Thursday, January 25, 2007

Censorship and teachable moments

At an intellectual freedom luncheon some years ago, the speaker encouraged us to develop public library collections that included something to offend everyone. She felt it our duty to build collections such that we personally found at least 25% of the material offensive. That's hard for me as I'm not easily offended, but I try to be an equal-opportunity offender.

In a recent post The Caged Bird Sings a Song of Civil Discourse, in a local political blog FoxPolitics.net, writer (and former library board member) Jo Egelhoff discussed a recent controversy in a nearby school district over Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. What seems noteworthy in this case is that there was a good dialog between the schools and concerned parents, resulting in an apparently satisfactory solution for all parties.

I appreciate that before she wrote about the incident in her blog, Jo took the time to contact her local public library (us) and ask about materials selection policies and complaint procedures. Hey, there's nothing like media scrutiny to help you review the ol' procedure manual. Fortunately, we were in pretty good shape and Jo said some very kind things about our public library in her blog entry.

This nonetheless prompted me to stick my oar in and write a comment noting some of the differences between schools and public libraries in matters of selection and de-selection. I was able to discuss the whole thing with my favorite Young Adult librarian, and she had her own interesting story to recount.

It seems that in recommending a book to a teen, she inadvertently recommended one that was a bit more sophisticated than either she or the teen knew at the time. She soon heard about it from the parent, who actually thanked her for the opportunity to have a difficult discussion with the the teen. Would that it were always so. We're never all going to agree on what's appropriate, but exploring those differences can be enlightening. And between children and parents, it's essential.

An excerpt from my comment on FoxPolitics:

...communicating is key. Parents have to shelter young children, but give them strong wings to fly when they leave the nest. Parents cannot leave the teaching to the schools nor the ideas to the libraries. We cannot always protect children from books or ideas we find disagreeable or distasteful, but we can give them our values to hold and teach them to judge with discernment. Talk to your kids. Talk to your kids' teacher, talk to your librarian ... and then talk to your kids some more.
May librarians never shy away from having materials which challenge us, and may we always seek to promote conversations about books -- especially within families.

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