Libraries that block innapropriate materials from minors -
April 26, 2006 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Calling all Librarians! My library system is currently proposing a "children's card" - where a parent could effectively block their child's access to "innapropriate" materials. (more inside)

Can anyone help me find information about other libraries and/or systems that have attempted this in the past? I'm not really interested in internet filtering issues - I'm looking specifically for stories about libraries that may have attempted something similiar to this in reference to "offensive" literature.
I have been asked to serve on a committee that would decide on how such an action could be could be carried out - basically forming a "think-tank" on the issue.
Anyone know of similiar stories? I need to do some fast research.
posted by anonymous to Education (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here are some citations, but they are rather old:

Brooklyn PL offers children's limited access card.
J-card limits their access to children's department only
Source: School Library Journal v. 42 (July '96)

St. Louis PL loosens restrictions on young borrowers.
Source: American Libraries v. 25 (May '94) p. 386+

The policeman within: library access issues for children and young adults.
Source: North Carolina Libraries v. 51 (Summer '93)

Student access limits dropped by PL board.
for the Calumet Park (Ill.) Public Library
Source: American Libraries v. 22 (May '91) p. 379
posted by gnat at 7:10 AM on April 26, 2006

Such restrictions are probably contrary to firm ALA positions and policies concerning the rights of minors to access library materials. And perhaps specifically in the last link above.
posted by yz at 7:14 AM on April 26, 2006

(Assuming that the library system is in the U.S. and affiliated with the ALA. . . .)
posted by yz at 7:27 AM on April 26, 2006

I found many citations related to restricted children's access in a library science database. I'd email them to you, but you're incognito. My email is in my profile if you'd like to see a set of citations.

Censorship sucks.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:31 AM on April 26, 2006

As a child I was a voracious reader. In third grade I was stopped from taking out books on greek mythology because they had pictures of OMG naked women and men (not even drawings or anything, pictures of the Statue of David, etc).
From a early age its made me despise the system that (as I see it) has tried to block me from learning because I was somewhat advanced.
Not a citation, just a personal experience.
posted by JonnyRotten at 7:45 AM on April 26, 2006

Sounds like a great idea to me. Children are not just little adults. It is a parents responability to guide them, and this includes limiting what they consume, whether it be food, video games, or books. As a child grows, I believe the parent should restrict them less and less, of course, as they are able to make their own decisions, even decisions that are contrary to the parents ideals.
posted by JamesMessick at 7:46 AM on April 26, 2006

Not really an answer, but a thought from someone who escaped child's library restrictions when they were young.

The Greenville County Library, South Carolina had a "child's card" for under 13's when I was growing up. By parental consent you could get a green dot giving you access to the main library collections. I still have warm memories of that library and cherish the freedom the green dot gave me.

I implore you to tread gently as you seek to decide what is fit for kids to read.
posted by MasonDixon at 7:47 AM on April 26, 2006

I think that's how the library worked where I grew up, too.... up to a certain age, you were restricted to the 'children's section'. Of course, my parents instantly signed me up for adult access, so I could read anything I liked.

It seemed like a good compromise to me, possibly because it didn't restrict me. Had my parents been fundamentalist, it might not have worked so well. :)
posted by Malor at 7:57 AM on April 26, 2006

I don't have citations for you, but I agree with other posters that you should definitely offer some sort of work-around instead of patently restricting access. Actually, I think it's a terrible idea to begin with, but I guess that's not what you're asking. The first thing that came to mind was the age clause in the ALA Bill of Rights.
posted by booknerd at 8:06 AM on April 26, 2006

I don't have a data point for you, but since you threw the issue out, here's a thought:

To implement a policy like this, it seems like you'd have to do some combination of the following:

1. Limit kids to being able to check out only books from the "young adults" section, or from certain call number ranges.

2. Leave it up to the discretion of the person working the circulation desk, who'd presumably do some kind of quick check of each book before letting the kid have it.

Both have problems. For #1, you'd be keeping kids out of a lot of perfectly acceptable material, for instance non-fiction for school projects. For #2, it seems like you'd open yourself up to some legal liability if anybody ever made a mistake and checked out the "wrong" materials to a minor.
posted by Hildago at 8:09 AM on April 26, 2006

Hildago makes a couple good points. The other problem is that what your staff determine to be appropriate may not be Draconian enough for certain fundy parents. They will bitch that the library is giving "smut" to their children, when by community standards, the book is perfectly fine. But you will have to fight the battle with them, right or wrong. And that takes time and resources most libraries don't have.

If you DO decide to restrict access based on some arbitrary ruleset, make it OPT IN. Parents should have to make an effort to get their children's access restricted. Restriction should not be the default state.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:30 AM on April 26, 2006

When I lived in Pennsylvania, we had that system. I could check out Childrens' or YA books on my card, but anything I wanted to check out that was regular fiction (A lot of sci-fi and other good kids books ... i.e. Anne McCafferty's Pern series were in adult) required me to have my mom's permission and to fill out a form, and it was checked out under her card.

I was reading Tom Clancy books at age 11. The librarians finally got tired of me checking out books under my mom's name every single week (they had to fill out the forms each time) and fibbed about my age on the application so that I could have my own adult card.

To be honest, the best system I've seen is an opt-in system where parents can choose to have a restriction placed on their kids reading habits, as opposed to one that's placed there. Otherwise the system can be bypassed in other ways.
posted by SpecialK at 9:13 AM on April 26, 2006

Is the policy intended to block access to materials that are offensive or inappropriate? Opt-in programs to restrict kids to kids-section-only are best exactly because they are so impractical that only the most overprotective of parents will bother...keeping the parenting responsibility focused on the parents. not on the library. A "restricted list" of books assessed on a case-by-case basis is nothing but a recipe for debating minutiae with the squeakiest wheel.

(For example, a lot of people may agree that kids shouldn't read Joy of Sex, but if a kid wants to settle the elementary school playground debate on where babies come from and what private parts are for, they can just look up sex in the encyclopedia. Which is what I did.)

Not exactly an answer to your question, sorry.
posted by desuetude at 10:44 AM on April 26, 2006

Of course, another problem is that it's the YA books that a lot of parents think are too racy.
posted by desuetude at 10:45 AM on April 26, 2006

This is only a personal anecdote, but my library (in a conservative California suburb) had no restrictions on what I could check out as a kid. As a result, I freely chose from the children's and adult sections, voraciously devoured everything from Lewis Carroll to Freud to Stephen King, and grew up to be a well-read, library-loving adult.

It is unimaginable to me that my right - even as a child - to read whatever I liked could have been taken away by a system complicit with stodgy parents. My intellectual and imaginative life would really have been stunted by a rule like that.

So that I'm actually answering your question, here's an article from the Library Administrator's Digest about one librarian's experience.
posted by lemuria at 10:56 AM on April 26, 2006

Cumberland County Public Library, in Fayetteville, NC has this.
posted by konolia at 1:10 PM on April 26, 2006

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