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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 30
1. Self-Censorship: A Reflection

Coffee resting on tableAs the children’s librarian at my branch I interact with hundreds of kids.  I’ve had parents tell me they appreciate the impact I have on their kids, both as people and as readers. I feel that in some way, it is my job to show them all the ideas and viewpoints out there, so they can be better citizens of the world.

A few weeks ago, a colleague and I were getting ready to head to a school visit.  We had been prepping for this for a while now. Each of us picked books that we thought would resonate with the tweens in our Boston neighborhood.  A few days before, my colleague approached me and told me she wasn’t going to be utilizing one of the graphic novels she originally picked because throughout the book, there were numerous images of the main character smoking.   She didn’t want the tweens receiving the message that smoking at their age was okay.

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about censorship.  Not the censorship we hear about in the news, but the everyday censorship that may happen at our libraries.  For the longest time, there has been a pile of anime DVDs on my desk.  A majority of my system’s anime is classified as Teen, but for whatever reason, a few are not.  The DVDs on my desk have been placed there by kids, parents, and even myself, because some of the cover images are suggestive in nature.  More times than I can count, I have been told “these are not okay for the Children’s Room.”  But why?  I mean yes, I understand the suggestive nature of the images, but does that mean it needs to be removed from the shelf?  If I remove it from the shelf, then what happens when a parent comes to me and complains about Sex is a Funny Word?  Or even something like Harry Potter?  Doesn’t my removal of these DVDs from the shelf create a slippery slope?  Where do we draw the line?  Who determines what is okay and appropriate?

I’m still thinking about these questions. One thing I know is that I get to decide what stays on my shelf and what doesn’t, and so in the mean time, the DVDs stay.  Not because I think the images are appropriate, but because it’s not my job to tell someone else what is and isn’t appropriate.  All I can do, is provide them with the tools and ideas to help them be the best people than can be.

Alyson Feldman-Piltch is a children’s librarian for the Boston Public Library.  She likes dogs, ice cream, and baseball.  She can be contacted at [email protected]

The post Self-Censorship: A Reflection appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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2. Reviews & Common Sense Media

Kids using the computerDuring late March and early April, the ALSC Discussion List was active with comments and concerns around Common Sense Media (CSM) and that organization’s reviews of children’s materials.  I followed this discussion with particular interest for two reasons. First, the organization is located in the city where I work.  Second, when they were just getting started, members of the organization came to our library to meet with us to discuss their values and seek our support.   We declined as we believed that their practice of labeling was in violation of the ALA Bill of Rights and the core values of library services for children.

I do not intend to rehash all of the comments and statements of the online discussion (sigh of relief on your part!).  Hopefully, most of you followed it and certainly many of you actively participated.  I found it to be a robust and lively exchange.  That being said, I believe that there are some points that bear repeating regarding CSM reviews:

  • The qualifications of the “expert” reviewers are not always clear with regard to their knowledge of children’s literature and their background in bringing children and books together.
  • Reviews contain a not-so-subtle bias that the values of CSM should be shared by everyone.
  • Ratings that focus on a checklist of incidents that CSM considers problematic (i.e. violence, sex, language, consumerism, drinking, drugs, smoking) cannot provide a balanced and truly insightful evaluation of a literary work.  There is no context.
  • The “Parents Need to Know” ratings are presented to the left of the reviews and are the most immediately visible component.  Even if the review itself does present some balance, a parent in a hurry will find it all too easy to simply look at the rating as a guide to deciding if the book is one they consider appropriate.

Nina Lindsay, Supervising Librarian for Children’s Services at Oakland Public Library, focused on this issue in a way that I found particularly insightful.  With her permission I am going to use her comments:

“…it is indeed the “What Parents Need to Know” section and ratings of CSM that I find inherently problematic, and totally different than, for instance, VOYA’s ratings on popularity and quality.  First of all…”Parents Need to Know”?  That very statement presupposes that what is about to follow is what every parent should value.  Try looking up some reviews of titles with complex stories in them, and picture yourself as a parent who is browsing this site to sanction or veto your child’s reading choices.  Does this section really tell you what you need to know about the book?  The point is it is different for every parent, every family.”

Thanks, Nina!

If you haven’t done so, I would like to encourage you to read a blog post from the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and a Booklist editorial by Pat Scales.  On March 28th, 2016, Joyce Johnston posted a piece to the OIF blog titled Common Sense Media:  Promoting Family Values or Dictating Them?  The original editorial from Pat Scales, titled Three Bombs, Two Lips, and a Martini Glass was published in Booklist in August of 2010.  It has just been reprinted with updates as a result of the ALSC-L discussions.  Both pieces are succinct and on target.

Are two blog posts and an updated editorial on top of the previous discussion excessive on this issue?  I would answer no.  The discussion about labeling in order to limit what children read is a vital one to our profession.  It is one that we should weigh in on whenever possible.

Finally, I encourage you to think about volunteering to serve on the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.  Several of us currently serving are coming to the end of our appointments at the close of the Annual Conference.  This will provide openings for those who might be interested in participating in this critical committee, and working with great people who share your passion for intellectual freedom!

Toni Bernardi, San Francisco Public Library

Member, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

The post Reviews & Common Sense Media appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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3. Challenged Caldecotts & This One Summer

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) published an article in December 2015 summarizing their top ten graphic novels that they defended that year from potential challenges. The 2015 Caldecott Honor winner, This One Summer, was not only the first graphic novel to be honored by the Caldecott Committee, it was also one of the most frequently challenged graphic novels that the CBLDF found itself defending during 2015.  

Image courtesy of First Second Books

Image courtesy of First Second Books

After reading this article, I was curious. How long has it been since a Newbery or Caldecott Honoree has been challenged in connection with its status as an award winner? I wanted to know publication dates related to book challenges, rather than how often something was challenged.

Online searches resulted in popular titles like Maurice Sendak’s 1964 Caldecott Award Winner Where The Wild Things Are and his 1971 Caldecott Honor Winner, In the Night Kitchen.  But it was the Newbery titles that repeatedly filled my search results. Thanks to Books Under Fire: A Hit List of Banned and Challenged Children’s Books by Pat Scales (ALA Editions, 2015), I was able to find answers. The appendix contains lists of all Caldecott and Newbery titles that have been reported as being challenged. 

It’s been over twenty years since a Caldecott title has been the subject of so many challenges. The last notable Caldecott Honoree to be so scrutinized was A Smokey Night by Eve Bunting and illustrated by David Diaz, which won the 1995 Caldecott Medal. It has been challenged for containing “violence and horror.” Prior to that, Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold, which won a 1992 Caldecott Honor was challenged for “racial stereotype & [that] the adults drink beer.”   

These Caldecott titles are all picture books, and the CBLDF did some research and discovered that within the last ten years, “about 82% of the Caldecott winners have been aimed at audiences age 8 and younger.” Since a majority of Caldecott books are picture books, many people believe that all of these winners and honorees should be cataloged as picture books. However, the Caldecott Award is intended for ages 0-14, representing a wide range of book formats.

This One Summer has recently ended up housed in some elementary school libraries, while the publisher, First Second Books, clearly states that its intended audience is ages 12-18. One challenge stemmed from three Seminole County Elementary schools in Florida because a parent complained about profanity and sexual references in the bookThe book came under attack in the Seminole County High Schools as well. The CBLDF led the fight to preserve high school student access to the book, and just this week, we learned that the book will remain unrestricted in Seminole County High School libraries.

With all the challenges against this single title, I wondered how the publisher feels when their books become challenged or banned. So I emailed Mark Siegel, the publisher and editor of This One Summer to get his input on all these challenges and news headlines on the book.

Janet Weber: First of all, congratulations on First Second Books 10th Anniversary.  You’ve published a lot of amazing, high quality graphic novels during this time, with many winning high achievements and awards.  What was your reaction when you first learned that This One Summer faced its first challenge?

