Liz B. pointed me toward this PW essay on the thin line between reader's advisory work and putting limitations on library access for kids. It gives me the willies.
Is it right for me to discourage a kid’s reading choice? No. But is it right for me to give a kid a book that I think is probably not appropriate? At the risk of sounding censorship alarms, or being seen as an “uncool” librarian, my answer is again, No. I just don’t feel comfortable giving a sixth-grader one of these books—all popular titles that, in my library, are shelved “over there” in the teen area, through the door and around the corner from the children’s room.
I don't see how these positions (not discouraging a reading choice and not giving a kid an inappropriate book) are reconcilable. I recognize that the author recognizes that the question is a difficult one, and I agree that some books are too mature for some kids. But I think she errs on the side of caution where I would rather give the kid what she asks for (an eleven-year-old wanting Twilight is an example she cites), hold my breath, and hope for the best. What we don't know from the essay is how easily kids are allowed to dodge the librarian's best intentions entirely and simply go to the YA or adult books by themselves. That would have been my own strategy as a sixth-grader, particularly if I had had a previous encounter with a librarian that made me feel snooped upon or deflected. While I hate librarians who don't move out from behind the desk, there's a little too much leading patrons by the hand going on here.
What the essay does not take up--and what so few arguments for restricting access do--is what she thinks is going to happen if a child reads a book he or she "is not ready for." Really, what? Sexual thoughts, anxiety, nightmares? Maybe, but by no means necessarily--and, while I hate to quote Dick Cheney, so what? Kids have sexual thoughts, anxieties and nightmares anyway. Normal, healthy kids. And as Liz points out, what's more likely is that a kid simply will breeze past what she doesn't understand: "Deenie had masturbation? As a kid, I had no idea."