Chris Crutcher Inspired Me to be An Intellectual Freedom Activist for Teens

I had only been a school librarian for a few years when a school in a neighboring county had a high profile materials challenge involving Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk. Area libraries and Crutcher responded by planning some related events coinciding with the 2005 Banned Books Week, and his stops included our local public library. When one of my teachers saw the promotional poster I’d created for Crutcher’s speech, she echoed my belief that limiting access to anything sets a dangerous precedent. We were both eager to capitalize on the opportunity for her students to hear the renowned author and re-imagined her twelfth grade research paper as case studies in censorship.

Chris Crutcher (2005)

The project was successful beyond our wildest expectations in engaging students intellectually and promoting conversation about fundamental rights. Though the event with Crutcher was remote from campus and held in the evening, the majority of the class attended the lecture. He was gracious enough to pose with our students afterwards (above). Crutcher’s talk that night made me understand the needs of young people to see their experiences reflected in literature. As he spoke about his background as a family therapist and the many ways in which his books reflect the lived experience of young people and offer support for those who needed it, it galvanized my belief in intellectual freedom as a fundamental aspect of youth services.
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Self-Censorship and the Boomerang Book

There is a book sitting on the top right corner of my desk: Who Has What? All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies‘ by Robie H. Harris. I love this book. It talks about what the body can do and differences between male and female bodies. Beginning with facial body parts and working up to the reproductive system, this book discusses everything in an age appropriate and interesting manner. The illustrations are fun and inclusive of all’ types’ of people. I love this book. But still, this book sits on my desk because it is sent to me at least once a month with a note attached letting me know we had a complaint about the illustrations and could I please remove it from our collection or at least move it somewhere “more appropriate.” I’ve taken to calling this book the boomerang book because each time I send this book back to its home location, it comes right back.’ 

I recently spent sometime contemplating why this particular book seems to be so offensive to my community and why each time’  this book comes to me’ it seems to take me just a little longer to send it back out. Here’ is the answer I’ve come up with:

Fear. Continue reading

Censorship: A Personal Tale

As librarians, we hate censorship. It goes against everything we stand for. It’s part of the reason I felt such a strong sense of hatred for Dolores Umbridge. ‘ Her rules for learning the proper way and controlling to students filled me with horror. ‘ In some ways, she’s more evil than Voldermort. ‘ I want everyone to have equal opportunity in learning and above all in the library. ‘ The library is a place that should level the playing field for everyone – it’s not based on gender, race, sexuality, or economic status; you have the same access as everyone else.

Different Kinds of Censorship:

Blatant: I’m not going to buy that book because….
Situational: The library needs this book, but not in my section. (There’s a post on this coming soon)
Inadvertent: That book won’t work here because… Continue reading

February Research Roundup

Happy February! Here are some interesting happenings, research, and innovation that you might want to share with your patrons. As always, leave comments if you have any suggestions.

  • Programs such as the It Gets Better Project have made teen suicides, especially those related to homophobia, a more pressing issue. But is it reaching middle school-aged teens and tweens? A new study shows that many teens who have made suicide attempts made their first ones before high school, which means new approaches to mental health and wellbeing need to be taken earlier. U.S. News and World Report did a writeup of the study, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
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Banned Books Week: All About Risky Business

Celebrating Banned Books Week is all about risk-taking. By celebrating titles that have been, or might be, banned in a library, those working with teens are saying to the world, “Look, we have controversial books in the library and we are proud of it.” That’s quite a risk and it’s a risk that many teen librarians accept and value.

In this video, Connie Urquhart and Lisa Lindsay (Fresno County Public Library) talk about the risks they’ve taken in collection development and in teen services – Including risks that went really well and risks that weren’t as successful as was hoped.


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The Book of Bunny Suicides

Intellectual freedom is hard sometimes.

As a student of the amazing Ann Curry, I learned a thing or two about dealing with censorship, and in my four years at a public library in a mid sized Canadian city, I have had my fair share of parents complaining about books that are too sexy, too druggy, too violent, too magical, too realistic, too Christian, not Christian enough – the list goes on. And for all of those parents I have brought out my typical line of “I’m sorry that this book offended you, but…”, they have gone their merry way, possibly a little mad and likely to come back and steal the book later just to spite me, but I don’t have a problem with that. Well I do have a problem with it, but it’s out of my sphere of influence, so I can’t do much about it. Also, I will just order the book again. Continue reading

Gearing up for Banned Books Week

I am fortunate to serve as chair of the STANDING COMMITTEE AGAINST CENSORSHIP of the National Council of Teachers of English. That means I often receive information about incidents of censorship. This has been a busy week thus far. One of our own members had her web site blocked from a school district due to political content. Laurie Halse Anderson, author of SPEAK and TWISTED, wrote about threee separate incidents of censorship on her blog. And Ellen Hopkins was un-invited to a school presentation when a parent complained about her books.

The one word that keeps resonating for me through all of this (and more) is ACCESS. When censors challenge materials and want them removed, they are in essence denying someone access to the thoughts and ideas contained at the web site or in the book or movie. Denying access creates limits for our students. One more venue of ideas shut down because someone deems the ideas somehow “wrong.”

How can we ensure access for our patrons? What can we do to erase limits? How about some of these approaches?

1. read one or more of the books counted among the most challenged this year or this past decade. AND TANGO MAKES THREE, THE CHOCOLATE WAR, SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK are among those listed at the OIF web site.
2. create a Banned Books Week display for your library.
3. make certain that you are familiar with your reconsideration policy.
4. volunteer to speak about censorship at a community event.
5. blog, tweet, post information about dealing with censorship.

Take a stand against censorship not just during Banned Books Week but all year long.

Dangerous Minds

In the past week, there have been two cases of censorship that have left me scratching my head once again.’  The first concerned Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls.’  Someone took the book to task for encouraging anorexic behavior among teens, calling it a “how-to” manual (http://tinyurl.com/pcf3qf).’  Then, later, a group in Tennessee have removed a link from their summer reading list that directed folks to YALSA’s BBYA list of recommendations (http://tinyurl.com/or8vo6).

I am bothered here because both of these’ instances seem to suggest to me that’ there are adults out there that think teens are not intelligent, that they are unable to separate fiction (what they are’ reading) from reality (what they are living).’  This’ attempt to somehow protect teens from reading about any difficult issues and topics seems not’ always to be a matter of’ being overly protective.’  Continue reading

Steve Martin Play Banned in La Grande

Steve Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, was recently banned from production in a La Grande, OR high school, because parents objected to it’s adult content.’  The play is about an imagined meeting between Picasso and Einstein in Paris.’  ALA’s’ Office for Intellectual Freedom reports that over 420 books were challenged in 2007 (this is the most recent data available).’  ‘ If only every book could have a celebrity in’ it’s corner, writing’ a letter to the editor in the community newspaper, as Steve Martin did.
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This Library Has Been Blocked Pending Further Review

As a school librarian in a district that uses WebSense, I’m all too familiar with the blocked page screen. For the mostpart, filtering seems to be limited to what someone recently referred to as “bandwidth hogs”–sites like YouTube, which could definitely tax district servers if too many students tried to browse all at once.’  Every now and then I’m frustrated by a block–like when a friend recommended a book to me, and for some reason the review she linked was blocked–but I generally understand the rationale behind most blocks, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it (*cough*Facebook*cough*).

But what happens when the blocker isn’t WebSense or internet filtering at all? What if you can’t access a resource because a colleague or an administrator or your community has decided you shouldn’t?

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