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Dear Children's Lit for a Diverse Society Group,
Next week, school and public librarian graduate students from the University of Arizona will be posting questions and thoughts related to selection and censorship of children's lit in school libraries.

My goal (as their professor) is for them to broaden their understanding of the issues by hearing from and communicating with people in the field.

I hope you are willing to share your expertise.


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In celebration of ALA's Banned Books Week, we are asking ourselves questions related to selection and censorship.

The overarching questions for the week are: How can we practice thoughtful selection that cannot be construed as censorship? Are you clear about the difference between selection and censorship in the practice of librarianship?

If you have thoughts or personal experiences to share, we welcome your participation in our conversation.

Thank you.
I feel pretty confident about the difference between censorship and selection. Selection is choosing the materials that will fit the needs of your students/patrons ("We're going to purchase And Tango Makes Three for our elementary school library collection, but we're not going to purchase Am I Blue because it's not age appropriate.") Censorship is removing/not selecting what you find (or what you anticipate others finding) objectionable ("We're not going purchase And Tango Makes Three because we're afraid that parents will object to the GLBT themes.")
I think one way to avoid any book controversy is to have a good collection development policy and to make sure the library and/or school administration adheres to all of ALA’s intellectual freedom policies. The policy should specifically outline that selected materials represent diverse points of views and are selected unbiasedly. Also, I think it’s a good idea for school libraries to have a solid partnership with public libraries. This way, maybe those materials that are just not obtainable through the school can be acquired through the public library.

It seems that the difference between selector and censor is all in the approach. A selector will choose materials that fit with the school’s curriculum first and then will choose books that may enrich the collection. A censor will build the collection around a personal list of taboo subjects, themes, words, etc. Parents seem to be the main censors when it comes to children’s literature and it appears to come down to control. I had read about a parent who wanted to have all of the Junie B. Jones books removed from her daughter’s school because it has bad grammar in it. Has anyone ever come across anything like this - censorship outside of the religious and moral realms?
I agree that it's *always* important to have clear collection development policies in place, but I do not think that they will help you completely avoid controversy. People still will protest the selection of titles they find objectionable, even if a librarian is selecting correctly in regard to her institutions' policies. I interned in a Collection Development department this summer, and they have extensive policies covering selection, but they still get "requests for reconsideration" about once a month, which they review seriously. Policies give librarians guidance and, if needed, justification for their choices. I think it goes back to the old adage about libraries, "There should be something here to offend everyone."
True, I don't think that anything will really ever completely prevent someone from challenging material. At the library you interned at, do you know how often a challenged book was removed from the shelves if it conformed to the collection policy? In addition, even if there is a tight policy in place, there's no stopping a biased librarian.
I think your right about following the ALA policies on intellectual freedom in selection. I know public libraries have policies and procedures in place for challenged books but I’m not sure about school libraries. Parent groups have major influences in schools and I agree that they are the main censors in children’s lit.

I was once invited, as a parent to sit on a panel by the principal of my children’s elementary school to discuss a challenged book in the library. The panel included the principal, two educators, the librarian, another parent and me. The book was Clifford’s Halloween and unfortunately, he was wearing a devil costume in the illustration. Our decision was to keep it on the shelf. I never knew if this was their school policy or lack of, for challenged books but it worked.

Yes, I have run across verbal objections to Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants too, by both parents and teachers. But most parents are thrilled to find these books; it helps bridge the transition to chapter books, despite the grammar and keeps kids reading.
I agree - these types of books keep children reading and isn't that the bottom line? My husband's first grade class recently wrote letters to Dav Pilkey and they were hilarious. It was a great way for them to learn letter writing and to relay their thoughts on favorite characters and scenes.
I think you make a very valid point about creating a clear collection development policy to refer to when a book is being challenged. I had the opportunity of developing such a policy and was really amazed at everything that had to be considered. I would recommend discussing and reviewing feedback not only from the school's principal and teachers but from students' parents as well. In this way teacher librarians will hear parents' concerns with book selection while parents will be informed of the library policy before challenging an item. Additionally, discussions amongst librarians and parents will hopefully create and extend a positive, collaborative relationship that is not limited to the occasional (often times negative) interactions stemmed from a book challenge.
I was getting frustrated with the Facts on Fiction site because I couldn't find any of the books I'd read for this class! If you're going to attempt to offer a service like that, widen your scope! There are websites with similar purposes for films as well. I guess sites like that worry me because I feel like books with controversial content offer great "teachable moments" for parents/educators/librarians and children, and if we dismiss things out of hand, we miss out on the opportunity to engage kids in meaningful conversations about important topics.
I would agree with the teachable moments. In looking at the "most banned books" from the ALA's list, I was surprised to see some of my favorites as a youngster on that list. These were the books that either encouraged me to think about particular subjects or opened the possibility of a conversation about those topics. I hate to think about how I would have stumbled along and turned out if many of these books and others had not been a part of my experience. These were positive growing experiences for me! (Sometimes saving me some grief BECAUSE of the reading experience.)
I was surprised too by the top 100 challenged books. A LOT of those books were ones many of us included in our own Literacy Life Portraits. I think nearly all the books or authors I really loved as a young adult were on there. It makes me wonder if the controversial subject matter is exactly what appeals to us at those ages. Not because it's controversial, but just because it's different and interesting and pertinent, I mean.

In the Facts of Fiction web site, I found it odd that 'sexual identity issues' was included in the 'mature subject matter' grouping with topics like 'rape' and 'war', not the 'sexual content' grouping. It just gave me a feeling that whoever set it up feels homosexuality (et al) is deviant and not a subset of 'sexuality'. And, yeah, that 'rape, molestation, abortion' heading is troubling, too. Two violent crimes, one legal medical procedure.

Hey, I started that thread in this forum titled El Trasero Del Rey to address Judi's other question posed in the D2L forum, if anyone wants to chime in there. Or did I misunderstand something (again)?
You are so right about books with controversial content offering great teachable moments. But so do books without controversial content and their idea of what is negative is something to worry about. As I looked through the list of books, it seemed that for the most part this group is reviewing books that are either commonly found in classrooms and on recommended reading lists or are "in the news" (most likely because they have won awards) and began to wonder if there were any "safe" books out there. They may claim that they are not attempting to censor or remove books from libraries nor recommend books, but they are doing a good job of picking them apart. Did anyone else notice that while there were numerous criteria in each of the six negative catergories, there were only five criteria total in the area of postive elements? This whitewashing reminds me of the video rental store we had in our community a few years ago that rented only "family friendly" movies by editing out the bad parts. Isn't it better to take these advantage of these teachable moments to discuss issues intelligently and openly on an age appropriate level than to pretend these things do not exist? As others have pointed out, many of these books were our favorites because they helped us learn about ourselves and the world around us as we were growing up.


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