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Don't Defend That Book

Most of these columns, updated and edited, can be found in my latest book. Buy it and I might be able to afford a nicer nursing home one day. Thank you.

Don’t Defend That Book
Head for the Edge column, Library Media Connection, August/September 2007

Philosophy of Resource Selection. Public education in a democracy is committed to facilitate the educational growth andequal educational opportunity of all students. The freedom to learn, therefore, and the corresponding freedom to teach are basic to a democratic society. In order to meet these goals, School District 77 is committed to selecting educational resources which will aid student development in knowledge acquisition, critical thinking, objective evaluation and aesthetic appreciation. Mankato Area Public Schools Board Policy 606: TEXTBOOKS AND INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS

The discussion over the Newbery Award winning book The Power of Lucky flared last spring on LM_Net, the AASL blog and, I am sure, in meetings, phone conversations and e-mails throughout the country. Some librarians went nuts (pun intended) over the author using the word scrotum in this children’s book.

I found it less upsetting that an anatomically correct word was used in a kiddie book and that book was given a prestigious prize, than that so many professional librarians seem to have lost the fundamental understandings of selection, reconsideration, in loco parentis, and intellectual freedom. Perhaps the controversy was a timely wake-up call at the beginning of this school year that we all need to brush up on some of these concepts.

What troubles me is that our professional colleagues are trying to defend a single title rather than defending a fair and open process for selecting and retaining any instructional material in our schools. Quite frankly, if a school decides to remove Lucky or any other book from its library or classrooms, so be it. If it decides to block every Web 2.0 resource because it can’t discriminate between MySpace and a professional blog, so be it. If it decides that Zeffirelli’s movie Romeo and Juliet not be not be allowed because it shows a glimpse of Olivia Hussey’s breasts, so be it.

So long as due process has been followed in making the decision..

While I can’t imagine the circumstances under which I would do so, I sort of like knowing that as a citizen I can request that ill-chosen materials be removed from my public school. Harrumph!

As I remember from library school, this is how professionals deal with the selection of and potential censorship of instructional materials:


1. They assure that the district has a board adopted selection/reconsideration policy. Oh, and they’ve read and follow it.

2. They select all materials based on the stated selection criteria in the policy. Ours here in Mankato include:


  • Considering the characteristics and philosophy of the school and community when selecting resources.
  • Providing resources that will enrich and support the curriculum, taking into consideration the varied interests, abilities, and maturity levels of the individuals served.
  • Providing resources relative to controversial issues so that individuals may develop informed opinions and practice critical reading and thinking.
  • Providing resources representative of the many religious, ethnic, and cultural groups and their contributions to our American heritage.
  • Placing principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of resources of the highest quality in order to assure a comprehensive collection appropriate for the users.

3. They select only materials based on authoritative and reliable review sources.


4.    If they are asked to remove an item selected from the instructional program, they do not defend the material, but insist that the board adopted reconsideration policy and procedures be followed. This policy should require that a standing reconsideration committee be appointed at the beginning of each school year. When requested by the committee, they provide the rationale and resources used for selection of the item under reconsideration.

5.    Once a resource is selected, they do not restrict its use by any student. Professionals cannot act in the place of parents (in loco parentis) to restrict access to materials to individuals.  (You think when serving a thousand kids, I can remember the restrictions individual parents want me to put on their kids?)

It’s just that easy! Know your selection policy, select from authoritative reviews, insist on due process if a book is challenged, and make children responsible for their own choices.

It’s not hard, but it does take genuine courage. And it is not only why we need professionals in all our school libraries, but professionals who act professionally.

At some point in time, schools will need to wake up and realize that the principles of selection and reconsideration also need to apply to online resources, including the websites. Does your district have a written policy that upholds the concepts of intellectual freedom in regard to the Internet? Who decides what is blocked and how are those decisions made?

I hope there aren’t other basic principles I’ve forgotten. Library school was, after all, many, many, many years ago.  

Posted on Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 10:14AM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | Comments3 Comments

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Reader Comments (3)

A fine overview of best practices for selection and review. Of course, there is and will be continual debate on the intersection between personal and professional selection; not to mention outright censorship.

Your post prompted me to look at the GC posts in the LM-Net archives and ran across a recent post about In the Night Kitchen. The librarian wanted to know how to handle it. The thread seems to die with a final comment stating "...the decision was made by the
administration to not put the book out..."

I well know that administrators can look over the MS's shoulder during the review/selection procedure, with signing off on PO's or other review with the MS on ordering, etc.

But, since LM-Net has that Target/Hit policy, there was no discussion on-line. So the Hit mentions, almost cavalierly, "The consensus seems to be to draw either a diaper or shorts on the boy."

I have a hard time believing that a group of professionals, seeking to promote critical thinking, learning, honesty, artists as creators, and freedom of choice would have a real consensus on that choice. I can only hope that it was a small (very small) minority that felt compelled to push their agenda. Other than Shondra's post, there was no discussion about that 'consensus'. (http://www.eduref.org/lm_net/archive/LM_NET/2007/Sep_2007/msg00457.html)

Then there is a concurrent 'nakedness in books' thread with yet another 'Cut out material to clothe the figures..." solution and no further discussion from the rest of the body (sorry) of professionals....

And just when is Banned Book Week? You'd think the ideas would be just a wee bit more in their minds....

November 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Eiffert

I missed mentioning that there were Jenifer Swenson, Jeff Hastings, and Amy McCracken's responses objecting to defacing artist's work. Along with Shondra's response - four voices....

November 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Eiffert

Hi Robert,

I don't think any of us like to recognize it, but many in our profession do censor materials, whether out of personal taste and values or simply out of fear for standing up against an administrator.

This is one reason I get concerned about earning one's certification in librarianship through testing rather than a university program. I know at the U of I was where the concept of intellectual freedom was drummed into me.

It will be, as you suggest, a never ending fight!

All the best and thanks for the post,


November 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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