The Self-Censored School Library:
Safe Haven or Barren Philosophical Wasteland?
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them,” posited Ray Bradbury, author of the critically acclaimed Fahrenheit 451 detailing a society wrought with regular book burnings and a complete suppression of ideas. This quote exemplifies the threat that censorship poses to the reading habits of young people, a threat that is ever present in the school library. School media specialists face a challenge in cultivating a collection of materials that will entice young readers who, on average, resist reading. Add to that a librarian who self-censors, chooses not to include popular yet controversial books, and there is the potential to alienate teenage student readers altogether. Books have long been a safe environment where students are able to explore, through literature, complicated issues concerning morality and ethics with lower risk than in real life. If censorship becomes a mainstay of the school library, whether imposed by the community or by the selective librarian, there is great potential for the student body to suffer the effects.
In order to understand the effects that censorship has on students one must first consider its definition and a brief exploration of its root cause in school libraries. Defined as the “changing or the suppression or prohibition of speech or writing that is condemned as subversive of the common good,” censorship is not a new idea. Luckily, in the enlightened 21st century, there are procedures in school and public libraries that must be followed in order to request that a book be taken out of circulation. The content that draws the most ire from concerned parents and community members has likely changed dramatically over the last century; however, there will always be people in the community who feel that there needs to be tighter control over what students are able to read.
The American Library Association maintains a Challenge Database in which they collate challenge forms and categorize the information. From 1990 to 2009, the predominant reason for
challenges of books in schools stemmed from sexually explicit content followed closely by offensive language and content deemed unsuitable for the intended age group. The majority of challenges that were catalogued occurred in classrooms followed, by narrow margin, by school libraries. The school library media specialist faces a difficult road in navigating the pressures that exist when a challenge arises. According to an interview with a junior high school librarian in “A Dirty Little Secret: Self-Censorship” by Debra Lau Whelan, deciding what materials to include in a school library collection can be an arduous task: “‘I literally think about it every day,’ he says. ‘I’ve had friends who’ve lost their jobs, had their marriages destroyed, developed mental and physical illnesses due to the stress of having their...