Earlier this year, a few popular YA authors, illustrators, and editors found themselves caught up in the #MeToo movement. With accusations ranging “from abuse of power, to sexual harassment to sexual assault,” some accused have been dropped from publishers or professional organizations, had awards rescinded, and some have issued statements of regret and apology. For me, the problem is deciding how to move forward with books written by problematic authors.
This very relevant blog post makes some valid points about censorship and why immediately pulling the books or not purchasing any future publications by these kinds of authors may not be in line with the ALA Library Bill of Rights. I completely agree with this idea, but I also feel like I need to do more. Keeping problematic authors on the shelf feels a little like I’m giving them a pass, or that what they did in life isn’t really that big of a deal. By keeping the books on the shelves and not taking any action at all, am I passively supporting a problematic author?
Beyond the ALA Library Bill of Rights, I also have a selection policy I follow. Line thirty-three of the policy lists the criterion for selection as “Reputation and significance of the author, producer, and publisher.” Going forward this line could play a more significant role in my selection and weeding practices. Is this a slippery slope? Definitely it is, but I don’t think that should stop anyone from rethinking a selection though. I opt to not buy books that have been reviewed as problematic, why can’t that extend to the writer in some cases? As a school librarian purchasing books, I make judgment calls all the time in regards to what I believe is beneficial for students.
My co-librarian and I do not make these types of choices quickly or on a whim. To address issues with problematic authors, we created an informal process/flowchart for assessing these books.
- Who is a problematic author? We define this as any contemporary writer who has admitted to inappropriate or illegal behavior or there is enough credible information to support the veracity of the allegation(s).
- Does the problematic author’s book have any merit? We look at circulation, reviews, and revisit our initial reasoning for buying the book(s).
- What do our stakeholders think? Initiate discussions with students, staff, and teachers while keeping an open mind to suggestions and varying opinions.
The idea of separating the artist from the art has always been debated and discussed without much resolution. Factors in these kinds issue are often nuanced and assessed on an individual basis within the court of public opinion. Discussions with students often end with students wanting to keep the books, but also wanting potential readers to know the author’s background so they can make an informed reading choice.
Has this been an issue in other libraries? How do other school libraries navigate social issues while avoiding censorship and maintaining a respectful culture?
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.