Mark Siegel: Thank you! My reaction to learning about This One Summer being challenged, as I recall, was NOT total surprise . . . we had a lot of discussions, when we were figuring out how to publish this book, about what the appropriate age level for it was. It definitely has challenging content for any age — following in the tradition of great kids’ books like Goodnight Mr. Tom, Nobody’s Family is Going to Change, and Forever.

But it’s always heartbreaking to hear that one of the books that we publish — a book we believe in and have championed and nurtured — has been challenged, because it means that someone out there thinks that the book has so many problems that no one should be allowed to read it. We know that our books are high quality — and that even if the person challenging the book isn’t the ideal audience, that there are readers in need of the book out there. That’s especially the case when books like This One Summer are challenged based on their content.

JW: How do you, as a publisher learn about titles that have been challenged? Especially of your own titles?

MS: It’s always a different process for each book. Sometimes, we hear from the authors, who tend to get contacted about challenges — sometimes, the school involved will contact us directly. And we’re very lucky to have the Comic Book Legal Defense at our backs in all of these situations. An industry organization that defends works in comics forms from challenges, the CBLDF is always on top of any potential censorship and on the phone with us and the parties involved within twenty-four hours. We really appreciate the work they do, and their support for our titles!

JW: Have any other First Second Books been challenged?

MS: Yes, several. The Korean Color of Earth trilogy, by Kim Dong Hwa, I remember very well. We half expected that, as it treads (however delicately and tastefully) on some sexual issues, in ways that don’t always sit comfortably with western moralities. In other instances, we were taken aback by reactions to very slight partial nudity in George O’Connor’s Journey to Mohawk Country and Sardine in Outer Space. The context and the treatment were so mild that I really didn’t think they could have been considered offensive. Apparently they could.

JW: As a publisher, do you see sales increase when a title has been challenged?

MS: In some instances, yes. I think in cases like This One Summer, there is a very legitimate counter-reaction from people who read and loved the book, and felt the challenge was unfair or misguided.

JW: Is there anything you can do as a publisher to fight for one of your challenged titles?

MS: Our catalog is our soapbox. We publish works by authors we believe in, and stand behind. And we will continue to do so.

We also work to give the teachers and librarians involved resources to fight the challenges themselves — lists of the book’s awards and praise, teacher’s guides, etc. Here we’re also very thankful for the CBLDF for their assistance. They’re a fantastic industry resource who have helped out in every challenge we’ve found our books embroiled in.

If anyone reading this is a teacher or a librarian (or anyone!) dealing with a challenge on one of our titles, we encourage you to get directly in touch with us so we can give you any help you need to keep great graphic novels in your libraries and schools. [email protected] is our e-mail address for this sort of thing.

JW: Is there any advice you can give as a publisher to fight for keeping challenged books in library collections?

MS: I think there are great advocates for good books—allies in all kinds of places. Many of them are librarians, who know and understand their communities, and have a direct line of communication with educators and parents, and patrons. And it’s not to say any challenge is a threat to freedom of speech—on the contrary. Some challenges provoke much needed conversations, and belong with a healthy social dialog. If books never provoked debate, we would really have to worry then!

JW: Thank you so much Mark for sharing your input! It is much appreciated!

Photo Courtesy of Janet Weber

Photo Courtesy of Janet Weber

Janet Weber is a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee and is a Youth Services Librarian at the Tigard Public Library in Oregon. She teaches the ALSC online continuing education course Children’s Graphic Novels 101.  She’s seen here (center) celebrating This One Summer with Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki at the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference.  

The post Challenged Caldecotts & This One Summer appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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4. Discomforting Books

The recent controversy over A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON provoked me to think about how we should react when a book that is already in our collection proves unsettling, hurtful or insulting to some readers.

I don’t want to rehash the discussions around Scholastic’s withdrawal of A BIRTHDAY CAKE. Rather, I’d like us to talk about whether and why we retain books—often considered classics—which are offensive to some in our society.

Of course, there are a multitude of reasons why readers object to certain books, but to focus our discussion, I’ll concentrate on a few books which have been criticized for racial, ethnic, or religious insensitivity (or worse).

Colorful library of booksHere’s a short list:

Banks, Lynne Reid.  THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD (series)

Bannerman, Helen.  LITTLE BLACK SAMBO


Brink, Carol Ryrie.  CADDIE WOODLAWN

Clinton, Cathryn.  A STONE IN MY HAND

Harris, Joel Chandler.  TALES OF UNCLE REMUS



Wilder, Laura Ingalls.  LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE (series)

Some questions to consider:

Which of those do you own or have you withdrawn from your collections?

Does it make a difference whether you work in a school or public library?

If the books are still in your library, was this the result of a conscious decision? If so, can you explain your reasoning?

If they are still in your collection, where are they shelved?

If you have withdrawn them, can you explain your thinking?

Have you bought titles that might substitute for the challenged books, i.e. Julius Lester’s retellings of the Uncle Remus stories, Margaret Mahy’s THE SEVEN CHINESE BROTHERS or Fred Marcellino’s THE STORY OF LITTLE BABAJI?

If you bought retellings or substitutions, did you retain the older, challenged titles? Why or why not?

Let’s talk!

Submitted by Miriam Lang Budin, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee Member

The post Discomforting Books appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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5. A Talk With Pat Scales

Photo courtesy of Pat Scales

Photo courtesy of Pat Scales

Pat Scales is the 2016 recipient of the ALSC Distinguished Service Award, and we’re thrilled to have her share some memories of her years of working with children, families, librarians, and educators across the country. ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee member Miriam Lang Budin chatted with Pat via email:

Miriam Lang Budin: First of all, congratulations on receiving the 2016 ALSC Distinguished Service Award! What a well-deserved recognition of your many years of dedicated school librarianship, professional leadership, and continuing guidance to those of us in the trenches.

Do you have any funny stories about your work as a champion of intellectual freedom?

Pat Scales: Yes.  I helped an elementary school in the late 1980s deal with a parent who complained about William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble because “Sylvester has an out of body experience.”  She was, of course, referring to Sylvester turning into a rock.  I have used that book in teaching students about the freedom to read.  I told them about the complaint about the “pig policemen” in the 1970s, and then I told them about the later complaint.  They asked me to explain an out of body experience.  I had to say I didn’t know because I had never had one.

One of my favorite stories is the time I was teaching the First Amendment to eighth graders.  I told them that My Friend Flicka had been banned in Florida because of the word “bitch” in reference to a female dog.  I asked them to name other words that society has turned into slang.  A boy on the front row said, “pussy.”  The students didn’t hear him and asked me what he said.  I turned to the class and said, “John said pussy, and he’s absolutely right.”  I then recited ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat.’ Not one student laughed. Later the teacher and I invited the principal to the class to hear the lecture.  He was amazed by the students, and said it was one of the best lessons he had ever observed.  I turned to him and told him that I was sorry he missed “pussy.”  He collapsed on the floor laughing.

MLB: Have you ever been afraid for your safety when working in the field?

PS: No, not ever.  There were two incidents that happened when I was at a residential high school for the arts, but they didn’t frighten me.

I served on a panel at ALA about privacy and the Patriot Act. What we didn’t know until later was that some very conservative organizations had planted people in the audience.  When I returned home I received some very threatening telephone calls at work. Someone even wrote to our governor complaining about my views.  I was called from the governor’s office just to inform me that the governor stood behind me.  Security guards escorted me to my car for about a week.  I never heard anything more after that week.

A woman appeared in the library one day around 5:00 and began pulling books, marking specific pages with strips of paper, and stacking them on tables.  Most were art books that had nude paintings.  There were a few graphic novels that she added to the stacks.  She quickly fled when I asked her if I could help her.  Then I spotted a magazine that had my name on the label.  She had circled my name and written “the problem.” I never knew who she was.

MLB: Can you tell us about a satisfying victory?

PS: I worked with a group of citizens in Fayetteville, Arkansas who were fighting a woman who was leading a campaign to get any books that dealt with “sex” out of the school libraries.  The group addressed the school board in a kind of town hall meeting, and won their battle.  It was wonderful to see a community group rise in support of books, the right to read, and the right to seek information.

