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Hello Google Plus-ers -
I'm so happy we are having this discussion! As you may remember, I was an outspoken critic of self-censorship on the listserve. In fact, that conversation prompted me to decide to give a presentation at the next conference about censorship.

But last year on the SLANZA listserve, there seemed to be a lot more diversity of opinion. Many people explained how and why they self-censored. Others disagreed.

This year's discussion is thoughtful and informed (thanks, everyone) but not diverse. So now I'm worried that the Google Plus community is filled with people from only one side of the issue. Where are the people who wanted to protect students from explicit sex scenes in books? I'm not sure if a) they're not on Google Plus or b) they're reticent to speak up now that the discussion has established its direction.

Anyway, here's my story on fighting self-censorship within myself:
Last year I bought 2 biographies of Hillary Clinton, assuming she would be the next president.
She lost.
I feel like I 'should' buy a biography of Donald Trump, but I can't bring myself to do it.
I realise that my own political beliefs (I moved here from America 12 years ago) are influencing my book purchases, which is just another form of self-censorship!
Fortunately, the book was out of print. Whew! Crisis averted.
Now, the book is available again ... but I still haven't bought it. I keep telling myself that:
1. we're a GIRLS school, so I was buying Hillary books solely due to her being the first FEMALE president (we have books about Helen Clark, but not John Key or Bill English)
2. the library never had any George W. Bush bios, so it's not like we always buy one of the current president
3. everybody already knows about Donald Trump from the incessant press coverage and they don't really need a book about him
4. if they do want to know about him, god knows there is plenty on the internet.
5. its likely he will get kicked out of office for doing something illegal and won't ever serve the full 4 years
Conclusion : I have still not bought a Donald Trump biography.


Week Two: Going deeper
This week's article has made me question what definition we are using for 'self-censorship' - what I have always called 'censorship by selection'. I like the definition put forward in this article 'Censorship takes place anytime a book is removed from its intended audience'. So, are we overthinking some of our decisions? Do we simply need to ask ourselves who this book was written for, and then use that as our guide when we decide whether to buy it or not? It is stated in this article that a challenged book can lead to a school librarian losing their job, their marriage, even their health! Aren't we lucky that that is an unlikely scenario here in NZ?

Week One: Framing the question
If I had my way the 'Diary of a wimpy kid' series would be consigned to the skip! I think it is normalizing bullying, poorly written, and I really dislike it. But I keep it because there is a readership for it at my school. That doesn't prevent me from trying to steer them onto something else though! And what about all the other questionably written books (eg Twilight - what was the editor doing when that book came across their desk??) that are on our shelves? If we are going to 'censor by selection', where do we draw the line? I have just withdrawn three books in James Patterson's 'Bookshots' series, because they are more erotica than fiction. The reason I have taken them off is because we bought them for our ESOL readers (International students) as adult stories written in simpler language, and for this readership they aren't appropriate - they don't meet the selection criteria we have articulated in our collection development policy - but I didn't realize that until I read them. Their parents are never going to see them, or read them, so will not be complaining. But I know my students, many of them are sheltered and less mature than Kiwi kids, and so I feel I have a duty of care to ensure that they aren't blind-sided by content they weren't expecting. Am I protecting them? Acting in 'loco parentis'? Probably, but for this specific group I think I need to. I know there is other content out in the main collection that is similar but I don't want it in a collection we are directing these students to. (And I know that some of my donated Spanish books are dodgy, but I'm not too worried about those either!).

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Week two: Going deeper

It is useful at this stage to be reminded of Ranganathan’s five laws of library science and to keep these in mind as we look at the issue of self-censorship by librarians a little deeper.

Ranganathan’s five laws of library science:
1. Books are for use.
2. Every reader his / her book.
3. Every book its reader.
4. Save the time of the reader.
5. The library is a growing organism

Read the article below from the School Library Journal. As you read, jot down any questions the article raises or any thoughts that you have - you don’t have to share these. However, your notes may help you answer the questions that follow or you many want to ask your questions of the group to see if they can provide you with answers.

Article: A Dirty, Little Secret: Self-censorship by Debra Lau Whelan

Start a new post discussing these questions. You may answer as many or as few as you like. Feel free to ask any questions the article raised for you. Take time to read what others have posted and respond in the comments.

- How do you think Ranganathan’s five laws relate to the issue of self-censorship by school librarians?
- Do you recognise any of the self-censorship scenarios mentioned in the article? How have you responded to these situations? Would you respond differently in the future?
- Have you ever experienced a book in your school library collection being challenged? If so, do you think this has affected they way you select books now? If not, why do you think that is (are you making ‘safe’ selections to avoid it?) and do you have a policy in place for if this happens in the future?
- Having read this article, what do you think of the listserv discussion now? Has it made you think of things differently? Or has it helped you clarify your original thoughts?
- Are there aspects of this article or Ranganathan’s laws that could be added to collection development policies to make the librarian’s role more clear?

Five laws of library science:

Week one: Framing the discussion

I'm pleased this conversation has come to light as it's been something I've been negotiating during my first year as a school librarian. While the topic hones in on sexual content, it makes me think of all the ways we influence our collections and who has access to them.

