January 20, 2008 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Is it usual for school librarians and teachers to have disagreements and conflicts over "appropriate" content and media in school libraries?

E.g., the situation in which a younger librarian would like to bring in new media and books targeted to current teen concerns and points of view, whereas older teachers want to concentrate on the edifying "classics," the conflict being particularly bitter when the library and school do not have much money to spend. Overtly political disagreements as well (the librarian is more liberal than the teachers).
posted by bad grammar to Education (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. It happens all the time.
posted by birdherder at 4:02 PM on January 20, 2008

I've always thought librarians, especially in the context of a school library, were caretakers of the collection, not creators of educational policy. I'm in no way attempting to detract from the profession. They are simply different roles.
posted by gjc at 4:11 PM on January 20, 2008

Seems like it's time for a fundraiser, coordinated by the librarian and approved by all appropriate school officials, to get books that will make reading fun and keep our children in the library and off the streets, or some such thing.

And old teachers, conservative though they may be, have a lot of experience with children and what they need to be reading. If you're--I mean, the theoretical librarian is-- trying to buy Gossip Girls at the expense of Austen, I see their point.
posted by sondrialiac at 4:16 PM on January 20, 2008

Our previous librarian was deeply religious, and she had to be watched to make sure she wasn't censoring titles that she felt were inappropriate. She didn't have the authority to make these choices, but would have been able to had nobody been paying attention.
posted by anonymous account at 4:16 PM on January 20, 2008

I would agree with 'birdherder' that its a pretty common occurrence. I worked in a K-12 District for about 3 years and we had 3 Elementary libraries, 1 middle-school Library and 1 high school library. The Librarians were all different ages (from late 20's to late 60's).. and as you mentioned, money is tight, so there were heated discussions about what to spend money on.

One way we tried to help was combining all 5 libraries circulation databases together so all schools could search each others databases. That way if we could only afford to buy one copy of a certain book/reference/subscription - any librarian or student could find it district-wide and borrow it. Another thing we did was install computer labs in all the libraries (atleast 5 machines in each elementary/middle library and 30 computers in the high school library) so if students couldnt find a book, they could still hit the 'net and do research.

K12 education is definitely a challenging environment generally speaking.... not the least of which is keeping up with technology and implementing it in a way that is economical and as beneficial as possible. Those 3 years were probably the hardest job I've ever had.
posted by jmnugent at 4:17 PM on January 20, 2008

I agree, it's very common, and I think that to make any changes, the younger librarian in question needs some allies. I'd be willing to bet that not every teacher is equally conservative, but if the culture of the school has rewarded conservatism for a long time, those with less conservative views may be hesitant to speak up.

Also, framing any discussion (and I'm not saying you're doing this, but that may be how it's being perceived) in terms of young vs. old tends to make older people defensive and less willing to consider new stuff. I'd try to look for things I could learn from the teachers, so they'd understand that I acknowledged their expertise, and then find ways to suggest a few of my new ideas.

The principal, of course, would be another key person to get on your side.
posted by ryansara at 4:19 PM on January 20, 2008

Are you asking about a school librarian buying books for the library that she is responsible for, or is it a librarian suggesting what should be brought into an academic department's curriculum?

My own experience suggests that the school library and the English department have separate budgets and goals. It seems natural that a librarian would want to bring in new, high interest, and possibly controversial media. I would think that most libraries already have a solid collection of the classics, so why would the librarian need to worry about buying additional copies? Now, if my librarian suggested that I adopt a book for a whole class, I would have to consider it carefully. There are a variety of reasons for this. First of all, as the teacher, I am the one that will be fielding call from parents and I have to be able to argue for the educational value of the text. Additionally, a class set is a larger investment than one or two copies for the library. Finally, I have to consider if the book is going to have lasting value and that is when the traditional canon might be considered in conflict.
posted by Macduff at 4:23 PM on January 20, 2008

I just remembered.....

I shouldnt pass up a chance to pimp my education blog. I dont know if its YOU fighting this battle, or a librarian you know, but check out the "Library" category of my K-12 blog for a lot of cool and free online resources. You may find some things in there that will spark an idea or solve a resource problem. (I know I havent updated in a while.. I'm getting back into it :P)
posted by jmnugent at 4:25 PM on January 20, 2008

Ten years elementary and secondary experience here says yes, all the time. Stand your ground, you have no say in what they spend their classroom budget on and they should not be able to tell you how to spend money aimed at serving the needs of the whole school. Would the science teachers expect you to spend all your money on science books/dvds and nothing on any other subject? Then these teachers can not tell you to only purchase "their" books. Believe me, I've called many a teacher to back up a student's ISU choice of Sister Souljah over Dickens. Having the confidence to stand your gound is paramount.

