Activity 5: Interview with teacher librarian at a public school
I interviewed the Teacher Librarian (TL) at a local public school to discuss censorship in school libraries. The interview was unstructured, however I had noted a few points that I wanted to make sure were covered:
- How is the school library collection built? Is there a policy?
- Who is responsible for selecting books for the collection?
- Have there been any issues with censorship, and if so how were they addressed?
What did I learn?
The TL explained that censorship is often school specific and relates to the relationship between parents, students and the school. In this school, the TL has discretion to select books for recreational reading. However, the TL noted examples of schools that have not allowed books containing themes of witchcraft and wizardry. Parents can challenge a book that is included in the library by completing a ‘disputed materials’ form (Handbook for school libraries, p.8). A meeting will then be held between the parent, TL, principal and one other teacher to resolve the issue. The TL outlined a situation that occurred last year where a parent raised concerns about a particular book. This is described in Appendix A.
How was the activity relevant to my professional practice as a librarian for children?
Children’s librarians need to be sensitive to concerns raised by parents and be able to explain the library’s policy and approach to selecting items. It is important to recognise that parents will have different opinions on what is appropriate for kids of different ages to read. Cerny, Markey & Williams (2006, p.74) promote the need for a robust policy to guide and defend decisions if necessary.
Were any gaps in my knowledge revealed? How might I fill those gaps?
I had assumed that schools would be required to adhere to guidelines for developing the library’s fiction collection. A review of library policies found online revealed that some schools have developed policies which identify criteria for selecting materials – see Appendix B. To further my knowledge in this area, I could have discussions with TLs at other schools to discuss their approach and any issues concerning censorship that they have experienced.
Censorship can be defined as “actions which significantly restrict free access to information” (Moody, 2005, p. 139). According to Cerny, Markey & Williams (2006, p.74), “there is a fine line between selection of appropriate material and censorship”. Censorship is not straightforward in school libraries as TLs need to balance the aim of libraries to not censor materials with the duty of care owed to students and the school community (Duthie, 2010, p.91).
The Australian School Library Association (ASLA) states that school libraries have a responsibility to provide resources which present differing views on issues (School library bill of rights, 2014). ASLA also states that the selection of materials for the collection is be free from “personal opinion “and “prejudice”, and that the resources are to be “appropriate to the users of the library” (School library bill of rights, 2014). In the absence of any guidance of what is appropriate, the decision whether to include items in the collection is up to each TL. Librarians may unconsciously censor their collections by excluding items they anticipate would be deemed inappropriate by the community (Moody 2005, p.142). The TL interviewed believed that expectations of teachers and parents are likely to influence the TL’s decisions.
Cerney, R., Markey, P. & Williams, A. (2006). Outstanding library service to children: Putting the core competencies to work. Chicago, IL: ALA.
Duthie, F. (2010). Libraries and the ethics of censorship. Australian Library Journal. (59)3. 89-94.
Handbook for school libraries. (2015). Retrieved from:
Library collection policy for St Patrick’s School Griffith. (2015). Retrieved from: http://web.spgww.catholic.edu.au/documents/policies/LibraryCollectionPolicy.pdf
Moody, K. (2005). Covert censorship in libraries: a discussion paper. Australian Library Journal. 54(2), 138-147
School Library Bill of Rights. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.asla.org.au/policy/bill-of-rights.aspx
Appendix A – Censorship issue
The TL discussed a situation that occurred last year where a parent questioned a book that their child had borrowed. The book in question was a young adult book intended for year six students only. These books are shelved in a separate area. However, a casual librarian was filling in for the TL and allowed a year three child to borrow the book. The parent discussed with issue with the TL who apologised that their child was allowed to borrow the book and explained the process to challenge the book’s inclusion in the library. However, in this case, the parent was satisfied with the TL’s explanation. The books have been labelled “Stage 3 only” and the computer system updated to enable an “alert” to appear on the screen that the book is only for year six students to borrow to prevent the mistake occurring again in the future. The labelling of items and restricting borrowing is a form of censorship, however the school community accepts that it is appropriate in this case.
Note – I have deliberately not identified the school or the book.
Appendix B – Library collection policy for St Patrick’s School Griffith
Copied from the Library collection policy for St Patrick’s School Griffith, pages 6-7.
“Specific selection criteria for fiction including picture books, beginning readers, early chapter books, graphic novels and novels includes consideration of
- easily identified
- resolution of conflict within acceptable moral codes and behavioural modes
- appropriate to the age group without gratuitous sex or violence or swearing
- avoids moralising or didacticism unless this is the intent of the author
- awareness that language may be unacceptable to some members of the school community
- awareness that issues such as sex, violence, drugs, AIDS, death, religion and the supernatural may be unacceptable to some members of the school community
Consideration must be given to the following questions…
- Who is the author’s intended audience?
- Are there main characters who are close to the age of the students?
- In the case of contemporary realistic fiction, is this a theme that reflects the life of the students?
- Is it a theme that is appropriate for this age group?
- Are they likely to understand and appreciate the underlying concepts, relationships, humour and nuances?
- Would they get more from it if they read it when they were more mature?
- Why are students requesting this? Is that a valid reason to consider/purchase it?
- How will this novel enrich my students’ lives in a way that others do not?
- If this were a movie would it receive a G or PG rating?
- Is the language appropriate for this age group?
- If my 10-14 year old brought this home, would I be happy with their choice?
- Is this the best investment for this money?”