It seems inevitable. Each spring the swallows return to Capistrano, baseball season begins, azaleas bloom, and book-banners stumble out of their caves and narrow their eyes in the direction of the school library.
I believe book challenges occur in greater numbers in the spring because parents have built up a store of unhappiness, resentment, and/or feelings of powerlessness earlier in the year and tend to lash out during the second semester. In junior high and high school the books get edgier just as parents are feeling less in control. If you are dealing with full-blown-book-banner-nutter-dom (as opposed to an interested parent who talks to the librarian about their concerns) you just have to ride the wave and hope your principal and district follow policy. Realize that it has very little to do with THE BOOK and everything to do with the parent's neediness.
In the interest of forestalling book challenges, as this new school year begins, ask yourself these questions:
1. Do your students look forward to their time in the library?
2. Do you interact with your students while they look for books? This means you have to leave the check-out desk. I know, this is hard if you do not have an aide or volunteers.
3. Do you get to know the kids' interests and reading strengths? They love it when someone takes a personal interest.
4. Do your students recognize you in the hall? Do they know your name? (added: Do you recognize them in the hall and do you know their names?)
5. Do parents hear about the "very cool" things you are doing in the library from their kids?
6. Do you take the opportunity to speak to the PTA or other parent groups at your campus about your program? They always need speakers. Volunteer! If they have paid for you to attend a workshop or conference, give them a report and send a thank you note.
7. Does the library have a presence on the school website? Do you contribute to the school newsletter regularly? These are PR opportunities made in Heaven.
8. Do you read the books so you can book talk at the drop of a hat with passion and enthusiasm to students, parents and teachers?
9. Do your teachers rely on you for recommendations and support in the classroom?
If you answer yes to these questions, you are an "A Plus" librarian and you probably enjoy the support and affection of your students, parents and teachers. You still may end up with a book challenge but lots of folks are going to think the complainer doesn't have enough to do with their time and lots of them will be in your corner.
1. Are you an "in-the-office" librarian, only focusing on the administrative aspects of the job behind a closed door?
2. Do you try to have as little personal contact with the kids as possible?
3. Does your reading aloud performance (this applies to secondary school too) communicate a desire to be anywhere else, maybe in the dentist chair having a root canal?
4. Have you ever put a teacher to sleep during a lesson?
5. Are your faculty members afraid of you? If the answer is yes, does that make you happy?
6. Are the kids afraid of you? If the answer is yes, does that make you happy?
7. Do you black out the "bad" words in the books on your shelves?
If you answer yes to these questions you might want to re-evaluate your mission. I could warn you about book challenges but you probably already a stack of "problem" books on your desk.
I salute the librarians who work so hard to teach important research skills, stoke young people's imaginations and instill a love of books and reading in their students.
Your joy and passion for your job is contagious.
Have a wonderful school year.
Clip art from School of Library Science, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX