[Libs-Or] March 2019 Tuesday Topic: When it’s not your (library’s) book being banned.

Miranda Doyle doylem at loswego.k12.or.us
Tue Mar 26 08:37:17 PDT 2019

Welcome to Tuesday Topics, a monthly series covering topics with
intellectual freedom implications for libraries of all types. Each message
is prepared by a member of OLA's Intellectual Freedom Committee or a guest
writer. Questions can be directed to the author of the topic or to the IFC
committee <http://www.olaweb.org/contact-ifc>.

March 2019 Tuesday Topic: When it’s not your (library’s) book being banned.

The phrase “banned books” usually leads librarians to think about
challenges to items held in school or public libraries. However,  many
challenges instead target books and materials in the K-12 school
curriculum. For example, a parent or community member may object to a
particular novel read by entire classes.

Books such as “The Catcher in the Rye”, “The Color Purple”, and “Of Mice
and Men” have been frequent targets and have been removed from schools in
the past. In Oregon, Sherman Alexie’s “Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time
Indian” was removed from the high school
 in Crook County in 2008, and the same book has been challenged in Grants
Sweet Home
and Lake
Oswego <https://pamplinmedia.com/component/content/article?id=7383> as
recently as 2014 (without success). “The Handmaid’s Tale” was challenged in
2015 as an assigned book for students in an AP English class at Albany High
but was retained.

Most districts have an approval process for any materials used in the
curriculum, called the “adoption” process. Textbooks and novels are usually
listed on the school board agenda, made available for review by the public
during a comment period, and finally approved or rejected by the school

Library books, on the other hand - where students choose a title for
themselves, rather than as an assignment - fall under the library’s
collection development policy, and library staff do not need school board
approval for each item purchased. There is a clear distinction between
“independent reading”  (each student chooses a book from the school or
classroom library) and “assigned reading” (every student in a class or
small group reads the same novel).

Most districts also have a policy that allows parents/guardians to “opt
out” their own students from classroom assignments. Students in the class
may be assigned a book to read, but students whose parents/guardians object
are able to choose a different novel or do an alternative assignment. For
curriculum materials (such as the health/sex education curriculum)
parents/guardians may choose to have their student leave the classroom
during certain lessons.

However, sometimes parents or community members want something entirely
removed from the curriculum. This may be a book or materials such as
textbooks, films, activities, worksheets, etc. The challenger may also
demand that the title be removed from the library, though this is not
always the case. This is an intellectual freedom issue because one person
or group attempts to decide for all students, not just their own children.

To address challenges to books and materials in the curriculum, as well as
independent reading selections, groups such as the National Council of
Teachers of English have adopted policies and guidelines:

National Council of the Teachers of English on the Student’s Right to Read

NCTE Guidelines for Dealing with Censorship

The Oregon State Library encourages library staff to report any challenges
to intellectual freedom issues– including challenges to curriculum that may
be occurring outside the library. No identifying information will be
published and they may submit incident reports anonymously. Here’s the
reporting link: https://libguides.osl.state.or.us/oifc/report.

So why do librarians care when school curriculum materials are challenged
or removed, especially in cases where the book in question is still
available in the school library? The simple answer is that our own Bill of
Rights <http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill> calls us to do
so. Article VI states “Libraries should cooperate with all persons and
groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free
access to ideas.” Cooperating with those teacher colleagues with whom we
most closely work seems like a great place to begin.

But if “because ALA says I should” is not enough reason to care about
curriculum censorship, consider these points: Opposing censorship in school
curriculum sends a clear message to the students we serve that we support
their right to read, in AND out of the library. It also creates a
tremendous learning opportunity to help these future voters understand the
importance of intellectual freedom, helping to guarantee its defense in
future generations. Furthermore, supporting our teacher colleagues through
such challenges increases the likelihood of garnering their support for
challenges of library materials. Doing so also helps strengthen the message
that school librarians don’t work just in their own silo, but care deeply
about and are intentionally integrated into the entire educational process.

And ultimately, because if we care about intellectual freedom, we don’t
care about it only in our libraries, but in all of society. School
curriculum is often a flashpoint for intellectual freedom and censorship
issues. We can work with our teachers and faculty members to oppose
censorship and ensure that students have opportunities to read freely, and
to read materials that may be controversial.

Miranda Doyle

OLA Intellectual Freedom Committee member

District Librarian, Lake Oswego School District

doylem at loswego.k12.or.us

Steve Silver

OLA Intellectual Freedom Committee member

Library Director, Northwest Christian University

ssilver at nwcu.edu
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