Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Things I Never Learned in Library School: On Being a Teen Librarian 2 Weeks After the Election of Donald Trump


I knew eventually something like this would happen, I just didn’t think it would be so soon. The call came on Friday. A co-worker, her nephew took his own life. He was both black and gay and he saw the writing on the wall and he was scared. He read the news, he heard the hate, and he saw no future for himself. Just days later Trump supporters were seen praising the election results while making a Heil Hitler salute. (See: At White Supremacist Meeting: Nazi Salutes, Heil Hitler Chants ; White Nationalists Quote Nazi Propaganda, Salute Donald Trump)


Last night I went for a walk with The Teen. We walked long and far as she told me how sad she was about the racist things she was seeing and hearing in the middle school.

Why don’t you go back to where you came from? . . . .

I can’t wait until we build that wall . . . .

You are a terrorist . . .


Another friend reported that last week there were 2 sexual incidences at work. In one, an employee asked maintenance to get them a garbage can and they replied, “No, I’d rather see your tits.” In another, someone said a sexually assaultive remark and replied, “That’s just how men talk.” (See: Trump’s ‘locker room talk’ ; Donald Trump, ‘Locker-Room Talk’ and Sexual Assault)


In the meantime, Donal Trump has met with the press and is already attempting to attack Freedom of the Press. He has tweeted out about the New York Times 7 times, stating that they are “not nice.” He has tweeted about Hamilton the Musical. You know what he hasn’t tweeted about? He hasn’t tweeted about the rising incidence of hate crimes, many of which are being carried out in his name. This is Trump’s America now some say, as they taunt, harass, and intimidate others. (See: Donald Trump Personally Blasts the Press – The New Yorker ; Billionaires vs. the Press in the Era of Trump ; Trump Says Freedom of the Press Must Go Because He’s ‘Not Like Other People ; Donald Trump’s War on Press Freedom)


I was a librarian on 9/11. It was a scary time. I was in the library, working, when the towers fell. I remember the fear of not knowing what comes next. But there were some things that brought me comfort. The press, for example, was not under assault and being intimidated by our elected leaders.

This feels like scary new territory.

Freedom of the press and speech, those were things a lot of us took for granted. That fight had already been fought and won, I thought. As a librarian, it was – to me – a given. Now suddenly it is something I have to keep reminding myself and others to be vigilant about.


A. S. King is one of my favorite teen authors. She writes surreallism. In her novel, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, “from ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.” The book was written in 2014, and here we are in 2016.

The Hunger Games was a warning my friends, not a guide book. Dystopian literature was not meant to be a sounding board for government leaders, but a warning call to world citizens.

And yet here we are, 2016. Freedom of the press is being assaulted in the nation that felt so strongly about it that they made it the first item in the Bill of Rights. The very Nazis we once applauded Indiana Jones for defeating our saluting our newly elected leader. Men are talking about sexual assault and proclaiming, “that’s just how men are.” And our children are lining up to call each other racial slurs.


At a recent conversation over at School Library Journal, YA author Michael Grant suggested that now was not the time to worry about little things like representation in kidlit and cultural appropriation. But the truth is, maybe we are here because we didn’t worry about it sooner.

See also: Spending the Day After the 2016 Election with Teenagers

Saying goodbye to a successful program

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolLast month I hosted another Career Conversation event at my library. I really enjoy these evenings. I’ve learned interesting things at every single one of them, even when the jobs that the panelists hold are nothing like the kind of work that suits me. The same has seemed to be true of the teens who attended. Those who came to the events because the topic (Politics, Arts, Engineering, Education, Sports, Health Care) is something that they want to pursue got practical advice and information. Those who came because their friends were interested still learned and were entertained. There’s nothing quite like listening to people who are passionate about their work share their love and encouragement with teens.

So it is with mixed feelings that I decided that November’s panel on careers in the Sports world would be our last. The series ran for a full year, and there wasn’t a stinker in the bunch. So why would I pull the plug on a good thing? Several factors come into play. And while I’ll miss hearing about the varied life experiences our panelists offered and we haven’t covered all of the areas of work that our teens are interested in, I feel confident that this is the right choice. Why?

  • The planning and coordinating of the event had become unwieldy.

