Should Librarians Ban Books or Stand Up for Freedom?

By Collection Development, General, Reading Program No Comments

Should librarians ban books that are controversial or stand up for freedom of expression?

The primary role of a library is to promote the progress of knowledge, promote love for reading and through this give people a better quality of life. Libraries are centers of all forms of learning. Scientists, artists, and philosophers have discussed, learned and grown in their fields of knowledge only because of libraries. Libraries have always witnessed controversial debate only to bring out the best of knowledge.

Looking back into history there has been many classics and other novels that have been banned at schools and in many countries. More often than not, books with sexual content, profanity, offensive language, stories based on chemical abuse (drugs), satanic themes, religious preferences have been subject to complaints and have pressured librarians not to include such content in the schools. Sometimes, it is the plot or the characters’ viewpoint that impacts morality making it the contention for books to be banned.

Robert A. Heinlein said about censorship: “The whole principle is wrong; it’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t eat steak.” A library is a venue to provide the users with all forms of information and not control it in any way, even if librarians do not like or agree with some of the content.

You may argue, that the librarians have a moral duty to their students and therefore needs to carefully curate books and help them have a balanced approach to all forms of knowledge. And, on the other hand, we do want our students to think, make informed decisions and choices, have an opportunity to discuss, learn, and find solutions to the problems that may have cropped up in the story.

In Rodney A. Smolla research paper, “Freedom of Speech for Libraries and Librarians” she says, “Like art museums, libraries will be among the repositories of knowledge and culture in a modern society that can expect to find themselves under increasing pressure to serve as society’s censors.” And as librarians, we must have the courage to fight against censorship. Here are some examples of books that were banned at one time or the other.

To kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple was banned for a while because it was said to promote racial discrimination and racial hatred. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was considered immoral and for having sacrilegious content. Harry Potter series was deemed to be anti-family, violent, and satanic. Another classic, Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck, was banned because of profanity. Looking For Alaska by John Green as taken away from libraries for “offensive language” and “sexually explicit content.”

Recently, a group of parents and teachers talked about banning fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, and other such tales which had wicked plots and made step parents and abandoning of children, unnerving plots and they believed that these stories created a negative impact on little children. So, where do we stop and what do librarians do?

Do we become strong and stand up for freedom of knowledge by supporting challenging options, when adding books to our collection? Do we introduce students to LGBTQ books? Do we create an open society of communication and individual rights or do we shun them under hypocrisy and fear? Do we provide an opportunity for healthy discussion and openmindedness, where students can learn and discuss? Or close their minds under the garb of protecting them. What do we do? Do we begin to have an open discussion with parents and share our rationale with them? Do we trust our children to be intelligent enough to have a rational discussion or think of them to be dumb witted? Do we stand up for a reason or given in to being the nurturing and protective agents? Here is a list of books that were banned in India. And here is a list of LGBTQ Books and here is a list of controversial books you might want to have in your library.

Genrefication – What and Why?

By Collection Development, General No Comments

This term genrefication was created in the Urban Dictionary in 2008 and is defined as an exercise of classifying books, magazines, films into specific genres or categories. Genrefication of the collection started with an intent to help users locate the resources speedily. This genrefication first started in bookstores and music stores, the owners classified music according to the genre, for example, all the romantic songs were categorized under Romance,  rock music was categorized as – Hard Metal, Rock and Roll and others. The same genrefication process found its’ way in bookstores, all mysteries were clubbed together, while mythology and religious texts were classified in one area and so were self-help books, making it easier for every reader. This helped customers locate what they were looking for efficiently and speedily.

Looking at the successes with bookstores and music stores, librarians decided to break a few conventions of the traditional Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC)  rules to accommodate and popularize the libraries. Schools and college libraries now started categorising fiction and nonfiction books to meet the needs of the school.

