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July 16, 2012


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Nat FInney

I'm sympathetic to your desire to moderate your daughter's transition to adulthood, and think it speaks very well of you. I'm also a little fanatical about libraries and control (or absence thereof) of the dissemination of literature, film, etc. [Full disclosure - I was not closely supervised when I was young, and when I was the supervision philosophy was quite permissive. I saw Apocalypse Now when it first hit cable, by myself, and read The Happy Hooker and Fear of Flying at what most would consider an inappropriate age.] That said, as a society we've already agreed that certain things are not appropriate for minors to view, and so that aspect of the debate is resolved in practical terms. It wouldn't be any change in philosophical position to require parental permission or provide parental notification for age-restricted video material. There are all manner of issues on which we make a distinction between adult and sub-adult; opinion, political and social views and religious beliefs are not among those issues, which leads me to a blanket opposition to restricting the distribution of printed literature. (It would be easiest, of course, if the library had the good form not to stock non-literature erotica.) You're walking a tightrope, aren't you? Bet you never thought you'd be having this conversation with yourself (or your friends) 20 years ago!

Nat FInney

(Oh - I'd also favor skipping the movie. You don't need a depressing film most days, and nobody wants to watch sexy stuff with their parents....)


Another librarian chiming in - this is an issue that I care about deeply.

The censorship issue is a huge one, and I'm very firmly in the camp that says other than supporting governmentally-legislated access restrictions, libraries should *never* have the power to decide who has access to which materials. You have made a comparison to selling tobacco and alcohol. The difference is that it is illegal to sell such things to a minor. Film ratings are merely recommendations.

The other issue here is that of duty of care. Librarians are not substitute parents. We are not teachers, who do have some parental powers over minors. We are the people who keep the books. Period. If a parent doesn't want a child to read or watch something, it is that parent's duty to enforce their wishes, in the same way that it is a parent's duty to make sure that a toddler doesn't go wandering out of the kids' room in the library.

It is a terrifying thing to suddenly discover that parents (not you!) think they can just leave their kids alone in the library for hours, assuming that the librarians will be looking after them. We're not babysitters! Where I am, at least, most libraries are having to do more work with fewer staff. There aren't enough people to do the regular work, much less take responsibility for children, having had no training in such work.

Forgive me if this comes across as overly vehement - it's hard to convey tone while typing!

If you are concerned about your daughter borrowing and watching mature films, why not simply ask her to check the rating on the box before she borrows it? From what I've read of your kids on your blog, they are responsible enough to respect your wishes. :)


Just to clarify: it's not the library staff that would want to censor or limit -- the vast majority of librarians are as adamant about that as I am -- but other parents and, worse, city council members. Those book challenges don't come from librarians, but from people who think they should be able to make decision on what other people's children should read, based on their own beliefs.

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