In our middle school library, we have a small, but potentially troublesome accessibility issue. We aren’t entirely sure how to resolve it or if we even know what resolution looks like right now. We have a collection of books noncompliant with parts of The Library Bill of Rights as they apply to school libraries. This specific collection has major barriers reducing students accessibility via “age, grade-level…restrictions,” and established “restricted shelves” (ALA, 2017). The books in this collection are recommended for grades 8 and up, and a few are grades 9-12 or high school as the suggested audience.
A little background on my school: We’re located in the district where Looking For Alaska was challenged and removed from high school reading lists, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was challenged due to supposed pornographic content. We have almost 1,500 students, and a thriving reading program. In my opinion, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, many 8th graders, particularly towards the end of the school year, seem to be growing up and away from the middle school mindset.
These are the students who will ask us for books like The Martian or Ready Player One. Originally, we didn’t buy them, because they aren’t technically suggested for middle school and may have some questionable content for this age group. Content we probably couldn’t successfully defend as appropriate for the average middle schooler based on our school selection policy, professional reviews, and our own judgment. Later we would see these same kids in the hall with their own copies of these books, and we noticed they weren’t coming to the library anymore. We understood why…we weren’t providing them with what they needed and wanted.
We’ve had a few challenges over the years, but most times parents just return the book to us, stating it wasn’t right for their kids. We’d like to keep it this way, but we also want to address the needs of all our students, including the late year 8th graders. How do we do this without compromising the integrity of the Library Bill of Rights? We’ve had other middle school librarians tell us they do not keep books in the library that aren’t available to all students. If we do that, we will have to remove the books from our collection. Others have suggested making the books part of the staff collection and letting teachers make the call about certain books, but this route feels like a disservice to my profession.
Because we aren’t actively trying to create access issues, our 8th Grade 2nd Semester Shelf only has three books right now:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline–Considered to be an Adult Interest book, but so many 8th grade boys asked us for this book. The more mature parts in this book aren’t off the charts for some 13-14 year olds, but the scenes might be too much for an eleven-year-old.
The Martian by Andy Weir–Right from the start language was a pretty big issue with this book.
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas–Primarily suggested for high school or ages 14+, but we love this book for so many reasons.
Middle school is a unique range of development and maturity where Dork Diaries are just as popular with 6th graders as any John Green book is with an 8th grader. How do other middle school libraries handle books suggested for grades 8+, and if we aren’t getting those books because they create an accessibility issue for younger readers, are we failing the 8th grade readers?
Author: Mica Johnson
I’m a school librarian at Farragut Middle. I like the lib to be loud, messy, and full of student activity. I love tech stuff as much as I love books, and I’m part of an awesome rotating maker space.