As a junior high librarian, I wear many hats. I teach about using online resources. I offer games and puzzles at lunchtime. I collaborate with other staff to plan lessons and find information. I deal with a steady stream of broken or glitchy Chromebooks.
But far and away the best part of my job is helping students find books.
The right book at the right time might whisk a kid into a fantasy adventure as a temporary escape from real-world problems and frustrations. A book may open their eyes to a person, place, or culture they’ve never known before. The right book might provide a reflection of their own experiences, offering solace and support.
When I choose books for our school library, I follow the collection development policies of our District, look to the guidelines of the American Library Association, and consult reviews from trusted professional journals. I search for materials that will support the lessons and curricula of our teachers. I also provide engaging, relevant, age-appropriate choices for our students’ self-selected reading. Our goal is to create life-long readers, learners, and thinkers.
HB 666 attempts to criminalize the best and most crucial part of my job as a teacher librarian. Junior high school students want stories that are relevant to their everyday lives, books that address the issues and ideas they’re curious about. Margaret Edwards, a groundbreaking youth librarian in the 1930s and ‘40s, said, “Too many adults wish to ‘protect’ teenagers when they should be stimulating them to read of life as it is lived.”
Michael Cart, a nationally recognized expert in YA literature, has written, “[O]ne of the most compelling [reasons for reading] is the quest to discover yourself reflected in the pages of a book.” I want every student at my school to be able to find themselves in the books we have to offer. Every student – regardless of race, socio-economic status, body size and shape, gender identity, history, background, religion, or personal taste. As David Levithan, YA author and editor, has said, “Teens read books to find themselves within the pages…. It’s not just literature at stake; it’s lives.”
Kids need Mirror books where they find reflections of their own lives – but they also need Windows into other cultures and other people’s lives. They should have access to stories about situations and experiences far different from their own. Rudine Sims Bishop, an expert in children’s literature, has written that students “need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, … as well as their connection to all other humans.”
When we go to the library, we hope to find the books that speak to us, that give us the stories or information we want. Others go to the library with the same wish, but with very different materials or topics in mind. This is the beauty of libraries; this is how libraries work. We borrow the books we want and ignore the ones we don’t. If we find something that offends us, we can simply leave it on the shelf. No standard could ever match all tastes and preferences.
Should parents have the right to tell their own children which books to avoid? Of course. Responsible parents know what their children are reading and take time to make thoughtful decisions about which books their kids read and when their kids are mature enough to read them.
But no one wants someone else telling them what they can’t, or shouldn’t, read. You decide for yourself and your family. And you let other families make their own choices. Libraries offer access – access for everyone. Article II of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights states that, “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
And in this age of Internet access, streaming services, and social media, access to content of all kinds is easier than ever before. Why the intense focus on library books, of all things?
It would be too easy to make a joke about the number assigned to this Bill. But as legislators vilify librarians and other educators as pornography pushers, it leads one to wonder where the real evil lies. The Idaho legislature has been actively defunding public education throughout my entire 27 year career. To add insult to injury, in recent years we’ve been attacked, belittled, and questioned for a variety of perceived sins. Is it any wonder that, according to the Idaho Education Association, over half of Idaho’s teachers are considering leaving the profession?
Margaret Edwards said a librarian for teens must “be able to recommend with assurance books for the slow, the gifted, those with special interests and those with no interests.” Legislators with special interests do not get to decide on behalf of everyone else what books should be pulled from library shelves and classrooms.
And they certainly don’t get to brand me a criminal for providing the very books that entertain, educate, and save lives every day.