I was also an expert witness to the Annie on My Mind censorship trial in Olathe, Kansas. High school students sued the superintendent of schools after he pulled the book from the library shelves.  Garden’s book had been in the library for ten years, and there had never been a question until a gay/lesbian group wanted to gift the book to the school library. That made the superintendent nervous, and he dismissed the selection policy and the materials review policy, and banned the book. The students were brilliant, and they won the case.

MLB: Have there been any crushing defeats?

PS: Yes.  The Miami-Dade Public Schools removed Vamos a Cuba because they didn’t think it accurately represented life in the Communist country.  They cited the cover of the book where a young boy is smiling.  “No child would smile under the Castro regime.” There were other complaints: “Only the rich would wear the festival dress.” “The boy pulling the oxen was too clean and neat and didn’t represent hard work.”  The Florida ACLU took the case to court, and they called me as an expert witness. We won the case in the federal district court, but the school district appealed.  The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is very conservative, and they ruled that the school board had not violated anyone’s First Amendment rights.  The book was permanently removed.

MLB: Is there an ongoing battle that you feel is especially important?

PS: We still deal with issues related to “labeling” of content in books, and restricting students to books on their “reading level” in school and public libraries.  This is extremely troubling, because this restricts young readers’ access to books they want, or information they need.  There are documented cases where books have been removed from a library based solely on a Common Sense Media review.  This site uses emoticons to label controversial issues in books and media.  It’s all taken out of context, and the folks working for them aren’t professionals. There are other websites that label in much the same way.

There have been many censorship cases related to “reading levels.”  Parents and teachers want their really “good” readers to read books that have “high reading levels.”  Sometimes these books are too mature for the reader.  For example, a newspaper in Arizona interviewed me when The Perks of Being a Wallflower was banned in an elementary school in Apache Junction.  The school had purchased the book because Accelerated Reader put it on the fourth-grade reading level.  This case prompted the State Superintendent to send a letter of “warning” to all school libraries in the state.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower isn’t appropriate for fourth-grade, and shouldn’t have been purchased for the elementary school.

No librarian should ever allow any company to determine what they purchase for their library.  We have a number of professional review journals to guide us.

MLB: What can we do to help?

PS: Talk the Talk.  Walk the Walk.  DO NOT succumb to pressure from organizations from the “right” or the “left.”  Review your selection policies and make sure they include statements related to “controversial” materials and cultural and historical accuracy.  Then stick to your policies.

Encourage state library associations to sponsor programs; enroll in webinars about the issues; write blogs and articles for journals and newsletters; and, sponsor Banned Books Week activities for kids and adults to make them aware of the issues.

Pat’s regular column in School Library Journal, Scales on Censorship, is a valuable resource for reasoned, practical responses to intellectual freedom concerns. Questions can be sent to [email protected].

Thank you, Pat!

The post A Talk With Pat Scales appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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6. Fired Up About the Freedom to Read

When you say “yes” to an appointment to serve on an ALSC committee, you’re saying “yes” to meeting interesting people, and getting re-energized about topics and issues that are important to our profession and vital to those we serve. The ALSC Intellectual Freedom (IF) Committee serves as a liaison to other ALA Divisions and Committees, but also to a partner institution you might not know well.  At Midwinter 2016, the co-chairs of the ALSC IF committee spent a fascinating day with the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) folks and learned a lot.

Source: Freedom to Read Foundation website

Source: Freedom to Read Foundation website

FTRF is an affiliate – not a part – of ALA. Its purpose is to protect and defend the First Amendment, particularly supporting “the right of libraries to collect – and individuals to access – information.”  If you face a challenge in your library, you’ll probably call ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom for advice.  But you also want to remember our powerful advocates at FTRF, since that is where passionate attorneys speak for our patrons and for us when legal defense is needed.  They’ll go to court, if necessary. FTRF also works to fend off trouble before it gets to litigation by keeping close tabs on state and federal legislation.  And they’re on the lookout for developing issues on the free speech and privacy horizon, such as the question of labeling book and media content for youth.

So here are a couple of action items for you to consider: Join the FTRF for as little as $10 if you’re a student, or $35 if you’re not.  Get started on your application for a Conable Conference Scholarship for a free trip to an ALA Annual conference if you’re a student or new to the profession.  (Applications open in February.)

And volunteer to serve on an ALSC committee to feed – or reignite – your passion.  

-Laura Jenkins, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee co-chair

The post Fired Up About the Freedom to Read appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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7. Two Takes on Challenging Materials

Among the standard review and professional journals to which my library subscribes, there are a few that are a little more unusual to find in a public librarian’s inbox. Literacy Today, the journal of the International Literacy Association (ILA), is one of these. I certainly had never encountered it before I started in this job, but I’ve come to look forward to each issue. While ILA members come from a wide range of disciplines, I particularly value the perspectives of classroom teachers that I get from reading Literacy Today.

From the website of the International Literacy Association

Source: www.literacyworldwide.org

A recent article on using challenging materials in the classroom resonated with me because of my work on the Intellectual Freedom Committee. More and more, the challenges to reading material for young people that we’re seeing across the country are coming from school libraries and class reading assignments more than from public library collections. As we consider ways in which we as librarians can support our schools in promoting the importance of challenging reads, I found the two differing opinions on navigating book selection in the classroom featured in this article to be truly thought-provoking.

ILA has generously allowed us to provide the article here, so I encourage you to take a few minutes to read and consider it.

Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website

Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website

I’m intrigued by the middle school teacher who whets her students’ appetites for challenging materials by using excerpts in class, but encourages them to seek out the full book outside of school in order to avoid parent complaints. It’s evident that this approach to potentially forbidden fruit gets teens excited about reading these titles.

At the same time, I understand the perspective of the high school teacher who worries that teachers deferring to outside pressure are diminishing their roles as professional educators. Additionally, as IF advocates frequently point out, no one can ever predict what someone else will consider “offensive” or “inappropriate.”

What do you think of these two viewpoints? Does the first suggestion offer an acceptable compromise for teachers looking to avoid reconsideration battles? Or does it give in too much to a “potential challenge” that may never come? Do you have other examples of ways in which teachers navigate the selection of classroom reading assignments? Please share your thoughts in the comments, and visit literacyworldwide.org for more information on Literacy Today magazine and the International Literacy Association.

Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Co-Chair ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

Two Takes article from Sept/Oct 2015 issue of Literacy Today shared with permission of the International Literacy Association.

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8. Unsung Heroes

Source: Jonathan Haynes, Flickr

Source: Jonathan Haynes, Flickr

I had an encounter recently that shifted my perspective.  We are proud – justifiably – of our role as defenders of freedom to read and access to information.  And, as a colleague reported in a recent post, that role is extremely valuable.  But there are quiet defenders out there, too, who are our allies, and sometimes they are the ones we least expect.

I serve a diverse community with immigrants from Central America, Southeast Asia and Africa, along with upscale urban professionals.  Explaining the wonders of the public library system to immigrants – and it’s all free! – is the most gratifying part of my job. But sometimes a gentle explanation of access to everything, and the parent’s role as arbiter of what their children should read in print or online, is needed.

Source: HarperCollins.com

At the end of summer, a mother who brings her three children to the library regularly asked me for help in finding books for the oldest child, a boy entering 6th grade.  She wanted books to help him get ready because he was “starting middle school.”  The language barrier made it a little difficult to identify exactly what she was thinking of, so I selected several books on dealing with school issues, and also books on puberty. I showed her what I had, and we put them out for him to look over and decide what he wanted to take home.

While he was looking them over, she said to me, “Where I come from, they think you shouldn’t talk about these things.  But he needs to know!” This was certainly a teachable moment – for me!  It upended my assumptions and moved me profoundly to find that this woman is such a courageous parent, bucking her culture to do what she thinks is best for her children.

The post Unsung Heroes appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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9. A Challenge of My Own

Colorful library of booksI wonder how many children’s librarians work for forty years without ever facing a challenge to a book in their collection.