I ran this event every other month, which means that before one panel had happened, I was already contacting panelists to come to the next one. Schedule-wise, this was difficult and time consuming but not out of the ordinary for programs. What made the planning of this really stressful though, was that I’d begin seating the panel by contacting my top four or five hopefuls. And then I’d wait. And sometimes then I’d wait more. And more. And then I’d contact another few people. And wait. And wait. And by the time I was a week or two ahead of the event, I’d still sometimes be scrambling to find one last person, or replace someone who had an unexpected schedule conflict. Working with one presenter poses some difficulties. Working with unpaid presenters poses others. Working with four or five unpaid presenters? Well, you can imagine the stress involved. This is not to say that anyone I worked with was difficult! It was just the process and the worry and the unending schedule coordination that really started wearing on me.

  • I had limited support in recruiting attendees.

Sometimes, the panel had a clear audience with community and school partners who were happy to promote it. For example, when we hosted engineers, I contacted the high school’s GEMS club and the word spread like wildfire. For others, like our event focused on politics and political science, there wasn’t as clear a link between school organizations who would promote the event. And our education panel – which I thought would fill to capacity – had the lowest attendance of all. After the fact, several regulars commented that they “already know what teachers do all day*,” so they figured the panel wouldn’t be useful. I’m not averse to running programs for the same core group of teens–there are lots of benefits that aren’t just numbers based. But in this instance, given the amount of adult involvement and goodwill from community members I was dependent on, I felt it needed to pull a wider audience to continue.

  • There’s a better way to do it.

It occurred to me that part of the hurdle in getting teens to come to an event like this is the social nature of teen programs. Would the teen who wants to go into archeology come to an event on engineering just because her friend was? Maybe, but more likely than not, she’d find other ways to occupy her time. But what if this event got bigger so that it could encompass the future archeologist and her engineer-hopeful friend, and their buddy who has no idea what to do after high school? I’m hoping that after a bit of a hiatus, I’ll be able to bring Career Conversations back, more in the spirit of a job speed dating event. This would bring groups of teens together, and would allow for one (albeit large and probably unwieldy) planning season. It would also be less dependent on individual presenters as I’d hope to bring in a lot of different folks who love their work and want to share about it. It could also serve as a community bridge building event by inviting the local community college and trade schools to be present.

  • The teens who originated the series were ready for new challenges.

This was a teen-generated program idea. Last year’s Teen Board came up with the idea and the first few topics, and had been a help in recruiting participants. This year, several of our movers and shakers have graduated and the new group of teens is interested in other events and programs. And this is what it all boils down to: programming by teens is going to change as teens change, and we have to be open to that and willing to change course. Even when by outward appearances, it’s all going well.


Brad Pitt laughing


Sunday Reflections: Be a leader. Be a troop leader.

sundayreflectionsI’ve said it on Twitter a number of times, but I really do mean it, so I’m going to say it here again, firmly: become a scout leader. If you are interested in becoming a YS or YA librarian, or are seeking your first YS or YA librarian job, or think maybe becoming a YS or YA librarian is something you might want to do but want to get a little experience first, I highly encourage you to consider becoming a Girl Scout leader, or an adult volunteer for a troop at the very least.

Every year girls want to be a part of Scouting but are unable to for the lack of adult leaders. This means that girls in your community are likely unserved by a troop, or they have a troop with a harried leader with more girls than she intended to take on, who is going to burn out fast without another pair of helping hands. That alone is a reason to volunteer with this organization that has been a part of the lives of so many influential women. You don’t have to have a child in Girl Scouting and you don’t need to be a woman. You just need to be there.

Girl Scouting is the organization I have experience with, but I am nearly certain that many other youth organizations would offer similar benefits – Boy Scouts, 4H, Campfire, etc. But I’m going to speak to my personal experience here, and how it directly applies to my work as a librarian.

Program Planning

A scout leader, like a librarian, does program planning on both the small and large scale. On the small scale, you have your troop meetings. You’ve got to know your audience, their abilities, the time you have, the space and supplies that you have, the budget that you’re working with (and if you think library budgets can be skimpy, well, you’re in for a special treat here–at least until that cookie money rolls in next spring!), and you’ve got to hit the high marks for the program and get your larger message across. And you do all of this in about an hour once or twice a month. On a larger scale, there are Service Unit and Council events that you can help coordinate, or just be involved with, that require longer range planning: fundraising, registration, being a liaison with outside presenters or locations, promotion and more. All of this is part of the nuts and bolts of being a librarian that they don’t teach you in library school.

People Skills

You’ll learn crowd control, like how to bring the troop’s attention back to the activity at hand and still have their interest and smiling faces directed at you. You’ll learn how to talk to parents about what you need from them in the way of support to make meetings go the way they’re supposed to go. And maybe you’ll even get some experience working with girls who need a little more help than you anticipated. These are all skills that you will definitely need once you have your YS or YA librarian job, and reading an article about classroom management is only going to get you so far.

