In the battle over books, who gets to decide what’s age-appropriate at libraries?

From National Public Radio:

For months, Carolyn Harrison and a small band of activists have been setting up folding tables with an array of what they call “bad books” outside the public library in Idaho Falls, Idaho. As Harrison, co-founder of the group Parents Against Bad Books sees it, the best way to convince people that the library is stocking inappropriate books is to show them.

“These two books are in the library, if you don’t believe it!” Harrison says to one passerby.

“It’s very graphic, very detailed,” offers Halli Stone, another member of the group.

They point out depictions of what they call obscene sexual encounters, catching many library patrons by surprise.

“Oooh, the graphic pictures!” exclaims one woman. “They’re taking away children’s innocence. They just don’t care.”

. . . .

It’s one of many efforts around the U.S. to change how decisions are made about which books libraries should have on shelves and in which section of the library they belong.

The process of classifying books can be somewhat inconsistent. Books usually get an initial designation from authors and publishers. Then, professional book reviewers usually weigh in with their own age-bracket recommendation, and distributors and booksellers can do the same. But ultimately, local library staff make the final call about the books they buy and where they should go.

Harrison wants to change that process by giving parents a voice in that final decision, along with the library staff. But she says libraries are resistant to the idea.

“They’ve told us here that ‘Oh no, you can’t have parents involved. You must have experts choosing books for the children,'” Harrison says. “That makes no sense. Parents are the primary stakeholders for children.”

. . . .

PABB also keeps a list of what they call “52 Bad Books.” It includes George M. Johnson’s memoir, All Boys Aren’t Blue, which contains some explicit descriptions of sexual scenes. But as is the case with most books in question, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

“I found it very enlightening,” says Idaho Falls Public Library Director Robert Wright. As he sees it, All Boys Aren’t Blue is critical to young people’s development, especially those struggling with issues around sexual identity. “To me, it was a story of a young boy who felt maybe different, but the story that came through to me was how much his family supported him and loved him regardless,” Wright says.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

4 thoughts on “In the battle over books, who gets to decide what’s age-appropriate at libraries?”

  1. And to absolutely no one’s surprise, NPR is firmly in the credentialist camp on this issue.

    The “First Amendment concerns” about the government “rating books” are so much nonsense. Public and school libraries are government entities; is it a “First Amendment concern” if they choose to buy one book and not another? Of course not.

    This isn’t about the freedom to read; this is about the freedom of librarians (who are government employees) to operate without accountability.

    (And what is with the determination to expose people to outre sexual stuff at younger ages?)

  2. The simplest solution is to move explicit content to a higher tier. Say, from Juvenile to Young Adult, or from Young Adult to Adult Fiction. The later Harry Potter books are a good example. Book 1 is usually catalogued as Juvenile. Although there’s no sexual content in Book 5, it’s much, much darker (and older) and may be shelved in the YA section. For the sake of consistency, many libraries simply re-catalogue or re-shelve the earlier books with the later ones. When I worked at our local library, where to shelve these books was a minor challenge as the books. We had kids as young as 8 and 9 coming in looking for books as they were released, and parents asking us if the books were appropriate for that age. But that’s a decision only parents can make, as they’re the ones who know their kids the best.

    • Rowling intentionally stair-stepped the series with the idea that kids would match Harry’s age, one book a year. Librarians were no concern of hers. 😉

  3. I hope they remember to add the Bible to their list of Bad Books. Lots of rape, murder, slavery, war, and other horrible acts in there.
    The problem with saying that ‘experts’ shouldn’t make decisions for parents regarding children’s reading is that too many parents just listen to some other voice of authority and make knee-jerk reactions to things of which they know nothing.
    Parents SHOULD monitor and gatekeep for their kids but they need to know what the hell they’re talking about and educate themselves about the books they think they should fear rather than listening to their preacher, TikTok personality, or internet troll. Until that happens, it’s a broken system with no easy fix.

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