I finally had one this summer, when a parent objected to the inclusion of Robie Harris’ much-acclaimed It’s NOT the Stork! on our list of suggested reading for children entering second grade. The parent, whom I’ll call “Dr. Z,” wanted the title struck from the list and also removed from the juvenile nonfiction shelves and placed in our Parenting collection. Dr. Z wrote that its inclusion on the reading list and its placement on open shelves “ignores cultural values of many families.”

As a member of ALSC’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, I felt pretty well-equipped to deal with this matter. Every challenge has individual peculiarities, of course, and I hope it will interest my fellow librarians to learn how it’s playing out here.

Dr. Z’s original complaint was voiced in an email to our Library Director, but I took the lead in responding to her:

1) I explained that the reading lists in question are produced in collaboration between the public children’s librarians and the school media specialists of our school district. There are over one hundred titles on each list and none of them are required reading. In compiling the lists we are careful to include a wide range of books on a variety of subjects, in a range of genres and levels. This is precisely because we feel that will allow individual families to make choices about what their children read. We expect and understand that not every book on the lists will be enjoyed equally by every child in the community. I mentioned that It’s NOT the Stork! had been on the suggested reading list for second graders for three years and that this was the first complaint that we’d received.

 2) I pointed to the starred reviews It’s NOT the Stork! had received in School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and The Horn Book and that all of these professional review sources suggested that it be used with children in Kindergarten through 3rd grade and that Harris’ book was an American Library Association Notable Book for 2006.

3) I wrote that, since the reading lists are revised annually and titles are dropped and added every year, we librarians would take her concerns into account when drawing up the lists for the summer of 2016.

4) I further noted that because any child under the age of ten must be accompanied by a parent or adult caregiver when using our library, there is ample opportunity for vetting children’s selections, should the adult choose to do so.

In case my answers did not satisfy Dr. Z. and to ensure that she would know that we were taking her concerns seriously, I attached copies of our Materials Selection Policy as well as our Library Materials Reconsideration Policy and Library Materials Reconsideration Form. I also copied the email correspondence to the librarian at the elementary school Dr. Z’s child attends, so that she would be aware of the complaint before the school year began.

Our Library Director contacted ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, to apprise them of the challenge. They offered to help, if necessary, in several ways—including enlisting Robie Harris herself an articulate defender of her own work.

It came as no particular surprise that Dr. Z. did file the Materials Reconsideration Form, again requesting that the book be removed from the reading list and moved from the children’s nonfiction section and into our Parenting collection. In a further email she wrote, “We felt that we deserved some apology for being put in distress for about a month now after a visit to our public library. While you are reasoning about the book’s awards I am left to deal with my son’s hysterical laughing spells…which are giving me insomnia.” Faced with this formal complaint, we proceeded to follow our library’s policies to reconsider the book.

In the meantime, the plot thickened when Dr. Z. informed me that her child’s school principal had promised that the book would be removed from the reading list. Since the school principals aren’t involved in drawing up the lists, I heard this news with some alarm. The school librarian had not contacted me regarding the emails I’d forwarded to her, but given that the original complaint arose at the end of August and that the busy school year had just begun, I understood the delay. But the principal’s promise called for an immediate consultation. We conferred by phone and I learned that Dr. Z. had confronted the principal during Back-to-School Night. In what was probably a defensive move, the principal had, indeed, promised that the book would be removed from the reading list. She knows full well that the lists are compiled by the librarians and was very clear that she doesn’t want to be involved in the process. She’d just made a mistake in the heat of the moment. Her promise did complicate the matter, however.

Back at the Library, we formed a committee of five members: the Library Director, a reference librarian who has two children in the school system, a former Library Board member who is the director of a local preschool, the Youth Services Coordinator of a neighboring library system (our own library system—alas—no longer has a Youth Services Consultant) and me, as Head of Children’s Services. All the members of the committee read the book, the email exchanges, the request for reconsideration, reviews of the book and ALA’s “Library Bill of Rights” and “Access to Library Resources and Services for Minors” in preparation for our meeting.

The committee discussed Dr. Z’s requests in relation to our philosophy and process in composing our suggested reading lists and the composition and function of our Parenting collection. Currently, this collection is comprised of nonfiction for adults concerning parenting issues, but it doesn’t contain any juvenile nonfiction. All of our books on human reproduction—offering a large and varied range of detail and specificity—are shelved with the juvenile nonfiction on open shelves. We talked about the possibility that parents might mistakenly interpret the reading lists as required summer assignments for their children. I assured them that when we visit each class at the end of the school year, as well as any time we help children using the lists during the summer, we stress that the lists are only suggestions and that we are happy to find other books for them if they don’t want to read what’s on the lists. I explained that we try to keep designated shelves stocked with titles from the lists during the summer, but that there are always more titles on the lists than can fit onto those shelves at one time.

The committee decided to advise Dr. Z. that the librarians would take her concerns into consideration when we meet to draw up the reading lists for 2016 and that our copies of It’s NOT the Stork! would remain shelved with children’s nonfiction rather than being relocated to our Parenting collection. Email and postal letters to this effect were sent to Dr. Z. last week. We have yet to hear a response.

How would you have handled this complaint in your own community? Are there reasons you would have approached the matter differently? Would you have come to a different resolution?

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10. Are You Ready for Banned Books Week?

Alarm Clock and BooksBanned Books Week, a celebration of our freedom to read, takes place September 27- October 3.  Many libraries and book sellers will be offering activities, displays and events to remind us of the importance of everyone’s right to access materials and information.  As many books are challenged on the basis of protecting children, it is particularly important that those of us who serve young people be involved in whatever is being planned for Banned Books Week in our libraries.

What is happening in your library?

  • A read-aloud of banned/challenged books – Make sure that titles for young people are included, from In the Night Kitchen to Captain Underpants and a certain young wizard who created an international reading craze.
  • Displays – Create one in the children’s and teen areas (teen books are especially fertile ground for challenges), or include copies of books for young people if your library is creating one, all-purpose display.
  • An article in your library newsletter – If your library offers a newsletter for the public and is including an article on Banned Books Week with a list of frequently challenged books, include some younger titles.  Our library article included some challenged titles that might surprise readers; Charlotte’s Web and The Wizard of Oz among others.  
  • Radio and television – What about contacting a station about participating in a talk show?  Two of our children’s librarians are joining a local radio show to talk about the obvious and frequently challenged items as well as some of the more surprising titles.  
  • Speakers – If your library is hosting a speaker to talk about intellectual freedom and Banned Books Week, go ahead and ask if she/he is including information regarding challenges related to books for young readers.  Have a list ready to share!
  • A match-up game – On a bulletin board, sheet of paper or bookmark, list titles, plus reasons for challenges and see if people can put the right ones together.  Some will be obvious, others not so obvious.  

These are only a few ideas and I know that there are many more out there.  Please share yours!  

I want to close this post with a question and a recommendation.    Have you gone to the ALA web site and viewed the Banned Books Week site and the site for the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF)?  These sites are rich resources for anyone who works with young people as well as those who work with adults.  They track frequently challenged books, update us on relevant legislation and provide supportive information.  If you haven’t visited them yet, I encourage you to do so.  Finally, don’t forget that ALA has just released the new Intellectual Freedom Manual, Ninth Edition.  It is available in print and e-book formats.  

Let’s celebrate our freedom to read!


Toni Bernardi, San Francisco Public Library

Member, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

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11. Considering Access and Library Spaces

A person’s right to use a library should not be denied to or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views. — Article V of the Library Bill of Rights

Photo courtesy of the author

Photo courtesy of the author

First, let me introduce myself demographically. I’m chronologically gifted. In other words, I’m older than rock and roll, and I began working as a public librarian in the 1970s. At that time, the cutting wave of censorship for the protection of innocent children from the degrading influence of the contents of the public library was to paint underpants on Mickey In the Night Kitchen with Wite-out®.

But that was then, and this is now. Now we have the Internet. Now kids can play games on the computer. And, as many in my demographic cohort express themselves, “THIS IS A LIBRARY, not a fun house for kids! Others are here to do important things on a computer!” (Remember if anyone is having fun it means they cannot be learning. If it’s educational it must be tedious and boring.)

