Yesterday a teacher shared with me some of the edgier titles on which her students were spending their own money. Drama, guns, the new issue of a videogame magazine featuring guns on the cover, and books with teen obscenities set in juvenile hall and jail. One of her students had asked her “Do you have any books on hell?” so she came to the library to inquire.
She had to wait in line while a teenage boy asked me for “books on teenage sexuality for boys – making choices, handling pressure from peers & girls, and my own body – stuff like that.” He was holding the copy of a title for girls and demanding to know why I didn’t have enough copies of the same book for guys. Umm, because every title for boys is checked out. I was able to reserve the copy for him when it returns, but I couldn’t magically pull out enough books to meet the demand of teenage boys who suddenly realize there are books of factual information beyond the locker room rumors.
Back to the waiting teacher. I answered, “Yes we have books on hell, the devil, heaven, religion, mythology, and the Bible. We try to provide a wide variety of resources with a balanced collection.” I am always happy to demonstrate how to search the catalog and internet lists of titles.
Why is this a big deal? Because this teacher had a title in her classroom collection challenged by a parent and a principal and had to face intense scrutiny, unprofessional attacks, and bullying while dealing with the challenge. Of all the titles to be challenged, this one (They Called Themselves the KKK) didn’t have sex, drugs, religion, obscenities, or guns. How can you balance a collection with titles on virtuous, functional families with realistic drama and self-discovery?
I’m so grateful we have a Collection Development Policy (IM 4.158) and a Challenge of Instructional Media policy (IM 4.134) to help shield me from personal attacks. I wrap them around me knowing they are like bullet-proof armor – it may stop the bullet from killing me but it’s going to leave a whopping bruise and hurt like h-e-double toothpicks. (lol)
When attacks and challenges occur, I must rely upon well-written district policies. Ours does include references to the Library Bill of Rights, Information Power “Access to Resources and Services”, and state standards. I can enlist the support of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and the support of my colleagues, but must stand my professional ground to ensure the process of challenging materials is followed. It is not easy or pleasant, but it is an important part of our professional duties. I quote from policy and Information Power:
“School library media professionals assume a leadership role in promoting the principles of intellectual freedom within the school by providing resources and services that create and sustain an atmosphere of free inquiry. School library media professionals work closely with teachers to integrate instructional activities in classroom units designed to equip students to locate, evaluate, and use a broad range of ideas effectively. Through resources, programming, and educational processes, students and teachers experience the free and robust debate characteristic of a democratic society. …Resources in school library media collections represent diverse points of view on current as well as historical issues.”
I follow our procedures for selection which includes these two steps:
#3 When possible, direct examination of materials is desirable.
#4 Published reviews and professionally prepared selection aids should be used.
Since I personally examine thousands of titles each year and write reviews, my judgment may be questioned, but I am prepared to fight for certain titles. There are some books that demand you “fight the good fight.” Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s new book They Called Themselves the KKK: the birth of an American terrorist group is one example of a title so important for every middle and high school collection, that I am willing to put on my armor and battle.
In my leadership role in my school, I do help teachers select titles for their classroom libraries, also. If we do a good judge creating balanced collections, there should be something that could offend anyone. We are not forcing students to read these titles. We are not insisting they ignore their parents’ guidance and teaching. We are simply providing choice and factual information.