Girl Scouts, like libraries, takes all comers. That includes girls with the extreme giggles, girls who have perfected the side eye way too young, girls whose special needs you will come to understand, girls who are still learning English, girls who are older than your regular troop’s age because their best friend and ride is in your troop, and more. Not to mention parents who really want to be involved but are stretched thin with other obligations, volunteers with very clear personal agendas, and people you might never have chosen to sit in a room with if not for Scouts. But that’s the beauty of it. Because you get to experience all of these interesting people and learn their stories, and be a part of helping them have a great experience that they wouldn’t have been exposed to if you hadn’t been there. Just like in libraries.

a large circle of girls and leaders linking hands

Bureaucracy–but no, wait–it’s good!

Every organization is going to have layers. In scouting you have a troop, with it’s leader, co-leaders, parent volunteers, parent non-volunteers, cookie parents, and drivers. Then there’s the Service Unit, Council, and National organization. Learning who in this structure can help you with what, who will champion your successes, who will pull you out of the weeds, and whom you can lean on whenever you need it is a critical skill to have in your work life too.

What success looks like

I’m starting my third year as a scout leader, and I’ll be honest: sometimes it felt like I was piloting a sinking ship. But then these amazing things happen, and you never know when to expect them. Like the girls discussing how to spend their cookie money, and in the midst of a debate over whether a water park or a trampoline center would be better, they decide to donate some of it to a local animal shelter or food bank. Or that day that you realize that they have all memorized the song you taught them, or the Girl Scout Promise, and that they actually look forward to the ceremony of it all. Or seeing the girl who was in tears and hiding behind her mom the whole first month but now races into the room and gets giant where-have-you-been-all-my-life hugs from her new best friends. Or the way parents look you in the eye at the end of the year and say “Thank you. She has had a great time, and you have done so much work, and this is really such a great experience for her,” and really really mean it.

Girl scout & Bill Nye

Girl Scout Gold Award recipient meets Bill Nye at the White House Science Fair

Scouting makes a difference in the lives of these kids. And it is so incredibly rewarding to see it happen and know that you were part of it. My biggest successes in the library world have felt the same: sometimes it’s a a real slog and it’s hard to remember why you’re doing it. But you keep doing it because you get these glimmers of reward. The half head nod from the teen you helped find a book last week. The kids that came to your program last week even though you didn’t think they had fun the month before. The book you took a chance on ordering that is always checked out. And then one day, you see that teen in the grocery store and they react in a way that makes you feel like a celebrity, or a parent comes in and says, “Oh YOU’RE So-and-so, my kid talks about your programs/book suggestions/etc all the time!” It happens. But it takes work. And time. And persistance. And a fair amount of tolerance for extreme giggles and perfect side eye, and challenges you didn’t anticipate. And parades without marching bands because maybe it’s too wet for them, but nothing stops a Girl Scout or a librarian.

But it’s so worth it.

The Girl Scout year begins October 1st. They’re waiting for you!

The origami revelation: 1 program fail; 3 reminders

The other day I hosted a very regrettable program. In addition to my role as a teen librarian I also host a regular craft night for adults. It’s a nice way to extend my service population, and to be perfectly honest, I like seeing how an adult group handles a project before I hand it to teens. And thank goodness I tried this darn fabric origami thing out with adults first.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. It met all of my criteria for craft programs: inexpensive, can be completed in an hour or so, no special tools or skills required, easy to replicate, attractive. The idea is that you stiffen fabric with diluted wood glue, then cut the fabric to a square, and fold it up like you would any sheet of origami paper.

But here’s the thing: I thought all of the difficulty was in the prep that I did at home: figuring out the glue to water ratio, figuring out how to dry it quickly without destroying my dryer, figuring out how to iron it smooth without destroying my iron (failed at that one), figuring out how to cut a couple dozen pieces square… Frankly, it was a hassle I won’t be attempting again. The library members who came to my program would only have to fold the gorgeous fabric into a decorative lily or a useful box. Simple for them, right? After all the hard work I put in on the front end?

Well, no.