To avoid this generational turmoil many libraries have installed a game room, complete with videogames. It’s as big a draw as afterschool snacks. Which brings me to the main topic of this post. Do age-segregated areas in the library violate Article V of the Library Bill of Rights?

Some libraries set aside computers for children, complete with child-size furniture to ensure that children have access to computers and don’t just get shunted aside by larger people. To me, this not a case of access being restricted that conflicts with Access to Library Resources and Services to Minors, because it’s designed to ensure that access. For its Children’s area, The Seattle Public Library has a laudable statement of this practice on its website:

Children’s areas within Library facilities are special parts of the Library housing special collections, programs and services designed especially for children. The purpose of the Children’s areas in Seattle Public Libraries is therefore to provide children and their caregivers with access to these special children’s materials, programs and services.

Children’s departments are available for use by those patrons who are accessing the special materials contained in the children’s collection and for use by children and their caregivers, to attend children’s programs, and to utilize other services provided by children’s departments. Patrons not included in these categories may be required to leave the children’s department and instead use other areas of the Library.

However, over the years at various libraries, I’ve encountered adult customers who don’t agree. Often, as mentioned above, they have important things to do on the computers and they aren’t any free in the adult area, or the ones in the children’s area are more convenient for them for other reasons.

  • What do you think about this line of reasoning, and how do you handle this in your library?

The next questions may be even stickier, or more problematic. The following was designed to remediate the problem of overcrowding in the game room with only a limited number of screens and game controllers.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Photo courtesy of the author.

  • How does it fit with the Access to Library Resources and Services to Minors? Especially the part that reads, “Children and young adults unquestionably possess First Amendment rights, including the right to receive information through the library in print, sound, images, data, games, software, and other formats.”
  •  Would you adopt a policy like this? If not, what do you, or would you, have as a policy?

And for extra credit consider these questions:

  •  What do you say to the eleven-year-old that wants to play Grand Theft Auto V?
  •  Would you, or have you, selected Grand Theft Auto V for your collection?

Your comments are invited.

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12. What’s New With IF?

Greetings from the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee! Our committee is tasked with keeping ALSC up-to-date on IF issues being discussed across the ALA divisions. We’ve got a few exciting projects on the horizon that we’re looking forward to sharing with all of you!

Need support materials on Intellectual Freedom? ALSC has a number of useful links on the Professional Tools for Librarians Serving Youth webpage. Our committee has recently updated the links dealing with issues of Access as well as Intellectual Freedom. Read something recently that you think might be useful for others? Let us know! We’re looking to add some more recent articles and online resources.

Looking for something to empower kids and teens to stand up for their rights? Over the next couple of ALA conferences, our committee will be updating the Kids! Know Your Rights handout originally created in 2007. In particular, we plan to add information specific to the Intellectual Freedom implications of leveled reading programs, and we hope you’ll share it with the young readers and future advocates in your communities.

Do you or your staff feel ill-equipped to handle community concerns? Do you wish you had a better understanding of what the right to read means in your library?  We’re working on that, too! Over the next two years, we will develop a general framework for basic IF training that any library can implement as part of new staff training as well as continuing education. We’ve heard from many ALSC members that there is a need for staff at all levels to better understand the principles of IF and how they apply to daily public service, including fielding questions and concerns from parents and community members. If you already have a similar training at your library, we’d love to hear your best practices!

And one last thing – consider joining the Freedom to Read Foundation to support their work, to spread the word about censorship and to defend everyone’s freedom to read. FTRF is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending the first amendment through participation in litigation and by providing education and grant programs. Membership is only $35 and that money helps FTRF accomplish good work and support these creative Judith F. Krug Memorial Grant projects. The FTRF Board meets the day before the official start of the ALA annual and midwinter, and guests are always welcome. It is a great way to get caught up on current issues across the country.

And that’s what’s new with the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee! Feel free to use the comments to share your own ideas.

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13. Freedom To Read Foundation #alaac15

I spent today at the FTRF Board of Trustees meeting hearing about litigation, legislation and other issues that could potentially infringe on our freedom to read. FTRF is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending the first amendment through participation in litigation and by providing education and grant programs.

Consider joining the FTRF to support their work, to spread the word about censorship and to defend everyone’s freedom to read. Membership is only $35 and that money helps FTRF accomplish good work and support these creative Judith F. Krug Memorial Grant projects.

The FTRF Board meets the day before the official start of ALA annual and midwinter and guests are always welcome at the meetings. It is a great way to get caught up on current issues across the country.


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14. Dealing with Challenges to Graphic Novels

Graphic novels have become a common staple in libraries all across the country. With illustrated content that can be seen by eyes of all ages, graphic novels are more vulnerable to challenges than other materials. What can libraries do when faced with challenges related to graphic novels and comic books?   Begin by consulting The American Library Association’s Resources on Dealing with Challenges to Graphic Novels  to handle the complaint.

Another outstanding resource is the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which is a non-profit organization that protects the freedom to read comics (along with graphic novels) across the globe. Its work protects readers, creators, librarians, retailers, publishers, and educators who face the threat of censorship. They monitor legislation and challenge laws that would limit the First Amendment. They create helpful resources that promote the understanding of comics, discussion guides for banned comics, and other resources, which are made possible by the contributions of CBLDF donors. Some of these include:

The CBLD publishes news and information about challenges as they happen on their website and through their subscription e-newsletter. They also partner with the Kids’ Right to Read Project  and Banned Books Week. Their expert legal team is available to respond to First Amendment emergencies at a moment’s notice. CBLDF is a lean organization that works hard to protect the rights on which our community depends.

Want to know more about the CBLDF? At ALA this month there will be a panel session, CBLDF: Protecting Comics: Authors & Experts On Fighting Graphic Novel Challenges with members from the organization, including Executive Director Charles Bronstein who will discuss the fight against comic and graphic novel censorship along with Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki author of the 2015 Printz Honor and 2015 Newbery Honor Book, This One Summer and Gene Luen Yang author of Boxers & Saints.

Become a CBLDF member today and support the First Amendment Right to Read!

Janet Weber is a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee and is a Youth Services Librarian at the Tigard Public Library in Oregon. She teaches the ALSC online continuing education course Children’s Graphic Novels 101.

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15. Youth Who Take A Stand

Children ask two types of questions when they approach the reference desk: self-imposed  or those imposed by others such as teachers and parents. As a children’s librarian I have answered hundreds, if not thousands of children’s questions over the past 11 years. The excitement of a child with a self-imposed question is as apparent as the frustration of a child with an imposed question.

But what about when a child  wants to read a book, but her parents say no? I’ve seen it hundreds of times. For example, I just had a child today who wanted to read the next book in the I Survived series. The title wasn’t available and he wanted to place it on hold. Mom said, “No, you’re not putting anything on hold.”  I don’t think parents realize the devastating effect it has on their child when they are told, “No, you can’t read a book”.

I recently came across a news story that happened over a year ago. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is a popular target for challenges, was banned from a middle school library in Idaho. A student took a stand against the parents who were blocking access to the book. She inspired fellow students to petition and when Alexie’s publisher caught wind of the situation  they sent out 350 free copies of the book for the students. Talk about a HUGE impact that those youth had on rallying for one book they believed in. Kudos to all of them for their tenacity and bravery.

If more kids were willing to stand up to the adults who tell them, “No, you can’t read such and such book”, perhaps we’d have fewer book challenges. I’m not saying that parents are wrong and I respect them for setting boundaries with their kids. As library professionals we need to find a way to help children come out of their shells and advocate for their own reading interests; with this skill they can be more successful readers and leaders in the future.

Janet Weber is a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee and is a Youth Services Librarian at the Tigard Public Library in Oregon. She was on the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee when The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was named to the 2008 Notable Children’s Recordings list and she thinks the audio is extremely hilarious.