Do you have a collection and selection policy? If not, create one. Are you part of a district or consortium that you can rely on the people above you to have your back and support your attempts to modernise? How does the principal/head feel about the collection?

As a comparison, do a display side by side of classics and books about Tupac or whatever is hot at your school and keep track of how many and which type of books are taken each day from the display. It probably won't convince the teachers but stats like that can help your case with your principal.

Ugh, school politics are the worse.
posted by saucysault at 4:28 PM on January 20, 2008

It happens all the time but isn't always split out along age grounds. Most of the challenges to books that happen in the US happen in school libraries, often with parents (or sometimes teachers) objecting to books as being "age inappropriate" for the students. The American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights is opposed to age restrictions or labelling on reading generally. However, there are a lot of people that realize that pragmatic concerns do have to come into play, especially in schools which have different responsibilities than public libraries. Most books in school libraries are challenged for being age inappropriate either due to religious/upbringing type objections (witches, things that go against religious/family teachings) or PC type objections (using racial epithets or books that employ or reflect stereotypes) with the former being much more common than the latter.

So librarians disagree with other librarians, teachers disagree with librarians and parents sometimes disagree with them both. There's a lot of people trying to do what they think is best for kids and educational institutions generally, but that's a pretty uncertain territory as much as we'd like to think otherwise.
posted by jessamyn at 5:10 PM on January 20, 2008

This is a classic use for a collection development policy. For non-library folks, this is basically a "How we decide what we're going to buy." There are all sorts of public ones out there.

The school I currently work at (private K-12, I'm the paraprofessional there, but recently finished my MLIS) is really clear: we buy things to support the academic work of the school, but we also buy things to encourage general reading, life-long learning, and other things of value to the school. (It helps that 'life-long learning' is an explicit value in the school mission statement...)

So, for example, if there are classes teaching Austen, or Bronte, or Dickens or whatever, then those things would be excellent candidates for purchase if for some reason we don't have them. But if we're *not* teaching classes involving those authors (or if those classes are only taught for a semester, and might not be repeated), we'd expect to spend most of our book budget in other ways. Likewise, we don't try to compete with the local public library systems (which are generally excellent and adequately accessible to our students) but we do buy some popular fiction, graphic novels that run more to the entertainment side, and popular magazines.

In a case where there was tension, I'd be looking for what students are reading, how that fits into the school mission (i.e. if getting them to read for pleasure is a big deal, you buy at least *some* of what they want to read on their own.) And also at what makes the most sense in terms of supporting classes (and maybe that's reference materials or literary analysis material, rather than the novels themselves.) But being able to document and point to specific needs can help a lot: it takes the argument out of "Well, you should" and starts moving it into "Well, what do you suggest that does things X and Y that are important to our collection development?"

Some things that also help us:
* A "What I read this summer" display and small prize drawing (each thing you submit is an entry, we do a $25 gift card to a local bookstore.) We leverage these to figure out what our students really read on their own.
* Displays that encourage people to pick books up and skim through them.
* A recent blog on the school Moodle site with some book lists, ideas, and favorites, that students can contribute to.
* Lots of tracking on what's circulating: the fact our fiction circulation has steadily increased is a cool thing, and we've been able to document it clearly.
posted by modernhypatia at 7:58 PM on January 20, 2008

Ultimately it's a compromise - you get some of the books you want, they get some of the books they want. And books do wear out and get damaged, necessitating replacement.

Definitely keep track of what students are reading. Another thing is to ask the students what they would like to read - I wouldn't be surprised if some of your choices are on their lists.

And don't forget Project Gutenberg, an incredible source of literature classics available online for free. If your school library has computers, it should have a link to their site.

Something to concider is connecting with the local public library. With many library catalogs available online, you could become an extension of their services where a student could request one of their books from your library. They bring the book back to you, along with any books their parents have borrowed and want to return.

Is there a bookmobile in your area? If your school is not on their route, you may want to ask they include it.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 7:36 AM on January 21, 2008

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