Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Reading disobedience

If you are attending the Massachusetts Library Association conference in Falmouth this Thursday, come hear Simmons College library school professor Maggie Bush and me talk about the intersection of parents, children and libraries in the question of equal access to library materials.

Let's say Janie wants to read the Harry Potter books. Let's say Janie's parents think the books are Satanic how-to manuals. Whose interests should the library serve? The standard professional answer is that if Janie's parents wish to restrict her reading they should accompany her to the library and put the kibosh on her reading or checking out any material they don't want her to have. But should we encourage them to do so? What about our obligation to provide Janie with the information and reading materials of her choice? How can we best help Janie exercise her right to read what she wants? That's what we will be talking about.

6 comments:

rebecca said...

oh, see if you can podcast it!!

thommy said...

I thought it was only in England that a collective noun took a plural verb (Manchester United are in the World Cup Final!!!!!!!!!).

As to the bigger question about the degree to which we as librarians should encourage parents to involve themselves in their children's reading, I'm of different minds.

I certainly share your hope that kids will find the books they need, whether or not their parents want them to. I once had to respond to a complaint from an angry parent who kept on finding gay teen literature under her son's mattress. From her point of view, the problem was a recurrent one because we were flaunting the trash in front of him. My heart just broke. And, I'm sure, part of my response included a congratulation for her involvement in her son's reading, and an offer to help her find books that reflect her own values.

But I meant both of those things. I am glad she's involved in her son's reading. I disagree, vehemently, with her point of view. And I'd help her son find whatever he wanted if he presented himself to me (for all I know, I already did). But, for some parents, books will always be a topic of discussion and argument. My choice becomes whether or not library books get to be present on the battlefield. On balance, I give a child a better shot at finding something that speaks deeply to him, whether or not it meets with parental approval, if he's choosing his reading material from the breadth available at the public library, even with limits superimposed by his parents. And, hokey though it may sound, there is great plurality implicit in public library service. Even if one proactively eschews it, it's got to rub off, just a little...

I wish I could be there to hear your discussion as it unfolds.

sdl said...

It only took one library patron with a restrictive point of view on what his children should see to change my thinking on this one. Now I've moved completely over to the side of getting his children the information they want, and making sure the access is open enough that they can find it on their own. And if it gets swiped because they don't want to be seen checking it out, I'll just buy it again.

Roger Sutton said...

Susan--details?

Thommy--I had a similar experience in my first job, as a YA librarian in a Chicago suburb. A parent came in with a way overdue book she found while cleaning her gone-to-college son's room. It was Hanckel and Cunningham's great A Way of Love, A Way of Life: A Young Person's Introduction to What It Means to be Gay. But she wasn't complaining, just embarrassed. We waived the fine.

I'm all for supporting parents, but if and when it comes down to supporting the kids' reading rights or the parents' right to restrict that reading, I'm with the kid.

Roger Sutton said...

And Rebecca--I wish we could podcast it but it's an MLA program, not Horn Book, so we can't.

sdl said...

Details: A dad explained to me that his kids didn't need to go to school. He just used primary source material like the Julius Caesar's autobiography to cover literature and social studies, and they read some particular religiously-approved encyclopedia for science, and used a canned math curriculum and that's all they needed. He for some reason lets them check out all the DVDs they want, but they don't check out books because he worries that the book authors are attempting to sexualize our children.

I have to figure that eventually his kids will rip the blinders off and if they happen to get enough freedom to browse in my dept, there will be lots of good stuff for them to see.