Saturday, October 16, 2010

Repost from my collection development class

I wrote this for a discussion post in my collection development class, and thought it worthy of cross-posting here.  It's probably the result of me still being riled up from banned books week and I don't know how logical it will be considering I left work early with a fever yesterday and I'm still a bit under the weather, but I'm burning up all over again with fervor!  Vive la liberte intellectuelle! 

Slightly off-topic, but I was surprised to find both the textbook and Rose Anjejo's article using as an example of common selection statements a statement regarding not selecting items of a violent nature.  I thought collection development policies were supposed to protect libraries from attempts at censorship--not justify it!  I suppose this is where the problem of ambiguity comes in.  The librarians writing these policies might have very well intended to exclude only extremely violent materials from its collection, but I could see patrons using that criteria as support for challenging a lot of books.  I've received a complaint about a picture book of little red riding hood being too violent, for example.  Indeed almost all fairy tales would be excluded from a library that avoids selecting 'violent' materials. 

What about young adult novels that are extremely violent, but are themselves protests against war and violence, such as the Hunger Games and Chaos Walking trilogies?  (For an interesting blog on the topic, see Educating AliceHunger Games  was recently challenged for its violence, and while I do not deny the violent nature of the books I do question the wisdom of not educating our children about the violence and horrible consequences that can arise from war, especially in today's society where no matter how many books you ban children are going to be exposed to plenty of violence through other mediums.  At least in these books violence has consequences and it's not cleaned up or glorified. 

What about violent books of literary merit, such as A Clockwork Orange?  There's been a bit of a scandal about the violence of this book because the actor who plays Ron chose it to pose with in the ALA's new trio of Harry Potter read posters.  A Clockwork Orange is one of my favorite books and while it is 'ultra' violent it is not without purpose.  It raises what I consider to be a very important and fascinating argument about free choice and the nature of goodness--an argument that would not be half as effective without its extreme use of violence.  Personally I think parents are fretting a bit much over this choice because it's pretty self-regulating in that the future slang that it is written in with catches of Russian words can be pretty difficult to get through, which means that if you're at a reading level advanced enough to get through it you're probably mature enough for its content.

But how do you judge whether or not a book has enough literary merit to justify its violence?  And should you even try to do so?  Trying to prevent children from being exposed to violence is certainly a losing battle these days.  Personally I'm in favor of getting children interested in reading, no matter the choice.  For example, neither the librarian nor I at my school really like graphic novels (I'm just not a visual person and end up scanning all the text bubbles, which naturally doesn't lead to a satisfying experience)  but we are making a point to develop our graphic novel collection at the moment, despite occasional parent complaints about it.  We both feel that getting children to read is the first task, and if that's what does it, so be it.  I'm also not so egotistical as to think that my own personal judgment of what's good is the final word on the matter, to each his own has always been my motto (Raganathan would back me up--every book its reader!) 

To bring this back to collection development policies this proves how important it is to consider the wording of your policies to prevent it from being used as a weapon against you.  The trick is to make it detailed enough to be useful, but not so detailed that it quickly becomes obsolete.  I suppose you could go into the specific criteria that would make a book violent enough to be excluded (because most books have at least some degree of violence in them) but I'd question the wisdom of including a clause like this at all.  I'd stick to criteria that can be more objectively applied such as accuracy, authority, and timeliness.  Judgments on the moral character of a book such as violence or use of bad words (what's a 'bad' word--does anyone else remember the 'scrotum' scandal from Higher Power of Lucky?) do not have any place in a collection development policy as far as I'm concerned.

Anjejo, Rose. (2006). Collection Development Policies for Small Libraries. PNLA Quarterly, 70, 12-16.

Evans, G. E. & Saponaro, M. Z. (2005).  Developing library and information center collections. Libraries Unlimited: Westport, CT. 

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