R-rated libraries

"R-rated libraries" Continued...

Issue: "Coming to America," April 6, 2013

That takes us back to the concerned mother flipping through her preteen’s reading stack at the local branch. She marches to the circulation desk with three books in hand and makes a complaint. A librarian hands her a form: “Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials.” Besides identifying the objectionable materials and specifying her concerns, the form asks, “Can you suggest other material to take its place?” (That question seems beside the point, and according to Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org, it is: “It makes the process personal—puts you [the patron] on the spot, makes you look like an idiot.”)

What happens after she turns in the form? Lisa Sampey, Collection Services Manager for the Greene County (Mo.) library system, says the staff reviews all requests and recommends one of three actions: (1) removing the item, (2) moving it to a different location, or (3) retaining it. No. 3 is by far the most common. Occasionally librarians move items—from the children’s to young adults’ section, for example. But they almost never remove them. “Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials,” a handbook on the ALA website, includes no guidelines for determining whether materials are inappropriate, only talking points to deflect objections.

What if a young teen brought Fifty Shades of Grey to the checkout desk—wouldn’t the librarian be obliged to set it aside tactfully? At Greene County, they leave that up to the parents. That’s also policy at the neighboring, and much smaller, Polk County library, although if checkout personnel know the family, they might say something. In loco parentis (in place of the parent) is another traditional principle that conflicts with the ALA’s commitment to intellectual freedom.

Why not tag books with a content label, like the MPAA rating for movies? The ALA’s “Statement on Labeling” claims that would be “an attempt to prejudice attitudes and as such, it is a censor’s tool.” The Statement also takes on groups or individuals who offer to set criteria for evaluating content: “Injustice and ignorance rather than justice and enlightenment result from such practices, and the American Library Association opposes the establishment of such criteria.”

At this point, concerned parents are likely to throw up their hands in dismay. What can they do?

Dan Kleinman says, “Get informed, get ready for long-term attacks, rely on legal precedent, get organized in educating people, then make a stand.” When it comes to adding materials (as opposed to removing them), Christian have a say, even in larger systems where the main branch does all the ordering. Lisa Sampey estimates that Greene County acquires about 95 percent of materials requested by patrons.

Betsy Farquhar, online book reviewer, Library Science student, and homeschool mom, recommends “positive library activism”: “There’s a heavy emphasis these days on the ‘user’ and the ‘user community.’ The homeschool community is talked about fairly respectfully in some circles because they tend to be ‘heavy users.’” Besides requesting books, Betsy repeatedly checks out wholesome titles to bump up their status in library records: Books that circulate remain in the collection, even if they’re anything but PC.

Public libraries need funding, and they justify funding by usage. Building rapport with the local librarians, suggesting positive additions to the collection, and supporting worthwhile material are all ways to tug the local library in a more family-friendly direction.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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