In my school, in the Elementary Section, we separated the picture books, series of fiction, comic or graphic novels, mysteries, historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction from the formal DDC that we had followed in the past. In the Secondary Section of our school, we classified the fiction into various genres ranging it from realistic fiction, sports fiction, historical fiction, mystery, supernatural, science fiction, fantasy, biographies, adult Indian Fiction. We divided our collection into a few genres and not all. We continued to also maintain the Dewey Decimal Classification for the nonfiction books.

Genres Examples – CC

By doing this we noticed that students were able to get to the titles quickly, they had more time to browse the blurbs of the stories and were able to quickly identify the books in the series.

Yes, it was a big task, rearranging the books, it was a big project that we librarians had undertaken and took a couple of months. But it helped students access the books that are purchased for their learning. Teachers too found it easier to locate the resources for teaching and supporting student learning. Susanne has very well defined and discussed the pros and cons on her website.

According to my experience, I noticed:

  1. Children were becoming more independent and could locate similar-books of their interests
  2. Children were comfortably recommending and taking ownership of the library as their space
  3. Circulation of books increased
  4. Students could easily identify genres and eager to try new genres
  5. The library looked different and better
  6. Book talks became more natural and fun to share with children.
  7. A friendly and comfortable environment for students to access books

Should you want to genrefy your collection and want to discuss, you are welcome to email me.

Weeding Books

By Collection Development, Librarian's Role, School Libraries No Comments
Weeding Books

Books by Toby Hudson, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Weeding books – What’s that? What does that mean and why is it important and how much to weed are questions every librarian struggles with. According to Jeanette Larson, who has over thirty years of experience in various libraries says that “Weeding is the systematic removal of resources from a library based on selected criteria. It is the opposite of selecting material, though the selection and de-selection of material often involve the same thought process. Weeding is a vital process for an active collection because it ensures the collection stays current, relevant, and in good condition. Weeding should be done on a continuous, on-going basis.“.

If we accept her claim, it becomes necessary for librarians to review their collection regularly. The most popular acronym used in weeding is:

MUSTIE the crew method
M = If books have misleading and/or factually inaccurate information
U = Ugly, yellow, faded and cannot be mended
S = Superseded, that means there is a better and new version of the book
T = Trivial and has no discernible literary or scientific merit
I = Irrelevant to the needs and interests of your community
E = The material or information that can be obtained through other means electronic format or library loads.

However, there are books weeded based on time.  It is often said, that if the books are not circulated in three or five years, it is time to find a new home for the resources. However, classics, award-winning book, books about local history and geography, stories by local writers, books gifted or local literature are often maintained until they become MUSTIE.

Encyclopediae are always a question for Librarians. There is a lot of money invested in it, so it becomes very painful to get rid of them. In this age of the internet, I believe, that print encyclopedia does not play a vital role in the Library and if fact, it could easily be replaced by the internet and a computer since both costs almost the same. And, it is believed that if the encyclopedia is over ten years old, it’s information becomes irrelevant.

Different subjects areas have different shelf lives. Resources under subject areas like technology, medicine, media, agriculture, careers, and sciences like biology, engineering often are regularly updated. Therefore, copyright of these books beyond 3-5 years must be checked and weeded. While the arts, history, geography, children’s literature, biographies could be targetted to 10 years. However, if they look shoddy and pale, you may want to weed that too.

I think the hardest job for librarians is to weed the collection especially our favorite subject areas and other favorite books. However, for the library collection to stay relevant and fresh, it is necessary to set some time during the year to weed out the resources. Yes, every year, it is time to say goodbye to some of the resources.

And, then the question arises, how much to weed? I would say weed according to the criteria, even if it means to have fewer books in your library. Stacking books on our shelves in your library does not make the library relevant and useful. If no one is using the resources, why keep them? Isn’t the library supposed to be a learning place for our users? No educational institutes should have a bookkeeper and a library of irrelevant resources!

Electronic resources that are not relevant must be weeded out too.  I can almost hear some librarians say, OMG, we’ve spent so much time and money in procuring these resources – but as Ranganathan said – What use are the resources if they are not in the hands of the users?