by people in my community by social media. Furthermore, the tea party movement and the anti-Common Core movement has inflamed many of our evangelical, ultra-conservative citizens. South Atlantic Rural E
I work with younger students than I did previously. Midwest
If I feel that it is important to add a particular book ( e.g. George by Alex Gino) to my elementary school library but know that some teachers might object, I have to be proactive and get the principal's endorsement as a hedge against challenge. This involves some strategizing. Pacific Suburban EM
If I have questions or concerns, I will read the book personally, not relying solely on reviews. Therefore I am more knowledgeable if a problem should arise. Pacific Suburban H
I'm covering multiple buildings and students at my Intermediate (4-6) often request books from the Middle school where I also work - I feel students are being exposed in detail to topics they are not ready for simply because they want to read what they are seeing advertised or parents/older siblings are reading. I tell them there is nothing wrong with the book they have requested however based on the content I have not selected it for the Intermediate level and if they are still interested in the book they have 2 choices - the public library or wait until they get to the middle school. Northeast Suburban EM
I'm not proud of this, but heightened tensions (sometimes by parents) around these topics have given me pause when considering what books to purchase for our middle school. Northeast Suburban EM
In an elementary school, some of our students do not have adequate skills when self-selecting books. They choose a book based on an interesting or exciting cover rather than its content or level and could end up with a book that is meant for a more mature reader. Midwest
In elementary we are usually very cautious about controversial materials, but if a book is good, with good references, I will purchase the book, read it to the kids, and discuss the controversies. South Central Urban E
In the past the YA books weren't as edgy or as mature. My 8th graders want to read YA books that my 6th graders are not ready for and that their parents would not appreciate in the MS library. There are wonderful novels that are fine except for the 3 pages of hot romance culminating in sex. Even when delicately handled, that does not fit into my town's middle school library. Northeast Small Town M
Increased parent feedback. South Atlantic Small Town E
It appears that authors are more increasingly pushing boundaries in young adult books especially in the fiction area. Pacific Urban H
It feels like parents feel they can be much more vocal about their objections to library materials, and they don't feel like they need to be polite about it. I recently was called on the carpet by a parent for allowing his son, a 7th grader, to check-out a book intended for students in grades 9-12. His son had been checking out materials aimed at upper school students since this academic year began and the father had never said a word. Then, the book Reality Boy made its way into his house and then the battle began. South Central Suburban MH
It is in more books! I am at an elementary school so I have to watch what they are exposed to. Mountain Suburban E
It is much more prevalent in YA literature. Midwest Urban H
It just seems like we need to justify everything. Usually complaints leads to the removal of the book, which means I just wasted those funds. Mountain Small Town E
It seems that there are more books published now with controversial material. Making it even more difficult sometimes you don't realize that the book contains material that might be objectionable until you have read half the book. South Central Suburban EM
Just more aware. Northeast Suburban H
Kids books seem to be more controversial and edgy. South Central Urban EMH
Many more books are now controversial than a few years ago. Midwest Urban E
Many of the newer books, go into much more detail about some of this subject matter, and I have to weight if it fits into our school culture. Pacific Suburban EM
More and more books have controversial matter. South Central Urban EMH
More and more the laws are leaning toward groups most vocal about their agendas. Are school librarians covered under the free speech amendment? Who will support us if we are questioned or disciplined about our content choices and what we deem suitable for our patrons? The pay and support fails to outweigh the possible outcome of such decisions. Mountain Urban EM
More aware of the issues. South Central Small Town E
More books are being written with controversial subject matter. Midwest Suburban EM
More books are now created with controversial language, sexual content, etc. than a couple of years ago. Midwest Suburban M
More books containing controversial subject matter are being written for children. South Central Rural M
More books for school-age children contain controversial subject matter. South Atlantic Small Town M
More books targeted at my age group have controversial issues now. South Central Small Town M
More books with controversial content are being published. Pacific Small Town M
More controversial books available. Subjects are being broached at earlier stages by some authors. Northeast Suburban E
More crazies out there. :( Midwest Suburban H
More prevalent in YA Literature Midwest Suburban M
More YA books contain this content than years ago. Northeast Small Town EM
Mostly because parents are more sensitive and aware. My school is pre-K-2 so many of my decisions are based on age-appropriateness about issues such as slavery, war, Holocaust. Northeast Suburban E
My district has a very rigid selection policy for approved books. South Atlantic Urban E
My student body is elementary, pre-K through 6th grade in a very conservative community. Northeast Small Town EM
Negative influence it might have on students who might already be on the brink of harmful or destructive behavior. Urban M
