On Saturday, June 29, a panel of librarians presented a session on book challenges at ALA 2013. Their message was that most challenges were from parents and involved material for children and young adults.
- Emily Knox, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Kristin Pekoll, young adult librarian at the West Bend Community Library
- Suellen Reimers, co-president of the Helen Matthes Library Board
- Nanette Perez, Program Officer, ALA
What Motivates People to Challenge Library Material
Emily Knox began by discussing the motivation for challenges. She explained that most challengers are frequent library patrons. They go to libraries, check out material, and understand the value of a library to their community. While some adult books are challenged, most challenges involve books for children and young adults. The commonality between the majority of challenges is that they come from parents who see their role as that of boundary protector. A few general themes seen from challengers include:
- I take care of my kids, but other parents might not, so libraries, as society agents, must protect them and keep questionable material away from them.
- Society is fragile and might crumble without protection
- Innocence in children much be protected
What Gets Challenged
Challenges come from both the left and right. What is controversial is different for different people so there is no way to have a controversy-free collection. Some of the most challenged books include:
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (racist language)
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (sexual content)
- Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (uncomfortable reading this out loud to my kids)
A diverse collection is more likely to be challenged. Many challengers do not know library procedures or consider them inadequate. They often feel librarians have too much power in determining what books are presented. They feel that text is what it is and that children will interpret material only one way, and that children don’t have skills to interpret material in ways that are not harmful. For example, if a book mentions drug use, they fear kids will read it and then want to do drugs.
The good news is that parents who initiate the challenges understand the power of books and the importance of libraries. Reading is important to them. They believe books can change lives. The bad news is that they believe books can lead to bad moral character. Many are concerned about the world. They want to make the world better but they feel powerless to make changes in many arenas of their lives. They think watching out for young minds and the content of library books is one thing they can do to make a difference.
While discussing some of the challenges their libraries have faced over the last few years, Kristin Pekoll and Suellen Reimers reinforced the message that challengers often feel kids can’t be trusted to make decisions, that what they read can influence them to do bad things. Challenges they discussed covered everything from the physical distance between the young adult and children’s book areas, to the listing of LGBT themed books for teens on a library website, to individual (and sometimes award-winning) books.
All challenges should be reported to ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom where statistics are being kept. And when a challenge is issued, remain calm and smile.
— B.A. Binns, currently reading The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon and listening to The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
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