Blogger: Etta Wilson
Location: Colorado Springs
Weather: Hot and cold–we’re in Colorado
I am incensed by an article in School Library Journal in early February entitled “A Dirty Little Secret.” The author Debra Whelan is trying to make the case that librarians who do not purchase and make available to their K-12 readers books with sexual content, gay themes, unrestricted language and violence are “self-censoring” their collections. The term is apparently taken from remarks made by Pat Scales, president of the Association of Library Services to Children. She is quoted as saying, “Censorship takes place anytime a book is removed from its intended audience.”
Ah, there’s the issue. Who is the intended audience for books with sexual content, gay themes and violence? Does the 9-year-old child growing up in rural Nebraska have the same background and life experiences as the 9-year-old living in south Chicago? I doubt it. Should librarians in schools those students attend choose the same books for their students? I doubt that even more. Of course, we could equalize these situations by giving every 6-year-old who enters first grade pornographic words for a first vocabulary lesson. We wouldn’t want to “censor” their material, would we? We could even throw in a condom and a switchblade. I mean, we want our children to be prepared, don’t we?
It’s in the young adult books area that we have the most difficulty with this question of the “intended audience.” How does the librarian in a junior high school for grades 7 – 9 put books with graphic content out for the more mature ninth graders and keep the immature seventh graders from picking them up? And all the time editors, who can become jaded, and marketers, who of course press for better sales, push the envelope in sexual content and shock value. It’s so easy to forget that discovering the unique but not salacious qualities of life is new to each generation of kids. When even bookstores don’t know whether a book should be shelved in the YA or the adult section, as Ms. Whelan mentions, that should tell publishers something. If we continue as we are headed, we’ll kill off YA literature, which is what happened in the late 1970s.
When I was in library school, we learned how to evaluate books and the intended readers. We called that book selection, not “self-censorship.”