Reading news items and YALSA-Bk listserv postings during this past month, I noticed two recurring intellectual freedom themes…determining the suitability/appropriateness of materials for teens and balancing that suitability/appropriateness within the current definition of YA literature. “Appropriateness” concerns have been raised recently about a whole gamut of materials from DVD TV movies (Freedom Song) to manga titles (Alice 19 and Treasure), popular fiction (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Succession), and L. Ron Hubbard audio books. Most of the postings asked for guidance in evaluating these titles for suitability for a YA audience.

It struck me that we librarians depend more and more on the opinions of blog and listserv posters and less on our own familiarity with the material in question. Are we in danger of basing our decisions on incomplete information then? Do we prefer postings because we don’t have enough time to read, view, and/or listen to new acquisitions or to become more familiar with our collections? Is it because we fear challenges and it’s simply easier, this way, to avoid them? Read More →

Taffey Anderson, the Oregon woman who had been refusing to return The Book of Bunny Suicides to her 13 year old son’s school library, has returned the book and softened her stance after the story provoked several negative editorials and blog posts. Anderson spoke to the American Libraries, telling them that the book was returned on October 24th. She was quoted as saying “I was talking completely out of anger,” and “I did apologize in the newspaper and should never have said that, but I don’t think it’s a book for school-age children.”

This is a great reminder that how we deal with an initial challenge can make a difference in the outcome. It can be tempting to dismiss challenges without really listening to the person’s real concern. Staying calm and courteous and practicing active listening can sometimes prevent a concern from becoming a public challenge. ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom offers a helpful guide to dealing with challenges.We all hope we never find ourselves in that situation but in case we do, it is important to be prepared.

It’s not too late to celebrate Banned Books Week with teens at your library!’ ‘ ‘ Here are some ideas to get teens thinking and talking about banned books:

  1. Create your own banned books booklist, or’ order the ALA Banned Books List 07-08.’  Display these booklists near your reference desk and encourage discussion.’  One classic exchange I had with a teen went like this:’ a teen approached the desk and’ casually glanced over’ at’ our Banned Books Week list.’  She asked, “What’s a banned book?”‘  I explained.’  The teen’s face crinkled up and she asked, incredulously, “If people don’t like the books, why don’t they just not read them?”‘  Great question!’  Off-the-cuff discussions at our reference desk, with both teens and their parents, have’ been the most rewarding way for me to inform patrons about banned books. ‘ You might also tuck these booklists into the challenged books that are sitting on your shelves, to create awareness among those teens who are hesitant to approach staff.
  2. Read More →

What started out as a teen girl refusing to return a school library copy of Ellen Wittlinger’s Sandpiper has been resolved through a mixed reaction school board meeting. Check out the link for a more detailed account. While I am encouraged that the school board decided to keep the book on the shelf–for the 1st amendment rights of the students, I worry about the effects this challenge will have on future purchases and policies at the school system.

Censorship against teen materials is becoming more of an everyday occurrence that teen librarians really need to prepare themselves for. Whether it is impromptu conversations with parents about why there are adult titles in your teen collection, or a formal challenge against a title due to content, please take the time to learn your policies and be able to discuss them intellectually.

I hope that none of us have to go through a public challenge like Sandpiper, but if you do contact YALSA and ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. They can really help!

Kristin Fletcher-Spear
Chair of YALSA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom recently published the 2006 list of most challenged books. Although the award-winning children’s book “And Tango Makes Three” captured the top spot, the majority of books on the list are written for young adults. Additional books that made the list, as well as reasons for the challenges include:

  • The Gossip Girls series by Cecily Von Ziegesar cited for homosexuality, sexual content, drugs, unsuited to age group, and offensive language;
  • Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for homosexuality, sexual content, drugs, unsuited to age group, and offensive language;
    The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler for sexual content, anti-family, unsuited to age group, and offensive language;
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison for sexual content, unsuited to age group, and offensive language;
  • Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz for occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence, and insensitivity;
  • Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher for homosexuality, sexual and offensive language;
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky for homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language and unsuited to age group;
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison for offensive language, sexual content, and unsuited to age group;
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier for sexual content, offensive language, and violence.

Are you dealing with censorship challenge? Check out YALSA’s Intellectual Freedom soon- to- be- revised website for a practical guide outlining immediate steps to take if you are faced with a book challenge.