Monday, September 6, 2010

Protecting a Perceived Innocence

To protect the innocence of young people is to assume that young people are actually innocent. Those individuals and groups that advocate for the protection of young adults through censorship and book challenges are only protecting a perceived innocence, one which seems to be at odds with reality. These groups seek to oppose the tenants of intellectual freedom to protect a teenage population from texts which simply portray the reality in which they live and develop. To ban these texts would be to ban life experience, voiding it of all challenges that encourage intellectual growth and development.

Does the demand for young adult literature with realistic accounts of life and the corresponding request for censorship on such texts tell us something about the dichotomous relationship between what teens need and what complainants perceive is needed? Of course it does. Young adult fiction is still a relatively young body of literature and as such it is still attempting to stand on some unstable ground. Teens yearn for certain stories and characters while parents, guardians, and teachers are still trying to protect young people from such stories. Libraries and classrooms often become small battlegrounds on which freedoms are contested from both sides: the freedom for young people to read what interests them, and the freedom of adults to try and protect them from perceived threats in the texts.

What seems to be missing here is parental understanding of the role of school and public libraries, namely, to provide texts for everyone regardless of how some texts might be viewed by others. I have spoken with a number of librarians over the last month and I have gathered a number of quotations. These librarians wish to remain anonymous so I will not provide names (in case someone wonders if I'm just making them up):

“The library is meant to serve the reading tastes of the entire community, not just one segment. Since we have gay teens that frequent the library, to be a truly democratic institution, we must have titles that they request and that reflect their belief and ideals.”

“I tell people that if we don’t have something in the collection that offends and individual I am not doing my job of developing a balanced collection”

“People who do not have teenagers are frequently the most outspoken and concerned about protecting the perceived innocence of our youth”
“I don’t think we really consider sexuality in the text when making a decision, because we want a variety of materials in the collection.”

“We have some kids who are hungry to see themselves in this literature and others who love a good story regardless of the sexuality or the characters.”

Judging from these clips, I think it's fairly obvious that a lot of people seem to be misunderstanding the role of libraries, viewing them as large collections of books that shouldn't offend and should only cater to certain groups. But being publicly funded, it is the responsibility of libraries to carry materials for all audiences.

Thanks for listening.


  1. Rob: QUOTE = verb; QUOTATION = noun.... sorry, I just can't help myself...

  2. But of course, astute and provocative commentary....

  3. (Words do change and "quote" is now often considered a noun. It is even in some dictionaries as such. I just checked Merriam Webster and it is listed as both a verb and a noun).

    Anyway, I enjoyed your post Rob! I think far too often adults don't respect, or at the very least underestimate, the maturity and intelligence of youth.

  4. Edited for you, Karyn. Though I have to agree that I've seen "quote" used as a noun in a number of other places.