Cancel Summer Reading? | Scales on Censorship

What do you do when trustees pressure a library to cut summer programming due to book challenges? Pat Scales answers that question and more.  

I am the library media specialist at a K–8 private school. A parent of a kindergartner doesn’t want her son to borrow any books that contain violence. Should I censor what this student borrows or try to redirect him?
Don’t confuse censorship and reader guidance. Censorship is forbidding or restricting books. Reader guidance is leading readers toward titles that might interest them. A librarian should never tell students they can’t borrow a particular book. If parents don’t want their child reading books with certain topics or themes, they should take up the matter with their child. Librarians aren’t book police; let parents know that.
Librarians should develop strong reader guidance programs. Practice what you might say to readers who insist on taking books that are extremely mature for them: “That’s a good book that you have chosen, but I think I know one you may like better.” Or, “I read a really good book over the weekend that made me think of you. Would you read it and let me know what you think?” If redirecting doesn’t work, send readers home with their selection and several titles you recommend. This way, a child has several books on hand should a parent forbid one.
I got a complaint from the parent of a third grader who borrowed Raina Telgemeier’s Drama. The parents, conservative Christians, don’t like the reference to a same-sex relationship.
There have been many challenges to Drama. Parents who complain about it aren’t willing to have a conversation with their child about homosexuality. My bet is that many third graders already know about this topic.
It’s very possible a third grade reader is interested in the student production focus of Drama, not the romance. Or, they may be drawn to the format. Display graphic novels that may appeal to this age and discuss what makes a good graphic novel. Ask students to read one and be prepared to share it with their classmates. In other words, turn them into reviewers. You might also share that some adults attempt to censor graphic novels because they don’t understand the format, claiming that comics are subliterature. Ask young readers to comment on this, too.
I’m the children’s librarian in a midsize public library. The board of trustees is pressuring us to eliminate the summer reading program because we have experienced an unprecedented number of book challenges in the past year. Many families look forward to this program.
A public library should serve the reading and information needs of the entire community. Those concerned about what their child reads can elect not to have their child participate. To circumvent your board’s request, plan a different type of reading program. For example, form several book clubs, with ones for each of the following genres: humorous fiction, historical fiction, science fiction/fantasy, sports fiction, poetry, graphic novels, and nonfiction. Returning readers may embrace this change, and you may attract new patrons.
I attended a program at a state library conference about the recent controversy around the changing of words in Roald Dahl’s works. The speaker applauded the publisher for making these changes. Isn’t this censorship?
Yes, it’s a form of censorship. Reading is about choice, and those concerned about references to race, gender, weight, and mental health should simply put the books down and not read them. How is changing “fat” to “enormous” less derogatory?
That said, the publisher is a private company and can make any decision it wants, regardless of what the free speech community thinks. It’s not even about respecting young readers. It’s about money. Too many people in our current political environment are “offended” by a number of topics, representations, words, etc. To satisfy both sides of this controversy, Dahl’s publisher has announced the publication of two editions: the classic version and an updated one with word changes. I have to wonder what young readers who read both will think.
Pat Scales ( is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee.

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