More about the Book Brouhaha

March 6, 2006 @ 5:10 pm | Filed under: ,

As a followup to my post about a school board’s decision to remove certain titles from an elementary school’s to-purchase list, here are some links worth looking at:

Becky of Farm School has thoughts both humorous and insightful about the issue. I too have considered this issue from the Charlotte Mason anti-twaddle angle…it seems to me that the school library could find a far better use for its money than Disney’s Christmas Storybook. (Becky’s suggestion, for example: much better choice.)

Roger Sutton, the editor in chief of The Horn Book, offered some fascinating behind-the-scenes information about library purchasing. (Scroll down to the comments section.) I’d like to learn more about the ALA Bill of Rights, especially in regard to how it applies to public school libraries.

The original news report about the matter gave the impression that parents were equally upset over the removal of twaddly titles and books featuring what the trustees deemed “bad role models.” Mr. Sutton’s concern is over the latter. “NOT purchasing a book ‘because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval,’ ” he writes, “is just as much censorship as removing a book for those same reasons later.”

I’d love to hear from more readers about this.

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9 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Liz B says:

    I’m probably at some point going to do a post on this, also. Where I can be more articulate and not take up all your room. But I do think part of what’s going on is we don’t have enough info on the situation.

    The decision not to buy about 1/3 of the recommended books is not financial; at no point do they say, budget cuts means that we need to cut the list, so we’re going to select award winners, or early readers, or nonfiction, or books about Greece for the 3rd grade, or something else that comes from a non-judgmental place.

    We also don’t know what they already have; one big budget question is also to take a look at what is on the shelves and what else is needed. So Anne of Green Gables (a favorite of mine!) isn’t on the top buy list because they may already have it.

    What is a better use? With limited budgets that is a question, but some of the factors in the answer include what is in the library, what supports the curriculum, and what will get kids reading, what kids read. I wish I could see the whole list, but frankly the fact that the decision seems to target books for a personal reason — the individuals own views on wizards, witchcraft, etc. — is what makes this suspect. Saying “not appropriate” — rather than, “not quality” — is a big difference; because the first gets into someone deciding what is right for my child (if I had one!) morally; the second is whether or not its a quality book.

    Any school library should have collection development guidelines, as an aid to those making purchasing selections, in part to remove any bias (including biases that people may not know they have.)

    ALA has the worst website to get around. What you want to look at for school stuff is the AASL (american ass’n of school libraries) page, (yes, awful URLs) Excuse this other awful URL, but it looks like it address some questions:

    Donations: as a rule, money may be more appreciated than the item because cataloging the item can be time consuming, especially depending on the current cataloging system of the library; while money (donated for a specific title) can include the cost of processing (spine label; cataloging; creating an entry, either for the card catalog or online catalog; borrowers cards; I think I’m missing something…) Also, that may allow the library to buy a library edition or sturdier copy of the item.

    OK this is way too long already!! I think this is a great discussion to have!

  2. Cay in LA says:

    I posted my brief take on this…as a hurricane victim.

    I’m wondering who will *censor* the books we just donated to all the hurricane ravaged parishes in Louisiana, whose schools and libraries (the ones still standing) have lost ALL their book supplies.

  3. Becky says:

    Thanks for the mention and especially the kind words, Lissa : )

    The public school our eldest attended briefly is busy removing books to make more room for computers. And the public library in town is busily removing old classics and other good stuff to make room for new, um, books (well, they kind of look like books) that are designed to make modern kids read — the other night, the librarian proudly showed me a Japanese-style comic strip version of Nancy Drew, and suggested I take it home for Laura. I believe I had a horrified smile frozen on my face…

  4. Susan says:

    But manga comics are very popular, and many children love them. (And Sho Murase, the artist of the new manga-style Nancy Drew, is well-known in her field.) For the children who like to read them, I think it’s important that the books are available at the library to check out. Perhaps that will lead the kids to other mysteries and those other mysteries will lead them to some truly grand literature. Perhaps they won’t, but libaries need to offer what children want to read. As a parent, I think there’s a way to balance the popular and the classics.