New administration. Northeast Urban MH
Nothing is taboo these days and most students have been exposed to too much inappropriate subject matter. However, we as teachers must address material that students may read independently and have no way of putting it in proper context. Northeast Suburban H
One of our GA Peach selections last year had the word "ass" in the title. Having this word in the title did not please our principal and we did not include it in our Peach selections display that year. South Atlantic Rural H
Only because I moved from grades 6-8 down to 4-5. Northeast Suburban E
Our legislature has taken away protections for educators in regards to "harmful materials" to students. Also we have no due process rights now. Midwest Small Town E
Our society is so much more polarized when it comes to social issues. Midwest Urban EM
Our young people are being exposed to more mature situations at a younger and younger age. They are no longer shocked by the same content they once were. South Central Suburban M
Parent concerns. Suburban EM
parent questioned a title. Northeast Small Town EM
Parents and community members are more outspoken about controversial materials. Also, it seems that publishers are publishing more young adult material with adult content. Midwest Rural MH
Parents are more critical of public schools and are looking for reasons to find fault. Midwest Small Town H
Parents are more vocal and have more influence with policy makers. Midwest Suburban E
Parents are taking a bigger interest in what their kids are reading in a book. Not online, just in books. South Central Small Town EMH
Parents in our school have been more conservative. Midwest Suburban M
Parent's reactions seem to be more extreme. Northeast Suburban M
People seem to be more sensitive and reactive to subjects. Mountain Small Town E
People seem to love making mountains out of molehills these days. Midwest Suburban E
People today seem to want to create a disturbance over every small thing, even a book. South Central Rural E
Public school climate. South Atlantic Suburban E
Publishers are more apt to publish these topics now and reviewers are more hesitant to make note of these topics. Midwest Suburban E
Purchasing for middle school is difficult because of the maturity levels of our students ranging from 10 years old to teenage. Books for YA have become more explicit in language and content over the past couple of years and some may be more appropriate for high school readers when considering life experience and maturity level. Pacific Suburban M
Recently my school district has moved 9th grade back to the high school and brought in 6th grade. This has resulted in adjusting the collection to reflect the needs/interests of younger students. Mountain Small Town M
Representation of issues at an adult level seem to have trickled down into literature for younger readers. Without necessarily having the benefit of a source for a mature discussion, this may leave a younger reader viewing questionable behavior as acceptable. South Atlantic
Resurgence of book challenges. South Atlantic Suburban H
School system requirements. South Atlantic Small Town E
Seems like all young adult books have so much more controversial subject matter I have to look at them much more carefully now than 2 years before. I have middle school students using this library and I have to be very careful what books they check out. Midwest
Seems like the culture of fear is growing.... Northeast Small Town MH
Sexual situations, big increase in profane language...I have so little $ is disappointing to purchase a book that I find out is controversial for middle schoolers and I have to provide a warning it may be mature...which is a euphemism for what very well is inappropriate for a 12 year old . I used to think I was so open to controversial text but I see our youth so sexualized at young ages and where once it was important to explore the gray areas as they they bring the books back because they are feeling a bit dirty as if the language or situation is too much..I try to be comforting and accepting ....honestly one last summer is one of those books...some love it ...some cringe. South Central Small Town M
Stakes are higher if there is a complaint about the content. South Atlantic
Students can read whatever their parents purchase for them, etc., but our library is responsible for providing age appropriate materials for them. South Central Urban M
Students have been exposed to too much violence and language in the media. They seem to have become desensitized to it. Pacific Small Town H
The LBGTQ issue has been forced upon us, including in your material. It is not the norm and should not be presented as such. Why can't it be called for what it is - sinful. There never seems to be a problem calling material racially biased. Our students have plenty of problems without the LBGTQ being forced at them. Isn't it time to assist them in becoming normal, well-adjusted individuals? What we need are good clean books that portray values we need again in this country. South Central Small Town H
The LGBT books in particular...In the last couple of years I have become even more committed to purchasing and making available books with an LGBT theme that are still appropriate for middle school (in particular I try to avoid too much of the F-word, and any sexual content that is too mature in a middle school context; i.e. "going all the way"). I am committed to putting as many of these books in my library as possible because there are students who need them badly, and they're an under-represented group. I would also like for my non-LGBT students to read them in order to promote more acceptance of their peers who struggle with these issues, and to learn to treat everybody kindly. Midwest
The nature and acceptance of certain things is changing. Pacific Suburban E
