Thursday, May 8, 2008

Liberating the Reading Habits of Children

Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief, The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide

Maggie Bush, Professor, Simmons College

How do we protect the intellectual freedom of our children?

In 1967, the ALA Bill of Rights changed article five to read the rights of an individual to the use of a library should not be denied or abridged because of his age, etc. In 1980, the entire Bill of Rights was changed (de-gendered and de-sensitized) and article five now reads: A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

Now we have protected the rights of the children, but what about the rights of the parents? It has been determined that parents (and only parents) that have the right to keep children from the library and that if parents don't want their children in the library, they have to make sure they don't go on their own. Librarians need to serve all patrons, regardless of parental interest.

* * *
Roger poses a question to Maggie: if Janie wants to read Harry Potter, but Janie's parents don't want her to, what would she (Maggie) do as a librarian if Janie came in and asked for the book? Roger points out that the common idea is that if Janie's parents don't want her to read the books, they should come to the library with her. Maggie says that as a children's librarian she would try to help Janie out any way she could. She says that we should act as advocates for children, not gatekeepers. We should make it a practice to start with the child and affirm the child's interest in reading. Then we have to talk to the parents and take that on. We should engage the parents in a conversation about the book in question and find out eventually if they've read the book themselves.

* * *
Roger: What do you do when the parents want the child to take something (and come and tell you that that's what the child wants) and the child wants Gossip Girl (which inevitable they all do)?
Maggie: Tell them to take one of each and make sure the child gets the message (wink, wink).

* * *
Sometimes children want or need to read a book about a topic they're not comfortable letting anybody- not even the friendly librarian- know about (sexual issues, eating disorders, etc.) - make a corner, a private space, or a space that gives the illusion of privacy, for the children to read. Make sure those books are accessible, that they can be found on the catalog, that they're there and available.

Roger and Maggie's conversation continues on to address the question of if books can do good, can they do harms as well? Why don't people ask the question, “then what?” when we discuss what will happen if a child reads a book that scares them or arouses them or disturbs them? We seem to talk about books a lot more now and while this is important, we also need to let the child lead the conversation.

* * *
One audience member brings up the fact that as a librarian it makes sense to give children what they want, but as a mother, she's not sure how she feels about letting her daughter have free reign in the library and around all different kinds of books.

Another audience member brings up the question of what do you do when a popular book series crosses over age groups. For example, the Alice books by Phyllis Naylor, which start off as sixth grade appropriate books and then become racier as the series goes on.

The conversation between Mr. Sutton, Ms. Bush and the audience moves on to discuss how the age of YA books have changed, that there really weren't any YA books until 10-15 years ago and that now some of these YA books aren't really appropriate for kids under 15. Ms. Bush continues on to discuss that this also becomes an issue because now the teens these books are aimed at aren't interested in reading YA or things they might find in the children's room.

-Sarah C.

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