  5. The LLama Butchers says:

    A righteous debate

    Uber home school mom Melissa Wiley has stirred up a righteous debate over school book purchasing issues. Here in the Bonny Glen is the best education blog out there, hands down….

  6. Liz B says:

    Becky, I just wanted to offer a bit of “the other side of the coin” (being as I’m a public librarian): Generally, I discard books because they haven’t been checked out in a certain number of years (at my library, 2); have been “lost” (ie stolen or never returned); condition (returned with scribbles/food stains, bad binding so pages falling out) OR so old that it’s about to fall apart — what I call the “if you wouldn’t touch it without gloves, then a patron wouldn’t either”. Usually, most classics are still in print so a library is able to purchase replacements. (Sadly, some classics are out of print, which makes this impossible; also, if its on discard for a reason like condition/missing, there can be a delay in getting the new item).

    I know part of this is my own personal bias, in that, having read a mix of books as a kid (both classics and comic books) I like a library to have both (and I’m an optimist, I believe there is room for both my steak and my ice cream). So I cannot imagine tossing a classic without reason. For example, if a book comes up on the “dusty shelf” list, meaning no check outs, unless it’s in yucky condition (which may be why it’s sat on the shelf), I’ll keep it (sometimes even checking it out myself, so that it’ll be removed from a dusty shelf list).

    Let me think… OK, what I also might do if shelf space is a problem, and I have 3 copies of the same classic with low circs, I may toss one of the 3 to free up space, with the belief that I have enough copies of that book.

    Also, again going by my library & not knowing the titles you’re talking about, sometimes the classics get catalogued funny. In that, for example, we have Pride & Prejudice (a favorite of mine) in three places: young adult, adult, non fiction (because its literary). I could see a YA librarian tossing a little used/ poor copy of P&P with the belief that since it’s still available in other areas of the library, it’s still available to teens who want it (and, since the circ was low, believing that it’s not being found where it is.)

    I do understand that not all librarians share this philosophy; that we can have both; and that kids still enjoy the old books. And so your public library/ librarian may have different guidelines. It can also be, and I hate to say it, but, there are some librarians unfamiliar with some titles that you (and I!) consider “classic,” so that may factor into it.

    Basically, the only things I can think of in your current situation: keep an ongoing dialogue with the librarian, so that she knows what types of things you & your family like to check out. That personal contact can be very important, and can “tip the scales” when a librarian is making what can be a very difficult decision about what to keep/discard. Also, if there is no copy/copies of some books, ask the librarian the procedure to request that the library purchase new material, and put in requests for the items.

    I have felt the pain of looking for a book at the library and finding it discarded; I hope that this helps explain a bit of the process.

  7. Jared says:

    As far as what a school library chooses to carry, I couldn’t care less. Whether the reasons are financial or moral, I tacitly support the decisions of the School Board by sending my child to that school.

    I’d certainly voice my concerns, but in the end, it’s not my decision.

    This is what public libraries are for. Or, if all else fails, Borders.

  8. Becky says:

    The librarian at the public library is a family friend, and I’m a member of our Friends of the Library society. The problem in our town is that our librarian, and most of her volunteer staff, aren’t readers and don’t have children who are, either. Interlibrary loan is what saves us.

    Unfortunately, the “manga” Nancy Drews are being purchased to replace the “regular” (text-rich lol) and fairly new editions of Nancy Drew on the shelves. I can’t speak to any other town, province, or country, but our library seems intent on following the provincial education department’s direction in “dumbing down” content to appeal to kids, and I tend to think that kids like and need a challenge. And this lack of challenging material is causing a decline in young patrons, a sad cycle.

  9. Thomas Heilman says:

    Becky writes, ” the other night, the librarian proudly showed me a Japanese-style comic strip version of Nancy Drew, and suggested I take it home for Laura. I believe I had a horrified smile frozen on my face…”

    I’m curious about your reactions to the book, Becky, after you read it.
    Were you still horrified? Did you find that your initial reactions were justified.