1. It’s not about me

All of that prep work had nothing to do with them! In my annoyance and preoccupation with the messy preparation I’d neglected to stop and look carefully enough at how my patrons would approach the project. Yes, I’d prepared step by step models and printed out instructions, but I overlooked the doing of the project in the preparation for the project. Origami is tricky. Some people practice for hours – days – years before perfecting a design. To expect people who had never done it before to do it with a difficult material and use a pattern not designed for beginners was way more than was reasonable. The doing of the program, for each person in that room other than me began when they set foot in the room. Not days before while buying the fabric, stiffening it, drying it, and cutting it. When we come to the desk, to the program, to the RA interaction, our preparation is merely prologue. It makes a difference for our patrons, but it doesn’t matter to them. The prep is our job. Not theirs.

2. It’s not about the project.

That evening as the group gathered, I tried to cut some problems off at the pass by fessing up and telling them that of all the programs I had helped them with, this was the trickiest. I showed them my steps and results and warned them of pitfalls, and assured them that I was here to help. And you know what? It was tricky for them too. They struggled too. And as each of them left, I don’t think anyone left with a product they really liked.

3. It’s about community

But in spite of that, they all had a good time. They laughed, poked gentle fun at each other, encouraged and gave tips, and actually thanked me. A couple times. I even got an email after the fact! And I realized that what they leave with each month is not a craft. It’s a sense of belonging, an hour or two of socializing, laughter and a break from their regular lives. It’s community. And we are part of it.

In our library service, let’s remember that the right answer is just one of the things we give our patrons. And I might argue that it’s frequent of far less importance than the other things they gain.

The Myth of Not Enough

The other day, a librarian I really respect was musing on Twitter that she wasn’t doing enough for the profession.  I was so surprised to hear that because I always think of her as super active and doing really great things for her community.  When do you know that you’re doing enough? Are we ever really doing enough?

A few days later, I had to compose an introduction for myself to be used at an upcoming speaking engagement.  Here’s what I wrote:

Heather Booth has been working in libraries since 2001, and has been the Teen Services librarian at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library since 2008.  She is the author of Serving Teens Through Readers’ Advisory, and one of the editors of the forthcoming Whole Library Handbook, Teen Services, both published by ALA Editions.  She is a regular blogger at the Teen Librarian Toolbox, a reviewer for Booklist, and a content contributor at Novelist.  This year she plans to spend her spare time learning about robotics as a part of ILEAD-U, in between playground visits and catching up on Phineas and Ferb with her two daughters since she “only” works part time.

It’s all true, and it looks ridiculous.  It sounds like I’m some kind of 24 hour machine, but I’m really not.  The truth is, I often feel like I’m not doing enough.  I’m not serving on any committees, have let my regular meetings with my beloved PLN lag, don’t read enough, don’t play with my kids enough, don’t blog enough, don’t exercise enough, don’t go on dates with my husband enough, don’t host successful programs enough, don’t attend Board meetings enough.  I sleep next to my phone for the alarm, but also so I can see what I missed overnight as soon as I wake up, drink too much coffee, and regularly walk my daughter to the bus stop in my pajamas.
Despite my misgivings, when I take the time to step back and think about it, I have to acknowledge that I’m doing enough, with the caveat that “enough” is such a loaded term.  Could I be doing more? Do lots of other people do more. Undoubtedly. When do you know enough is enough? It’s easier when it comes to roller coasters and guacamole. Your body will let you know when you’ve hit your limit. But what about those things that don’t have that built in physical feedback loop? Something I’ve come to understand about myself is that I seem to thrive when I’m just a tad too busy, but will collapse as soon as that next thing is added on, which inevitably happens.

Are you doing enough?  I think you probably are, even though I don’t know who you are.  I know this because you are engaging on a professional level.  This tells me that

1) You are doing your job
2) You care enough about your job to reach out for more information.  And maybe someone sent you a link here; maybe you’re not reaching out so much as catching the low hanging fruit.  But still, you’re reading it.  You care.
3) You’ve gotten this far, so chances are you relate, on some level, to the idea that you’re not doing enough.  You worry about it.  You make lists of things you could do, but then realize that you don’t have the time, energy, or patience to do them.  Or maybe you do.  Maybe you’ve optimized your time and gotten exactly where you want to be, in which case I say, that is amazing and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.  For real, no sarcasm intended.

When it comes down to it, I think this Myth of Not Enough has to be related to Impostor Phenomenon.  They both seem to be more prevalent in women than in men, and in highly achieving folks.  We have to convince ourselves that we are not impostors; we deserve what we have earned and achieved because we worked hard for it, just like we need to convince ourselves that our best efforts are just that.  Your days are full, it’s just a matter of how you choose to fill them.  Balance is just as valid as prestige.