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16. Leveling and Labeling: An Interview with Pat Scales

Pat ScalesAs school districts across the country continue to adopt leveled reading programs like Accelerated Reader, school and public libraries are under increasing pressure to label library materials with leveling information. This can be a distressing proposition for many reasons, but it is particularly concerning from an intellectual freedom standpoint. What does it mean for young readers when they are limited to certain reading levels, and what might be the effect of having one’s reading ability stamped onto the cover a book for all to see?

Librarians want to support their local educators, parents, and children. So when does leveled reading begin to infringe on students’ intellectual freedom, and how can we help our communities understand these problems?

We asked Pat Scales, retired school librarian, past President of ALSC, and spokesperson for first amendment issues, to share some information on leveled reading systems, labeling, and their relationship to intellectual freedom.

Additional resources that you might find useful include Labeling and Rating Systems: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights and Questions and Answers on Labeling and Rating Systems, both from ALA.org.

School Library Journal also offered a free webinar in September 2014, School Library Journal Webinar: Let’s Talk About Banned Books, which is archived and can still be viewed. Pat addressed many of these questions in more detail during her section of the webinar.

How do book leveling systems such as Accelerated Reader, Lexile and Action 100 limit intellectual freedom for children?

There are many troubling things about these leveling systems, but the systems don’t abridge freedom to read. It’s the practice of limiting students’ access to materials based on reading levels that infringes on students’ right to read. Unfortunately this is common practice in many school libraries, and some public libraries feel pressured to implement such restrictions.   Librarians serving children should evaluate how these systems are used and develop policies that promise free and open access to students of all ages.

Some school libraries are labeling their entire collections so that children can find books on their required reading levels quickly. What issues do you see with this?

Labeling is an unacceptable practice, and violates the spirit of the Library Bill of Rights. “Organizing collections by reading management program, level, ability, grade, or age level is another form of restricted access.” (Restricted Access to Library Materials: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights) A library promotes reading, but isn’t a reading classroom. Instead it should be a place where children discover the magic of story, and the power of information. Reading levels shouldn’t be worn as a badge of honor or a badge of shame. That is what happens when libraries are reduced to reading laboratories. Additional points:

  • Students may be able to handle books that are beyond their “tested reading level” if they are interested enough in the book. Chronological age and emotional maturity play a much greater role in what children choose to read than reading level. Gifted students are often expected to read far beyond their maturity level simply because they can read a text. There are documented censorship cases where elementary schools purchased books more appropriate for young adults all because the books had a higher reading level.
  • Students who need a quick overview on a topic may find it in an “easier” text, but may then be led to more difficult books on the subject.
  • Students should expect a certain amount of privacy when making their reading selections. If books are labeled with reading level stickers, whether on the cover or on the inside of the book, there is the possibility that other students take note of the labels, thus violating a student’s privacy.
  • Librarians are trained in collection development and reader guidance. Reading leveling systems preclude them for doing their job.

How should school and public librarians work together to ensure that children get access to the books they are required to read as well as the books they want to read?

Public librarians should ask to meet with school librarians or teachers in the spring when reading lists are likely developed for the following school year. Ask that schools share these lists to assure that public libraries have the books in the collection. Exchange email addresses so that the public library and schools can stay in touch regarding services. Sponsor a back to school program for teachers and parents (advertised on the public library and school websites) and include the following:

  • Encourage the group to share their favorite children’s books – whether from their childhood or ones they share with their students.
  • Ask adults to share their library experiences as a child. Take what they say and lead a discussion about best practices. How did their experience shape their view of libraries today?
  • Make sure that parents and teachers understand that a child shouldn’t be tested on every book they read. And, the point should be made that children don’t need to comprehend every nuance in a book to enjoy the story.
  • Invite readers (from the summer reading program) to share some of their favorite books.
  • Encourage older readers to suggest titles for younger readers.

Often librarians struggle on the front lines when parents refuse to let their children check out books not in their reading system or on their reading level. Do you have any suggestions for gentle ways that librarians can advocate for the child’s intellectual freedom while respecting the parents in the middle of a readers advisory or reference transaction?

  • Ask to speak with the parent in private and explain all the reasons that children read.
  • Suggest that the parent allow the child to take several books – variety of topics and reading levels.

What are some of the limitations of book rating websites such as Common Sense Media, The Literate Mother, and Facts on Fictions?

These sites aren’t really book review sites, and some of the people writing the entries don’t really know children’s books. The focus isn’t on the entire book as a work of literature. Instead they rate the content of books using emoticons or graphs – calling out issues related to sex, profanity, violence, and drinking and drugs. Some of the sites make specific reference (by page number) to what they view as troubling content.   This is a real threat to libraries and the patrons they serve. For example, a chaste kiss may be interpreted as having a lot of sex in the book. There are documented cases where books have been removed from libraries based on Common Sense Media reviews. The most troubling thing of all is that there are librarians who rely on these sites because they think knowing about “controversial content” protects the library. These aren’t selection tools. Don’t be sucked in by such a false sense of security. Instead take the time to get to know these sites, and it will become crystal clear that these people don’t know how to evaluate books.

While we know that librarians are the best resource for connecting kids with the right books, how can librarians let their communities know they are there to help? How should we be advocating for ourselves?

Find opportunities to speak to civic groups and tell the public library story. Share a little of the history of children’s programming in the local library, and make a connection between services offered in the past and those offered today. Civic groups tend to respond to statistics, but tell human interest stories as well. Perhaps a teen parent brought her baby to the public library to find books for him, and you worked with the teen parent to help her know how to interact with her child through story.

Also, be in touch with various agencies and organizations serving children and families and suggest books and materials that may help them with their work. These may include the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, a homeless shelter, Safe Houses, detention centers, the city or town’s parks and recreation system, arts councils, etc.

Consider a library blog that showcases public library programming.   Encourage parents to ask librarians reader guidance kinds of questions. For example, “My daughter loves the Harry Potter Books. What else what else might she like?” Respond with a specific answer, or simply ask the parent to bring the child to the public library so that librarians can guide her.

BIOGRAPHY: Pat Scales is a retired middle and high school librarian whose program Communicate Through Literature was featured on the Today Show and in various professional journals. She received the ALA/Grolier Award in 1997, and was featured in Library Journal’s first issue of Movers and Shakers in Libraries: People Who Are Shaping the Future of Libraries. Ms. Scales has served as chair of the prestigious Newbery, Caldecott, and Wilder Award Committees. She is a past President of the Association of Library Service for Children, a division of the American Library Association. Scales has been actively involved with ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee for a number of years, is a member of the Freedom to Read Foundation, serves as on the Council of Advisers of the National Coalition Against Censorship, and acts as a spokesperson for first amendment issues as they relate to children and young adults. She is the author of Teaching Banned Books: Twelve Guides for Young Readers, Protecting Intellectual Freedom in Your School Library and Books Under Fire: A Hit List of Banned and Challenged Children’s Books. She writes a bi-monthly column, Scales on Censorship, for School Library Journal, a monthly column for the Random House website, curriculum guides on children’s and young adult books for a number of publishers, and is a regular contributor to Book Links magazine.

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17. Self-Censorship

Lately, there have been many questions regarding censorship floating around social media. A majority are phrased as collection development questions. e.g. “Is it okay to put this book in the Children’s Department?” Librarians are becoming increasingly concerned with themes such as a character’s sexuality or gender identity, and wonder if these topics belong in children’s collections. Some librarians are also hesitant for fear of community backlash, or maybe they just aren’t comfortable with the themes themselves. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that as librarians, it is our job to protect everyone’s access to information, from babies to great-grandparents!

If you’re unsure if you’re self-censoring I encourage you to check out the New York Library Association’s Self-Censorship Test. The test hasn’t been updated in a while, and I encourage you to add the question “Have I not shelved a book in the children’s section because of it’s themes or content?” There is also a great article about self-censorship on the CCBC website, written by Megan Schielsman about the controversy that swirled around The Higher Power of Lucky.

Finally, reach out to the Intellectual Freedom Committee -we’re not just here for help with challenges! Feel free to email us with any questions you might have.

