One of my esteemed IF Committee colleagues touched on this point a couple of posts back, but I find a need to bring it up again. There have been a couple of intellectual freedom related issues that have cropped up in my library and community as of late; The debates were centered around two books: Elizabeth Scott’s â€˜Living Dead Girl’ and Susanna Kaysen’s â€˜Girl, Interrupted’ and their suitability for a teen audience. This has had me pondering the meaning of the word â€œappropriateâ€ and the way it sometimes gets tossed about in our line of work. We often use the word, I think, to justify our own nervousness about more explicit language or content, and to defend our fear of potential confrontation.The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd Edition) defines the word as such:
Appropriate. Adj.â€œSuitable or proper in the circumstances.â€
I like this definition because it reminds me that we cannot know the circumstances of every teenager’s life in the communities we serve. It is easy to shout â€œthis book is not appropriate for 9th graders!!!â€ (And heck, maybe it isn’t, for many of them.) But it is not necessarily our place to make that assumption, and it may be *exactly* the right book for a particular teen (or group thereof) at a particular time. Should we deny that kid their right to that book because we are afraid of the possibility of a negative community response? I hope not. We would end up throwing out half the YA collection in the process, including a Printz winner or two.
I think it is important to remember who it is we are developing our collections for: the teenagers that we serve, in all their wildly differing glory. Not their parents, not the politicians, not the adult community at large. And while I would never, ever dispute a parent’s right to decide what is right for their children to read, I am ever uncomfortable with us as librarians deciding what is and is not appropriate for our collections outside of the bounds of literary merit, demand and potential popularity.
I know that some may disagree with my sentiments, and I also know that I am speaking from a public library perspective; school libraries certainly have their own difficulties in this area. But I sincerely hope that most of us are thinking hard about our potential for self-censoring when we are developing our collections.
After all, it’s the â€œappropriateâ€ thing to do!
See you all in Denver,
Ken Petrilli, IF Committee