A Wide Range
A couple of years ago, I booked tickets to see an act that my family had seen on America’s Got Talent. Piff, the Magic Dragon had a family friendly act on America’s Got Talent, but the show at the local comedy club was advertised as not appropriate for kids. And I was certainly happy I didn’t bring the children. In other words, Piff has a potty mouth at the club.
I have often wondered how artists like Piff can switch acts so completely depending on their audience. Comedians and actors are not the only ones who make these dramatic changes. Two authors that come to mind are Carl Hiaasen and James Patterson. Hiaasen, the author of Hoot, Flush, and many more, has also authored Strip Tease, Skinny Dip, and Sick Puppy, while Patterson writes grizzly crime novels as well as books for middle schoolers.
A Conundrum of K-8 and 6-12 Libraries
This realization of the range of these authors was never so evident as when I started in my current library.
Our boarding school serves grades 6-12. But we also serve the broader community of on-campus teachers and their families. When I came to the library all of the fiction was shelved together. Therefore, Skinny Dip and Hoot, both by Hiaasen, were next to one another on the shelf. Not too many years passed before we developed a middle school section, then a YA section, and now we even have a children’s section.
In a community library like ours, we often think about what is age-appropriate given the full range of our patrons. This task requires several tools to help us since it is tough to be an expert at children’s literature, adult literature, and YA literature all at the same time. We also have extensive nonfiction in middle school, high school, and graduate-level nonfiction for our teachers continuing their education. Though we have created areas for different age groups, we do not prohibit middle schoolers from checking out YA books or high schoolers from checking out picture books.
The Difference in Age-Appropriate Selection and Censorship
There have been several articles about using the age-appropriate argument to censor books or to forbid reading below or above level, including:
- YA to Label or Not to Label
- Value Judgment Scales On Censorship
- Thinking Outside the Bin
- School Librarians Are Labeling Controversial Books
This action is not the practice that we are addressing per se; we want to show tools that inform the age-appropriate selection practice.
Age-Related Tools for Placement
Some of the tools we employ to find age-appropriate titles include Follett Titlewave, School Library Journal, and Common Sense Media. But how do the staff at these organizations determine what is appropriate? Common Sense Media offers insight about their process in the article “Behind the Common Sense Media Rating System.” Educational Value, Positive Role Models & Representations, Language, Violence, Sex, and Consumerism are some of the topics addressed in the rating. I like that the non-profit asks both adults and kids to rate a book.
Speech in the Library with Multiple Age Groups
Our parents understand that the library is a community library. They realize they should discuss what their student is reading to make sure their child has age-appropriate materials. However, one concern is that the library is a hangout for students of all ages. This situation means sometimes high schoolers discuss things that are not always age-appropriate for middle schoolers who can be as young as ten. We then have an awkward conversation with older students. It is a complicated dialogue as the librarian and the champion of intellectual freedom. The initial student reaction is “so you want me to censor myself?”
In my search for just the right explanation, I recently read an article from a group called All Kinds of Minds about switching and tailoring one’s speech for different audiences. I have found that more instruction is necessary to help students understand how to relate to diverse audiences. According to the article, “Students who are able to adjust their language in response to the current audience practice one of the most sophisticated verbal pragmatic functions, code-switching.” So adjusting speech for different ages is not censorship or even inauthentic; rather it may be one of the more sophisticated functions of speech development.
What are your tips for keeping the collection free of censorship and still being age-appropriate?
For more authors who write for adults and can write beautiful children’s books, check out this article.
Author: Hannah Byrd Little
Hello, I am the Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle. I use my past experience in college and university libraries to help my current students in school libraries transition into college, career, and life. I am currently the lead Senior Class Adviser for the Capstone Project. I also served at the state level with the Tennessee Association of School Librarians executive board from 2009-2013 and was the TASL president in 2012. I am certified as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, have a BS in Communications with a concentration in Advertising and Public Relations, a BS in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Education and Information Systems and a Masters in Library and Information Science.