Aly Feldman-Piltch, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

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18. Intellectual Freedom: Online Learning Opportunities

Looking for an opportunity to brush up on intellectual freedom information? Here is a quick round up of some free webinars that you can enjoy from the comfort of your desk chair:

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19. The Stories of L., M., N., O., P., and the Freedom to Read

What’s a librarian to do when a patron adores certain genres, but his or her parent wants to restrict the child from reading them? There have been several such families in our community—all zealous library users and participants in our book discussion groups. As we’ve worked with them over the years, we’ve tried to maintain the trust of the parents while respecting the rights of their children. It’s often a delicate balancing act!

When L. was younger, his mom could bend him to her will fairly easily, but by the time he was ten he was more resistant to her wishes and more adamant about what he chose to read for pleasure. This was certainly appropriate to his growing maturity, but since his mother asked us to guide his selections we struggled to keep L. engaged as we kept the peace between them. Their conflict hinged on his attraction to graphic novels. L.’s mom didn’t regard graphic novels as “real” or “challenging” reading and the two were at a stalemate. I was able to change her mind by showing her Don Brown’s THE GREAT AMERICAN DUST BOWL. “I learned so much from this book, myself!” I exclaimed, turning to pages illustrating the devastating extent of a dust storm in May of 1934. The high quality of Brown’s artwork and his source notes and bibliography convinced her that this was a serious work of nonfiction. Then I introduced them to Matt Phelan’s AROUND THE WORLD, a fascinating triple-biography about people who circumnavigated the globe. Though that was a bit more whimsical than Brown’s book, it still seemed worth reading to L.’s mother (and, more importantly, to L.) and after that, he encountered much less resistance when he selected other books from our graphic novel collection.

M. loves fantasies and action-filled novels. She’s a fan of Riordan, Rowling and Paolini. Her father prefers her to read “The Classics” and “educational books”. One of our librarians has pointed out that many of the ideals M.’s dad wants espoused in his daughter’s reading are also advocated in the very books she enjoys: courage and cooperation as well as self-knowledge and directedness. He was briefly mollified by such assurances, but then the conflicts reemerged. One happy afternoon I was able to find two works of non-fiction that satisfied them both (Deborah Kops’ THE GREAT MOLASSES FLOOD and Sally Walkers’ BLIZZARD OF GLASS) by showing M. the sensational photographs of the disasters while loudly extolling the primary source material the authors had consulted so that her father, who was lurking behind a pillar, could hear.

The differences between our philosophies of book selection were readily apparent when N. registered for our 4th-6th grade book discussions. Unlike two of our other book discussions, this group is for kids only. N.’s mother had to be dissuaded from forcing her way into the room to lecture the group about their reading choices! Though that tested our diplomacy skills, we were able to keep the peace by pointing out that the choices of books for that group’s discussion is at the discretion of the librarian. Though that resulted in several further discussions between N.’s mom and the librarian, at least the rest of the kids were spared the harangue.

It’s different for the group for 5th-7th graders and their parents, who vote on the next month’s book from three titles the librarian introduces. Even before the first meeting, O.’s mother was trying to influence the process. She wrote, “We hope this…discussion group will read from the finest authors and titles carefully chosen by ALA and other trusted organizations.” Later she suggested, “For next month’s select titles, realistic fiction or non-fiction that reinforces values, particularly respect for others and self-introspection (sic) would be ideal.” The librarian who leads this group has pointed out that the democratic process at work with this group is, in itself, a valuable learning experience. She stressed that each group member’s voice and vote was equally important.

Lately, P. has been able to negotiate a compromise with her parents without our intervention. Her mother once told us that P. had “exceeded her quota of fantasy fiction titles over the past three years.” (!) She’s now allowed to take one book she chooses if she also borrows the ones her parents approve. It’s been interesting to witness P.’s increasing skill at justifying her opinions and sticking to her guns. Maybe it’s reading about spunky kids that has given her courage…

We hope that, by encouraging their participation in our book discussions, we are helping children to be able to defend their own tastes in reading. We are pleased to see them gaining confidence in expression and developing effective bargaining skills. And the end is always in sight: in a few more years, they will be grown.

Miriam Lang Budin, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

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20. Are You Prepared?

Photo courtesy of Rochester Public Library (MN)

Photo courtesy of Rochester Public Library (MN)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we prepare library staff to handle intellectual freedom issues that arise. While most libraries have a reconsideration policy in place, public service staff is not always prepared to actually respond to concerns about library materials. Even managers may not have any specific training in issues of intellectual freedom. How do you talk to an angry parent about the graphic novel that’s “too explicit?” What do you say when a local school board member questions why the library won’t label “controversial” material? And what is your responsibility, as a library employee, towards those titles with which you disagree?

Supporting the freedom to read isn’t easy, and it can be especially sensitive where children are concerned. Most of us in youth services will probably deal with many more questions about our collections than your average adult reference librarian. Parents have widely different opinions on what is “appropriate” for children at different ages, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we can all probably name at least a few titles in our library collections that we would like to see disappear. It’s one thing to talk abstractly about how important it is to have materials that represent diverse perspectives, but what does it feel like to confront a title that you find personally offensive? I think that’s a question that every library employee could benefit from considering and perhaps talking through with co-workers in a supportive environment. And I think a better understanding of that question is integral to each employee’s ability to communicate effectively with library patrons about issues of intellectual freedom.

What if we incorporated intellectual freedom training into every new employee’s orientation? What if everyone from the shelvers to the branch manager knew about the Library Bill of Rights and The Freedom to Read statement that we display so proudly on our website? And better yet, what if they actually had some training in the hows and whys behind those documents? I believe we need to empower all of our staff to be able to articulate, to themselves and to our community as well, the reasoning behind our commitment to freedom of choice and open access to information.

So what do you think? Does your library incorporate intellectual freedom into staff training? Would you consider requiring staff to understand your library’s policies on intellectual freedom? I’d love to hear how other libraries approach this issue. Please share your experiences in the comments!

Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Youth Materials Selector, Sacramento Public Library
Member, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

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21. We’ve Suffered Enough!

By Feťour via Wikimedia Commons

By Feťour via Wikimedia Commons

“It is of the opinion of Lemony Snicket, author, reader, and alleged malcontent, that librarians have suffered enough.”

This is how the opening of the description of the Lemony Snicket Award begins. Created by Daniel Handler (Snicket’s grownup name), the annual prize honors a librarian who has maintained their dignity and integrity while facing some sort of unfortunate events.

Adversity can come in many forms. For some, it may be budget cuts. For others, challenges to the collection and filtering mandates are everyday trials and tribulations. Last year’s award winner, Laurence Copel, opened a small library in her home (and created a bike bookmobile!!) through self funding and donations in order to provide the residents- especially the children- of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans books.

Each year, Snicket provides the winning librarian with a $3,000 prize, as well as $1,000 to cover the cost of travel to and from Annual. Winners also receive a certificate and a symbolic object. Last year, Copel won a platter decorated by Mo Willems that depicted her riding her bike bookmobile.

The deadline for this year’s nominations is December 1st encouraged to nominate themselves and applications can be filled out online. Completed applications must have a description of the event, contact information for the nominee, and contact information for the nominator (if applicable). For more information on the award, visit the ALA website.

Alyson Feldman-Piltch, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

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22. My Parents Open Carry

  • My Parents Open CarryWhat obligation do public or school libraries have to purchase materials that present a range of views on controversial subjects?
  • Must every controversy be treated the same way?
  • How do our personal biases affect our purchasing decisions?
  • Should libraries take the opinions of their patrons or the ethos of their communities into consideration when making these decisions?
  • If there are no materials that meet our selection criteria, should we add materials of poor quality simply to ensure that all viewpoints are available?
  • Should well-known titles on controversial topics be retained once better-written books are available?
  • Is there a difference between adding donated materials and spending taxpayers’ money to purchase them?