Achieve Every Goal Always Forever in Three Easy Steps

If your library calendar is like mine, it’s performance evaluation time.  Which means it’s also the dreaded goal setting time of year.  Will you aspire to increase program participation by 25%?  Bring fiction circulation up by 10%?  Do a classroom visit each month?  Secure five new sponsors for the summer reading club?

Or will you take the opposite tack and create non-goal goals, like maintaining your current staffing level, continuing to be responsive to teen suggestions, or running a summer reading club [like you do every year and have since the beginning of time]?

Please spare yourself the agony and embarrassment and forego both of these types goals.

“BUT!” You’re saying, “What’s wrong with wanting to increase circulation???  Why shouldn’t listening to my beloved teens be a goal?????”

No, I’m not crazy and I haven’t thrown in the towel.

Goal setting is really important in helping us move forward with our teen services – if it’s done right.  And neither of the above extremes quite gets it.  Here are three steps to take that will make your goal setting more realistic, more useful to all of the stakeholders, and more likely to be achieved.  And the best part is, it’s actually going to be easier and make you feel better than setting lofty or wimpy goals would.

1.  Think about what your teens, your library, and your community really need, but don’t discount what you really need.

 We often look to the Library’s mission statement and past patron requests when it’s goal setting time.  Have teens been begging you to get a gaming center at the Library?   Are you all tasked with enriching the cultural experiences of your community?  Has your library been on an environmentalism kick lately?

Maybe what you really need in order to do your job well to focus on is none of the above, but instead build up your PLN.  Maybe it’s been five years since you’ve attended a conference out of state and been exposed to new ideas from other regions of the country.  Maybe you’ve been throwing yourself into new technologies and it’s time to get back to the books for a season.

Don’t lose touch with what makes you great or your motivations for doing the job.

These are YOUR goals, not DEPARTMENT goals.  How will these goals help YOU be a better librarian, a better resource to your teen patrons, and a better colleague to your peers?  If you are personally motivated to achieve the goals, instead of motivated simply by the idea that it’s what you should do, you will be more focused on working toward meeting the goals.

2.  Only set goals that you have control over.

This is why setting goals that hinge on increasing X by Y, or those that rely on someone else to make a final decision are wrongheaded.  You could do everything right, and never increase a collection’s circulation by a single checkout if external factors limit the community’s access to or interest in the material or format.  You could do everything right, but wind up in a situation where the Powers That Be have decided that public librarians shouldn’t be doing booktalks in the local school.  You could plan the best program session ever and have it fall flat if your core group of attendees decides that they’d rather play intramural basketball or work on the school play instead.

These things are out of your control.  But it doesn’t mean you can’t work toward them.

Reframe your goals into manageable chunks that you can accomplish:

  • Increase circulation by 10% becomes 
    • Weed the collection, 
    • create focused thematic displays each month, 
    • create five new lists of readalikes for popular titles.
  • Boost program attendance by 5% becomes
    • Increase marketing efforts by including program announcements on social media and in popular off-site hangouts.  
    • Do a survey of local teens to figure out what types of programs are of the most interest
  • Visit at least 4 classrooms each month becomes
    • Make contact with a teacher, librarians, or other liaison at every school in my service area.
    • Create a handout describing the full range of support I can provide. 
    • Follow up with school relationships that have been successful in the past.
  • Create a makerspace becomes
    • Research potential setups and requirements for a makerspace 
    • Get feedback on makerspaces from other libraries 
    • Host a teen focus group.  
    • Create a budget and proposal for the Board to review next January.

3.  Change course when needed.

This is NOT cheating.  Let’s say one of your personally relevant, achievable goals is to attend more of your local region’s youth librarian meetups in the next county over.  Then let’s say that the weather all winter long is just horrible and you hate driving on snowy roads and your car is making that weird noise again.  Change course.  Adjust your goal so that you’re gaining similar skills and benefits in an online environment.

Or perhaps you detailed the ways you would do outreach in small ways across a variety of locations in your community, and then you are invited to be involved in the monthly teen night at a community center and need to devote more time and energy to that project.  It’s not a failure if this becomes a new goal and the initial goal gets set on the back burner for a while.  It’s actually a success, because clearly some of that early outreach must have worked really well!

And that’s it.

If your goals are personally important to you, achievable by you, and changeable by you when you need to change them, the likelihood of you actually wanting to work toward making them happen is going to increase significantly.  And if you actually want to focus on those things in your work life, you probably will find the time to do so, despite the many directions we are pulled in every day.