The only reason I consider this is because we are a K-12 school and I put effort into challenging my older readers while still making sure that my younger readers are reading age appropriate material (the middle years students like to consider themselves ready for high school novels when they're not emotionally mature enough for the content). I don't base my purchasing decisions on the controversial content, but I do consider location and availability within the library. Canada Rural EMH
The pressure to be politically correct, for one thing, but also the recent events of sex assault and cyber bullying have increased. Canada Suburban EMH
The subject matter is more controversial and I would like to avoid censorship issues if possible. Pacific Rural EH
There are more books out there now with inapporpriate material in it. Midwest Small Town M
There are more controversial books available for Middle School students. Our library is being scrutinized by local groups that are trying to find fault with public schools and are interested in starting charter schools that are ultra conservative. South Atlantic Urban M
There are more LGBTQ books coming out and my students mostly come from very conservative families. I would like to put them in my library, but I know my students would be worried about checking them out. Northeast Suburban H
There have been two books in recent years that I have chosen not to buy, despite student requests (and remember, these are 11 to 14-year-olds): "I hope they serve beer in Hell" and "Fifty Shades of Grey". I am not afraid of cutting-edge content and I absolutely showcase controversial subjects, but I am finally realizing that, as a school librarian, I do need at least a small amount of literary merit or curricular relevance to justify purchasing a book with state funds. Now, donated books is a different story. I do donate more controversial books than I would purchase. You name it, we probably have it. Pacific Rural M
There is more and more controversial material in YA and children's lit than any time I can remember. South Central Suburban MH
There is more information everywhere. Pacific Small Town EM
There is more. Northeast
There is much more controversial subject matter in YA books now. Heck, there is much more in Presidential debates now. Who would have believed it two years ago? South Atlantic Suburban H
There seems to be more controversial subject matter in some of the newer books than just a passing mention as in the past and many of the parents in my district have concerns about their child being exposed to certain behaviors such as drug use, sex and profanity. They worry that the addition of books with risky behaviors in them at the middle school level will cause students to become desensitized to them especially if the book doesn't have consequences for the behaviors. South Central Suburban M
There seems to be so much more sex, violence, etc., in YA books than before and I work in a middle school. Northeast Suburban M
These are pricklier times than even 2 years ago. If you go left, you're wrong. If you go right, you're wrong. If you go straight ahead, you go wrong. Midwest Rural M
These controversial subjects are an everyday part of my High School students lives. They need relevant and current resources to become informed and make good decisions. Midwest Small Town H
This library now serves only K-5. It previously served students through 6th grade. Pacific Rural E
Too much information and freedom given to express oneself, social media, more acceptable behavior. South Central Urban EM
Vocal parents who would go to the media before discussing concerns with the school. Mountain Urban EM
We had a challenge 2 years ago which put a magnifying glass on my Media Center and collection. The board became involved. Midwest Suburban M
We used to only have 7th and 8th grade students but now have 6th grade as well. Northeast Suburban M
While I feel like the students want to read up, the politically correct atmosphere pervasive in our culture can spell trouble for librarians who don't have support of admin or board should a parent object. Pacific Small Town M
Will it become an issue for parents or staff? Midwest Suburban EMH
With little funds to purchase books, I need to select books that will appeal to all patrons. Mountain Urban EM
Working for a Catholic school I have to be very careful. Books seem to have more controversial conflict. South Atlantic Suburban EM
Yes, because so many books today try to "sneak" controversial content into the books. I am careful not to "promote" content that I feel is controversial and conflicting towards the values of our community. They are exposed to plenty of controversial subject matter on television. I feel responsible for supplying books and materials that are appropriate for middle school students and not subjecting them to content that they're not ready for at their age. South Atlantic Rural M
Yes, because there seem to be many more controversial stories out there. Pacific Rural MH
Younger children hear about edgy content and want to check out the books if we have them. This library serves students in grades 5 -12 South Central Suburban EMH
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RITA Grollman

This survey was very interesting and somewhat troubling. I agree that we are seeing more mature content in our libraries. But there are so many specifics in the various communities in our nation. I hope there is a way to have a national conversation regarding this issue.

Posted : Oct 09, 2016 07:53

Rachel Caine

This is a VERY important survey. Would love to see a drill-down survey to the people who answered this question identifying SPECIFICALLY what they think of when they talk about "controversial" subject matter. It's clear that this is a catch-all word for many different things they find objectionable, and it's helpful to understand what librarians are thinking and facing. Would love to see focus groups between authors, publishers and librarians about this topic.

Posted : Sep 26, 2016 10:01



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