As most of you know, I work in a school library. Now, aswell as having material to support the curriculum, we stock items that appeal and will broaden the pupil’s thinking. We keep the Simpson’s books because they are visually appealing, quite informative, tackle some sensitive subjects in a manner the children can appreciate and will get children who hate reading to pick up a book. In the sixth form library we keep a book on intelligent design which is stored in the religion and ethics section and is used for the Science in Society module. We stock the book not because we necessarily believe in it but because it is a subject that the children will be exposed to somewhere in their lives.
My premise is – if it gets them reading then I’ll consider stocking it. We had one child who was only interested in motocross so I duly purchased the MOTOX magazine and from there he progressed to nonfiction books on the subject and then to small novels. I do draw the line at some things, such as Penthouse! Gratuitous sex and material without a visible educational value can take its place on other shelves. That is my form of censorship. With school libraries there is a very fine line between censorship and stocking what is suitable.
We are extremely lucky to have three libraries, one for each key stage, and a couple of years ago I was challenged in my decision to keep Malorie Blackman‘s Noughts and Crosses series in the key stage 3 library. She, I am sure, will be horrified to learn of this, but probably not overly surprised. They are a superb set of books that deal with a racially segregated society. Because of the content we have highlighted the second+ book in the series as being suitable for Year 9s although we will allow lower years to read the books provided they can provide a letter of approval from their parents. Personally, I would let all the children have access to it, but then I would have the Year 7 and 8 parents up in arms and I am, at the end of the day, not the children’s parents, but their temporary guardian. Certain protocols have to be adhered to.
However, this past month has seen another of my choices challenged. Namely the stocking of a particular mid-market newspaper in the sixth form (key stage 5) library. We have all the broadsheets available, but it is this one paper which is the sticking point. The original argument was that we should not be seen to ‘endorse’ this particular paper. But then we don’t ‘endorse’ a lot of the books on our shelves. I am a Jain but I would never, ever remove the other religious texts we have on the shelves. I am a vegetarian but our cookery section is full of meat recipes; we have whole section on farming, hunting and shooting; we keep literature on the Army, Navy and RAF even though we do not advocate war; there are books on military warfare; books on a whole variety of subjects that it is important for the children to access. The important thing is that from the very first day that they start in our school we give them the tools to appraise the literature in a critical fashion, to not believe everything that is presented to them and to question everything.
In the sixth form the students studying politics, media studies, social studies, etc have to have access to the broad spectrum of news that the general public is exposed to, and evaluate the content for themselves. There is enough spoon-feeding that goes on and we need to equip children with the means to assess information rather than stifle them. Their fragile, growing, greedy minds need strengthening and refusing them access to material we might deem ‘rubbish’ is not the way to do it.
I stand by Voltaire’s famous misquote and will defend the children’s right to read that particular paper. I just hope they take it with a pinch of salt.