This post is written in response to several posts (one example is Gina’s found here) and the general discussion among librarians about appropriate content in school library collections.
I enjoy reading because I get to see and experience new people, places, ideas, religions, and theories. Through books I have been an American soldier Vietnam (Meyers, Fallen Angels), an “ape girl” trapped on Earth while my family gets to explore the galaxy (Edwards, Earth Girl), a nurse in England in the early 1900s (Worth, Call the Midwife), a queen of the Nile, a slave in Boston, a potter in southern China, a ballerina in Russia. . .
Part of what draws me – and many others – to be librarians is the hope and thrill of sharing the worlds within books with others. However, as teacher librarians (TLs), we must be judicious in our recommendations and collection development. We must practice a form of censorship, though we resist calling it that. Books, magazines, websites, podcasts, etc. should meet the developmental, social, academic, intellectual, and cultural norms appropriate to the students.
“What?” you may shout at me. “Appropriate to their ‘cultural norms!’ Are you kidding me! They need to experience other cultures from around the globe!” Yes, my friend, as a TL I live with looming anxiety about book challenges, about school strife amongst students and staff and administrators and parents. Let me give you an example:
Most American students study at least once in grades 6-12 Greek mythology and culture. You expect your school library to have materials on these topics: if students have a research project, the library can help; if a student is fascinated by the culture, the library should be able to help nurture that student’s interest. Now, here’s one potential issue of hundreds possible. Soldiers in ancient Greece frequently practiced what is labeled in American cultural, “homosexual behavior.” Library materials may contain reference to these practices – in either word or illustrated form. Want a different example? The Greek god Zeus married his sister Hera and fathered her children. He “cheated on” her frequently and hundreds of stories (or myths) exist with details about sexual encounters with other females. Okay, we just won’t have stories about the soldiers’ sexual behavior or about Zeus’s adultery. Fine and dandy: what would you like me to do with all of the books, websites, and articles containing photos of Greek art? Classic Greek vases are frequently, what American’s term, “graphic,” meaning they show nudity.
My “graphic” point is that TLs walk a tightrope of prudence, free access, community tolerance, and curriculum. In Gina’s post – which I referred to at the beginning of this piece – she talks about the need for students to read items that reflect themselves, as well as items that provide “windows” to other cultures. I wholeheartedly agree. So here’s to pulling back the blinds and opening the window, to dusting off the mirror and hanging it in the light.
National Coalition Against Censorship article “The First Amendment in Schools”, including links to censorship policies from national, professional organizations (i.e. ALA, NCTE, ASCD, NEA)