These are a few of the questions which occurred to me in response to the recent discussions about MY PARENTS OPEN CARRY by Brian Jeffs and Nathan Nephew (White Feather Press). The publisher kindly sent me a review copy of the book in response to my emailed request and it arrived yesterday, giving me time to examine it carefully and to share it with my coworkers.

Though formatted as a picture book, the character whose parents “open carry” is a 13-year-old girl named Brenna. And despite the title, she doesn’t narrate the text. As the authors indicate in their, “…note to home school teachers: This book is an excellent text to use as a starting point on the discussion of the 2nd Amendment,” which suggests that they are hoping to reach a market with a broad age-range.

I was hoping the book would be well-enough written that I would find it a plausible purchase for our collection, but my hopes have not come to fruition. The text is tedious, the conversations are repetitious and attempts at descriptive writing fail to convey information.

Here are some examples of the writing:

“One morning, Brenna was sleeping and dreaming dreams only a 13-year-old girl would dream.” (p. 1)

“All in all, Brenna had a great day with her mom and dad. She again realized how much they loved her and how lucky she was to have parents that open carry.” (p. 21)

And then there are the creepier moments: “To increase Brenna’s awareness, her dad often tries to sneak up on her to catch her off guard; it’s a game they play.” (p. 15)

In addition, the robotic figures depicted in the illustrations with their stiff postures and eerie, fixed smiles are rather discomfiting.

I confess that the level of paranoia Jeffs and Nephew express to justify their need to carry guns in plain sight whenever they go out in public disturbs me, but I won’t debate the Second Amendment here. Whatever our personal opinions on the matter may be, we librarians still must grapple with the sorts of questions I’ve framed above.

I feel honor-bound, however, to point out that Jeffs and Nephew espouse the consumption of canned spinach and this is a sentiment that any right-minded person would find abhorrent. Fresh spinach is delicious and frozen spinach is an acceptable substitute in recipes calling for cooked spinach, but canned spinach is an abomination. The only proper use for a can of spinach that I can think of would be to aim at it during target practice.

But spinach aside, if this book had received a starred review, would you add it to your collection?

Miriam Lang Budin, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

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23. Hurray for Another Year of Intellectual Freedom!

ALSC Intellectual Freedom Commitee members are looking forward to a third year of BBW 2013contributing to the ALSC Blog. Our blog posts are usually scheduled for the third Saturday of the month and we have a whole pile of interesting topic ideas to work through.

The ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee serves as a liaison between ALSC and the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee and all other groups within ALA concerned with intellectual freedom; we advise the division on matters before the Office of Intellectual Freedom and their implication for library service to children; we make recommendations to the ALA IF Committee for changes to policies regarding library service to children; and we promote in-service and continuing education.

This year we are planning to follow our blog posts with an intellectual freedom themed discussion on ALSC-L and we are looking at some options for intellectual freedom trainings for youth services librarians. We have a busy year ahead of us!

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns for the ALSC IF Committee. We would love to hear from you!

Heather Acerro, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair

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24. It’s Private. It’s Personal!

Dear Diary:

I keep you locked and hidden in my favorite secret hidey-hole to keep snoopy people OUT OF MY BUSINESS! THIS MEANS YOU [_______________________________________________]!!!

Fill in name of older, or younger, or every sibling above in ALL CAPS

Did you keep one of those when you were a kid? Or did you grow up as one of the digital natives and managed to get a Facebook or Myspace account, maybe even before you were technically of age to get one? Did you think about everyone who might read it? Were there some people you really did not want to read what you wrote? There may have been a few of them. And now there are many more that young authors on the Internet don’t even think about.

Bruce Farrar, Intellectual Freedom Committee

It’s not just the National Security Agency. When a former contractor for the intelligence agency let the cat out of the bag last year, visions of large posters reading “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” began to float through our heads. But it is not just governments who are interested in your personal thoughts, opinions, friends and behaviors. Right next to Big Brother, and looking over his shoulder, is Big Data who may be even more interested in taking a peek at your personal life and business, and most especially what you are buying and how much you spend for it.

Last month’s Choose Privacy Week raised consciousness about all this. In case you missed it, ALA started off the Week with the posting of the newly revised Privacy Tool Kit, containing a wealth of information on Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and how the right of privacy affects School Libraries and Public and Academic Library Services to Minors. It’s all important stuff, so it’s time to click on those links and start studying up, if you haven’t had a chance to do it yet.

But what does it mean to your customers? You know them: those smiling faces looking up at you in Story Time, the eager readers who look to you for the coolest new book to read, or the gamers crowding around your computers, blissfully ignoring the scowling grown-up waiting to type up her résumé. How aware are they of how much of their PII they are posting for all the online world to see and what the consequences might be?

Unlike us, they don’t think in acronyms like PII, ALA IFC, COPPA, or IFRT; and although children can be effective advocates with parents and caregivers, they aren’t mobilized for advocacy on a policy and legislation level yet. So how do we reach them at their developmental level? Planning a lecture on Your Privacy Rights filled with PowerPoint slides crammed full of text won’t pump up your program statistics and win you accolades from library administration. I know you’ve already thought of the attractive display of children’s books about Internet safety. But what else might work?

  • Could it be something incorporated into Story Time? Perhaps an updated folktale: Little Red Riding Hood learns not to chat with strangers who want to know information that they don’t need to know, or the story of the Three Little Pigs, including the tragic fate of the first two who shared their PII online. The first one received a package in the mail from Wolf.com and then there was nothing left of the first little pig. All that remained was a large charge on his parents’ credit card for the package. The second overcame his shyness and shared all his bad feelings and fears about wolves at school, and then was mercilessly bullied by them and came to a bad end. But the third little pig outwits the wolf by following safe and sound online practices.
  • Could it be online after school gaming? There’s an online interactive version of the Three Little CyberPigs at Privacy Playground, and several games at the Federal Trade Commission’s Just for You Kids page. Games follow a brief introduction by library staff about online safety and protecting PII.
  • Could it be a program parents and kids held in your computer lab that includes safe and fun places to visit, and incorporates safe practices and tells parents about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and shows them the Protect Kids Online page at the Federal Trade Commission site?

Let’s hear your brainstorming idea—or even better than brainstorming, brag about the program you put on at your library! That’s the kind of brag you could take to your supervisor, and it stands a very good possibility of showing up on your next performance evaluation. Plus we’re all dying to know about finger plays and crafts that can help protect privacy.

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25. Poverty & Access: An Intellectual Freedom Issue

According to ALA, “intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored”.

We all know that there is a digital divide and that there are fewer books in homes and neighborhoods that are less advantaged. We also know that children in more privileged homes hear many more vocabulary words than those in poorer homes. This is not news. However, libraries are bridging that gap by providing books and computers to people in low-income neighborhoods. Right?

Well, kind of. It’s more complicated than that. It turns out that just providing the materials and computers does not close the gap, especially for young children.

In fact, in their paper “Worlds Apart: One City, Two Libraries, and Ten Years of Watching Inequality Grow,” Susan B. Neuman and Donna C. Celano posit that for both print and digital resource use, it’s all about adult involvement. In their 10-year-long study in Philadelphia, they discovered that while adults in the more economically advantaged neighborhood were continually interacting with their children while the kids used both print and digital media, the kids in the poorer area were mostly left to their own devices. And without adult involvement, kids demonstrate “short bursts of activity, almost frenetic in nature”.

Even with so-called intuitive software, digital play is not as self-sufficient as it seems. “Toddlers and preschoolers, although they appear capable, are not all that intuitive at negotiating the software… Without help, children can revert to random clicking”. Without parent support, educational computers take on a different kind of role: that of a video arcade. Neuman and Celano suggest several action steps in order to close this gap, most notably “targeted human resources,” also known as adult mentors and technology specialists. It turns out that simply providing the materials does not solve the problem. In order for our less-advantaged children to “seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction” they need interaction with supportive adults. Now that you think about it, this is not a surprise, is it?

So what can we do to help bridge this gap?

For further reading, see the following book by Neuman and Celano: Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance: Poverty, Literacy, and the Development of Information Capital.

Amanda Goldson, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

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