Central Bucks School Board is weighing changing district policy to remove library books that have brought controversy in recent months.
Melissa Burger, k-12 library coordinator for the district, conducted an information session for the board to shed light on the various ways the district can remove a book from the library.
“I want to make a point of clarification, that at any given point of time, a person could find a material controversial,” she said. “There are so many books that have been challenged that if we base our decisions on what is controversial, we would be censoring our material.”
“You know what I meant,” board member Sharon Collopy responded after saying there is ‘no excuse’ for not knowing there is controversy about a book before it is brought into the collection. “So don’t talk to me about ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ and other controversial books and book banning. You know darn well what books I’m talking about – ‘Lawn Boy’ and all the others that have graphic sexual content. That’s what I’m talking about.”
The information session came on the heels of campaigns by parents and community members to remove books they deem inappropriate for students, such as “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison. The session was hoped to be transparent in the district’s dealings with controversial books.
When several parents signal a book that may be too inappropriate for their children, they can start with conferring with a librarian about the material, giving them the ability to sign a waiver for their child to be unable to check out the books. If that doesn’t satisfy the parent, they can escalate the issue to the coordinator or further up the line, which will trigger a longer book review process.
This longer review requires librarians and administrators to create a reconsideration committee to read the book entirely, confer with trusted professional review resources that analyze the book’s contents, and then determine if the book’s content reaches the threshold of lacking educational or literary merit. Even then, the book may be moved to a higher school library or stay where it was placed initially. Removal is one of several outcomes of the review.
But one thing is sure; a parental complaint does not immediately lead to the swift removal of a book. School districts are aware of the students’ freedom of speech in their choice of reading materials, as previous court rulings have indicated. The Pennsylvania Department of Education developed this process in conjunction with the American Association of School Librarians (AASL,) who have set the national standards and policies for retaining their libraries’ collections.
Board member Leigh Vlasblom asked if the district has a process to review books before they are acquired, saying, “This is not about removing books that don’t align with my personal set of values – this is about a book that you wouldn’t allow a child to stand up in class and read aloud.” Vlasblom said she wants the board to move away from the narrative that they “want to burn books”’ and instead move to end stocking of books that may go against common sense.
The president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the AASL, Laura Ward, wrote in an email to this news organization about the controversy in the community: “As an association, PSLA (Pennsylvania School Librarians Association) is opposed to censorship and any effort to coerce belief or suppress opinion by removing books from school libraries.”
The association says it is committed to supporting libraries and library workersand that they uphold the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom to read and learn for all library users.
“As school librarians, we realize that not every book is for every reader,” she wrote. “We work with parents and caregivers to identify suitable reading material for their individual children, whatever the situation may be.”