Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Find a Dirty Word? Shut the Library Down

An eye-opening story of out Texas:

WEST COLUMBIA — West Brazos Junior High students won’t be allowed to check books out of the school’s library after two complaints about profanity and sexual content were found in books borrowed by children.Until librarians finish weeding out those books, the library is open to students only under teacher supervision, Assistant Super-intendent Martha Buckner said.

The book review process will begin Monday, Buckner said, but she did not know how long the process would take.Board members requested a review of the district’s instructional resources policy, which includes library books, after they were approached last month by a Brazoria resident who said her grandchild brought home a book that contained the same four-letter profanity 13 times in eight pages.

That was followed by a complaint Tuesday by West Columbia resident Monte Hurley, who said the book “Zero to Sixty: The Motorcycle Journey of a Lifetime” by Gary Paulsen, which was checked out from the school library by his 12-year-old son, contained details of sexual acts and profanity, Hurley said.

“No child in any school needs to read that — it’s pornographic,” Hurley said.The administration and school board members agreed, he said.“That book is obviously not age-appropriate, and that book will not be on the shelves,” Buckner said.

Superintendent Carol Bertholf said changes in personnel and publishers might have been a reason why books containing explicit content made it past the district’s book review council.“We’re aware of the situation,” Bertholf said. “That’s why the policy was addressed.”

Buckner said Paulsen is a well-known children’s author, and she said it’s possible librarians recognized his name and they thought it was good to buy. But with at least 10,000 volumes in each library districtwide, making the review process stricter is going to be a work in progress, Buckner said.

Hurley said the book had the words “mature reader” handwritten inside of the book, but he didn’t think that was enough to prevent children from checking it out.

“I really don’t want that stuff in the school system,” Hurley said. “I understand that my children hear this stuff around in the public, and they’ll hear it in school, I’m sure, but I don’t want my tax dollars to teach it to my children.”

A parent complains about a book, so they shut the library down to "review" every single book? Here at AS IF!, we can't help but ask...isn't that overkill? Granted, this is an elementary and middle school (where the question of age-appropriateness does more readily apply), but still.

And again, must we immediately equate a swear word or a mild sexual situation in a literary context with "pornography"? Hyperbole just inflames situations like these (and really, really annoys authors like us!).

As always, the question we at AS IF! have is: who decides, and what standards will be use to determine what qualifies as "offensive"? Is it going to be the personal opinion of the one person reading a particular book? Because, if so, we can absolutely guarantee that many great, classic, award-winning books will eliminated (because there is often something in almost every book that someone will find offensive!).

AS IF! strongly cautions the librarians at West Brazos Junior High to take a deep breath and slow down. There are books we're talking about, not asbestos siding. First and foremost, you need a clear, consistent book selection policy, and an equally clear consistent review policy following a complaint. The more open the process is, the better off you will be. There are simple, straightforward ways to handle the question of "age-appropriateness" in books.

We speak from experience when we say that at least 80% of all book complaints could be peacefully resolved with a clear book review policy, one that is readily available to the public.


Blogger Jordan Sonnenblick said...

Unbelievable! I'm on this one; I'll be making a bunch of local contacts down there tomorrow.


6:12 PM  
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8:34 PM  

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