Plus, if you’ve written these things down as goals, and your supervisor knows they’re goals (because they’re in your performance evaluation) if you need more time away from a different project to work on these things (remember! things that YOU WANT to do!) you are more likely to get more time at work to do them! Because the truth about your manager is that if you do well at achieving your goals, she will look better to her manager too.  This is how we all succeed together.


Sunday Reflections: A Radical Banned Books Week Thought – Throw Out Your Materials Challenge Form and Truly Embrace the Freedom to Read

A funny thing happened on Twitter a couple of weeks ago.

In preparation for Banned Books Week I came up with what I thought was a great idea: We would put challenged books on trial and I tweeted out asking everyone if there were certain books they wanted to write a defense for as guest posts.  You will see those posts during this next week.

But one person replied and said: What if I said we shouldn’t even be arguing the merits of books? What if that’s not the point at all?

And then we talked about it and he was right.

Why do we have material challenge forms and give people the option of trying to say, I don’t like this book or it offended me or whatever so I think you should remove it from the library – all because of me.  Maybe this whole time we have been doing Banned Books Week and Intellectual Freedom wrong.  Throw out your forms!

Read the Freedom to Read Statement from ALA 

Here’s a snippet of the conversation:

If we truly believe that people have the Freedom to Read what they want to read, then the answer isn’t to hand out forms saying well, maybe we’ll remove this book if you can make a good case.  The correct answer when someone complains about a book is simple: I’m sorry that this book offended you, let’s do some awesome reader’s advisory to see if we can help you find some other materials that are right for you.

It’s a radical notion, I know.  I have written the collection development policy at two libraries now and made the actual materials challenge form at one.  It was a masterpiece.  And now I think it was wrong.  Our whole approach is wrong.

I get there are things that offend people, but those things are different for each person.  And when I read the comments, most people say the same things for other types of media: If you don’t like a show, turn the channel.  If you don’t like a song, turn the radio dial.  If you don’t like a movie, don’t go see it.  And the answer for books should be the same: If you don’t like the book, read a different book. 

Banned Books Week is September 22nd through the 28th

There are shows I don’t let my children watch (a lot of them actually.)  Just the other day I told my YouTube cruising Tween that she had to add her former favorite Miley Cyrus onto the list of music videos she wasn’t allowed to watch.  I have a list of actors whose movies I won’t go see.  I have banned Spongebob Squarepants because I don’t like the way they treat one another.  But here’s the thing: those are all personal parenting decisions.  I know that other parents would make different ones.  I don’t get to make those decisions for your kids and you don’t get to make them for mine.  Which is why we shouldn’t even have material challenge forms.  Because it gives the impression that sometimes, maybe, we would in fact let someone make those decisions for an entire community; that if they could make a strong enough case that we might, in fact, decide to remove a book from the library allowing one person (or a group of people) to make personal decisions for an entire community of people, people for whom they don’t actually have the right to make that decision.

There is no “unless you can prove it doesn’t have literary merit” – who gets to decide that? There is no “unless you can prove it is dangerous to society” – we once thought the belief that the sun was the center of the universe was a dangerous idea, people died for that belief.  Oops, turns out we were wrong.  The only exceptions would be if a book had questionable authority (which you should be catching in your collection development process so it shouldn’t be an issue on the reader’s end) or books that do or advocate breaking the law (like books from NAMBLA, they apparently exist).  Tyrants and dictators ban books, those who believe in democracy do not.

So instead, when a patron comes to a staff member complaining about a book and asking that it be removed, we use this moment to remind patrons about the goals of a library.  Instead of handing them a book challenge form, we could hand them a bookmark or pamphlet that states the Library Bill of Rights and affirms their rights to self-selection and parental guidance.  And then we ask them if we can help them find a new book to read and start the reader’s advisory process.  This moment becomes a teachable moment where we reinforce the library’s mission to the entire (and very diverse) community.  Instead of discussing individual titles, the conversation becomes one about Intellectual Freedom.

I believe that people have the right to read what they want to read.  I believe that you and I don’t get to make those decisions for other people.  Full stop.  That’s actually the end of the argument.  Throw out your forms.

More Banned Books Week on TLT:
Banned Books Week 2012
Teen Fiction is . . . 
A Banned Books Week Primer
Redefining the 3 Rs for Banned Books Week
Libraries are radically unsafe places . . . and that’s a good thing
My Banned Books Week Posters

Edited 9/24/2013 to add a clarifying paragraph.