Thursday blog posts are usually reserved for Things I Love, but this week I’m deviating from my normal happy fuzzy thoughts to point out some things that I do not love.
As a librarian who serves Young Adult (teens and preteens), there are few things not to love about my job. Besides the inevitable strangeness that comes with working in a building offering free services and open to the public, it’s a pretty sweet gig.
But, as with all jobs, there are few downsides. Librarians feel passionately about free access to information for all people. What people choose to read or learn about is their own business as long as they are not impinging on the rights of those around them by subjecting them to those subjects. However, this is where many libraries run into trouble. Though more prevalent in school libraries, all libraries are vulnerable to the outrage of the vocal few who to whom the world offers myriad opportunities to be offended.
Whenever I talk about people challenging books (especially specific cases and specific books—James and the Giant Peach?! Really??) within a library’s collection, I quickly get very upset and all the pretty words I know disappear into the same type of blind outrage book banners must tap into for their attacks. Instead of subjecting my fair readers to that, I want to talk about a few of the things librarians stand for and do to make sure our collections are good for our patrons (whether or not they all agree with it).
First, always keep in mind that we have the best interests of our patrons in mind. Ultimately, though, it is your own decision as to what you read. And in the case of children, parents are the deciding factor in what their own child reads, not anyone else’s. When I was a kid I read the first few Goosebump books by R.L. Stine and the first few Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I quickly put them down again because I didn’t enjoy them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still popular with children, and that I won’t suggest it to younger patrons because they do serve a purpose.
As my birthday buddy Voltaire is so often quoted as saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Another thing you should know. We seriously consider and debate what books are appropriate for what ages, and then we place them in those areas of the library. I choose most of the young adult books that we purchase; I read reviews online and in library publications and pay close attention to the ages they are aimed at, and why. If a book about teens has more adult content I usually request that it be placed in the adult fiction area of the collection since our young adult area is mostly aimed at junior high and early high school. However, if a teen wants the book they can search for it in the card catalog and check it out.
Of course we aren’t always as fearless as we’d like to be in the face of possible censorship. We have to practice constant vigilance when ordering books so we don’t censor ourselves when choosing books for purchase. Refusing to consider what people might find offensive (books with LGBT teens, references- even casually- to sex, violence) as a deciding reason when purchasing a book and instead focusing on the needs of my young adult patrons is not always as easy as it should be, but it is something I strive for daily. Author Meg Cabot talks a bit about those kinds of fears here: http://www.storysnoops.com/blog/?p=596
So those are some of things I do not love this Thursday. They seem to center around fear and distrust from both directions. The fear and distrust of some patrons feel toward ideas and opinions different from their own. And the fear and distrust librarians can sometimes experience when faced with possible challenges to a collection.
In closing today, I’ll leave you with a few things.
The first three of the Five Laws of Library Science (which I do love):
1. Books are for use
2. Every read his or her book
3. Every book its reader
This quote by Maureen Johnson:
“Can you imagine going around your neighborhood with a piece of paper that says, “I went into the LIBRARY and found a BOOK with a DIRTY WORD in it, and now I want it LOCKED IN THE BASEMENT and GUARDED by a WOLVERINE so that THE PRECIOUS CHILDREN do not see the WORD. Please sign my petition.””
And a few websites/blog entries that debate book banning better than I ever could and things you can do to help stop it:
MyLiBlog: Uncle Bobby’s Wedding– a great defense of a library book challenge
Neil Gaiman’s Journal: It Snowed This Morning– Gaiman discusses some of the stuff I’ve mentioned
There are so many more things, but that’s all for today. Thanks for reading!