Q&A: Patrons Ask; Librarians Answer: Will you really let my kid read whatever they want?

Librarians fight for your freedom to read. Read this to learn why.

Summary of a conversation I had this week: 

Parent: My kid said you will let him read whatever he wants! Is that true? 

Me: The short answer?  Yeah.  Anything available to the public he is allowed to borrow. 

Parent reply: He's only 9 years old! The library is full of subjects he is not mature enough for yet! You are going to let him borrow anything!?!?!

Me: As long as he checks it out with his library card... yeah, pretty much. 

So I gave the parent a very long explanation of why a child is allowed to borrow anything they want in a library. I'm sure you want the long version too. But that's a lot to read, so I'm summarizing it into two basic points.


  1. The public library doesn't censor materials because you have a right to free access to information. All of you. Your kids too. I repeat YOU. HAVE. THE. RIGHT. TO. FREE. ACCESS. TO. INFORMATION.  Don't believe me check out this link: Library Bill of Rights.  So does this mean I'm recommending materials to your children that are not age-appropriate? No, no of course not.  We recommend age-appropriate materials to our patrons so they have the best library experience.  So no worries, if your kid asks for scary movies I'm recommending Scooby Doo, not Saw.  Disclaimer: If your kid asks for something specific, I will give him his specific request, because I don't censor.  So if your kid asks for Stephen King, he is coming home with
  2. It is my job to fight for your freedom to read. Actually, it's my passion and the passion of mild-mannered librarians everywhere.  We don't mind if you decide a specific subject, author, or book is not a good choice for your family. Librarians will happily help you find something enjoyable that stays true to your family's values. BUT when people decide their values must be enforced upon others, and that the materials they find objectionable must be removed from the library, we librarians morph from mild-mannered storytellers and fine collectors into...

Why? Because again: YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO FREE ACCESS TO INFORMATION!  It is your job to decide what materials are best for your family. Not mine, and not anyone else’s. The public library holds materials of different subjects and tastes for everyone. It is the passion of the Book Avengers to make sure it stays that way.

Are you thinking we librarians take this Book Avengers stuff a bit too far; that I'm being a bit overdramatic?  Okay well maybe a little bit, but the fight is real folks. Hundreds of books get challenged (that means people are trying to have them removed from libraries and bookstores) and banned (the book was successfully removed from libraries and bookstores) every year by individuals/groups who are offended by its content. Here are just a few examples:

This is based on a TRUE story about penguins in the New York Central Park Zoo. It is a story about two male penguins who raise a baby together. This book was the MOST challenged book of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010  (it won 2nd place in 2009) because a conservative political group called it "a misleading... disingenuous, inaccurate way to promote a political agenda to kids."   The point that this book is based on verifiable factual events was totally irrelevant I guess. 

This is a story about a little donkey who finds a magic pebble and accidentally wishes himself into a rock. This sweet charming story was challenged because the police in the story are drawn as pigs. Cops were offended, so the book had to go. Or not. 

The story of Max traveling to the land of Wild Things has been challenged and banned for two opposing reasons: On one hand, a parent group was upset that the book glorified Max's temper tantrum, while the other group was grossly offended that his mother punished him by sending him to bed without supper. Mothers are supposed to provide food donchaknow! So the fact that mom addressed the behavior issue and provided hot soup at the end of the book is totally missed by both offended groups. 

Of course, the story of Dorothy visiting Oz is offensive. She encounters a witch, or two, or three if you count the one she dropped her house on.  But what is more horrifying to a religious group in Tennessee was that Glenda is a "good witch." They were offended by the idea that a witch could be good because that is "theologically impossible." To be fair, librarians cannot diss' anyone’s theology. But to remove this book from the library at the demand of the Tennessee group would in essence devalue those whose religious theology believed in “good witches” and those who didn't believe in witches at all.  So in respect of all theological viewpoints, the book stays; we have plenty of other books available that do not contain witches.

And my personal favorite book that was banned: 

In 2010 the Texas Education Board banned the beloved picture book about colors and animals because the author's name was Bill Martin Jr.  The overambitious board members wanted to ensure that nothing written by  Bill Martin (no relation), author of Ethical Marxism was accepted as a part of the school curriculum; so they banned EVERYTHING ever written by any author named Bill Martin. It never occurred to anyone on the board to iduhno... read a few of the books they decided to ban first. So I guess checking to see if any authors shared the same name but wrote for a different audience was also out of the realm of possibility.

You can find all of the above books in the library because the Book Avengers fought to keep them there. Without the Book Avengers fighting for your freedom to read, the above books and many others you love would be inaccessible to you. Fun books, enjoyable books, books that make you think, and yes, books that express opinions and ideals you do not agree with. So pick up one of these books and enjoy your freedom to read at any age. Your mild-mannered librarian is proud to offer them to you.