I've been getting to know the boys, to make sure our collection is relevant and interesting, and there are snags where I question a book's suitability. The boys in our library requested how-to guides for life beyond school and the book I bought includes cocktail recipes and how to mix a that okay for a school library? Yes, a student argued, it's an essential business skill when you're hosting events. Then students back-tracked by questioning the section on how to make and use a voodoo doll!

We do include "senior reads" in our collection, mostly because we have intermediate students. Students do self-regulate and tell us if the content has been of concern. Staff sometimes ask for stories that are upbeat for students, steering them away from the heavy and difficult issues. The flip-side is that books are snapped up by certain students when you take on a serious tone and explain that there is strong language or challenging content!

Based on National Library examples, I have included in our draft guidelines "only parents or legal guardians have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children to library resources, and should advise their children accordingly. School staff are unable to take responsibility for restricting individual students from accessing specific resources held by the school library." Does anyone else include this? Is it contradicting our "senior reads" section?

I'd be interested to extend this conversation to consider how we influence our communities in political and social ways. I listened to a podcast about David Lankes' Knowledge School and he brought up some interesting perspectives about libraries being non-neutral spaces and that we should be the conscience of information science and social justice. He talked about the skills necessary to deal with all of this messiness and complexity.

It's way too early into this job for me to have these things figured out, so I'm appreciating the thought-provoking questions, the means to structure this thinking... and the chance to push the edges of these ideas.

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Week one Framing the discussion

And this came through today. Worth thinking about the reasons why these books were challenged or banned and how many we have read (most of them) and how many we have in our libraries. Some titles make me cringe that they are accessable to readers. Great worthy titles that should be everywhere but therein lies the issue of our own subjectivity, beliefs and morals and how much this may affect our decision making and our right or not, to let our beliefs cloud our judgement. Censorship, challenged books, banned books all fit together, i think.

Week one: Framing the discussion
This really is a discussion with so many possibilities. Working in a year 1- 6 we are limited simply by age and maturity so obvioulsy are limited then by choice. That being said I do buy books to challenge my readers - but up to a point. My seniors would love to read all the Cherub series but I only have the first three and then I have other librarians tell me I shouldn't even have these but the students are keen. Parental, BOT, opinions do need to be considered but I as I know my students I know who is mature enough etc to deal with difficult or confronting issues. At this age, language and sexual matters are by default, off the options list. I think the key point is knowing your students and readers.

Week one: Framing the discussion

I remember following this discussion on the list last year and becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the direction it was heading in. I heaved such a sigh of relief when +Julia Smith came in and was able to voice so eloquently some of the thoughts that had been screeching around in my head. It's okay to be shocked and outraged by something, they are acceptable reactions and emotions. It's not okay, however, to make decisions that will affect others on the basis of those emotions. Collection development decisions should be made rationally and with the help of a set of guiding principles.

I think we do need to be conscious of self-censorship in school libraries. If you look around at any gathering of NZ school librarians we are not a very diverse bunch. Also, many of us work in sole charge positions. Some of us don't even have the support of library teams of TLRs. So, yes, I think we should be thinking about whether our own personal beliefs and values are affecting what we buy. Especially if we have no one else holding us to account.

I'm not sure if I have self-censored in the past. I can't possibly remember every selection decision I've ever made! However, I do think that I don't put my preferences first. Though I probably have a bit of an advantage in that respect, given that I work at a boys' school! So my buying plan is pretty simple: buy what the boys will read.

Theoretically we have a collection development policy, but it has been a long time since I have looked at it. And I'm not sure if anyone else ever has. They certainly haven't in my six years at the school. I have just stuck to my buying plan in recent years, but this discussion is a good reminder to dust off and update the policy manual!

Week one: Framing the discussion

Well reading through that was very interesting. I with held my comments last year on the list serve as I wasn't sure it was going in a positive direction. I am proud of our community for having this discussion and think it's great to revisit it.

One of my main concerns with the discussion was the fact that it was mostly talking about censoring girls reading. Maybe this is because the books we are talking about are mostly being read by the girls but still...

Sex happens, at all ages whether you like it or it if it should happen. I remember a friend having sex at year 9 and going to the family planning clinic....she wasn't a reader. She didn't make that choice because of a book. Maybe if she had read a book with sexual content in it she might have been more educated about what she was doing?

When are we supposed to learn about sex?? From who?? What is normal sex? Did you teach your kids about sex?? or did you leave it up to society and school or books?

You have to curate content for your library community that fits in with your school policy. I think this is a great time for librarians to make sure they have a collection development policy that isn't vague and that this has been discussed with the appropriate chain of command within your school....principal bot teachers etc. so everyone is on the same page. Every book is different, every reader is different.

One rule to rule them all might not work so is the book the problem? or is it the reader who needs to be educated in how to deal with what they are reading when they come across content which confuses them. Hopefully you promote a school/library culture of being able to have those discussions when needed so readers can learn how to curate their own reading and when they should have conversations about what they are reading and who to talk to about this.

I don't have the solution as I think every one of us as read a book and thought. Maybe this shouldn't be read by a ten year old! Most books at the public library are freely available to browse, or the books on your shelves at home. If kids want to get the content they can. R18 doesn't mean much on the internet!

I think the best way to figure it all out is to keep talking about it, challenge your ideas and think about why you think what you do. I know the more I think about it the more I don't have any black and white solutions because the problem is not black and white. 
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