The biggest shift for me during this course was in my understanding of intellectual freedom. Previously I had viewed selection or non-selection of books, in part, as a way to protect young readers from mature content until they moved on to Secondary School. This meant purposely not adding titles with content that was for more mature readers, or middle school readers, even though some of our readers are in this range. I think the intention of this idea was partly to protect our students and partly to try and prevent dealing with potential objections from parents.
The reading in the course on intellectual freedom, including the Canadian Library Association’s Statement on Intellectual Freedom and IFLA Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom gave me insight into the values that libraries hold for intellectual freedom and not censoring what people read. I could see that by choosing not to select titles to add to the collection, I was participating in censorship to a degree. Since libraries strive to uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even elementary school libraries, we need to have a selection policy that allows us to add books that are of the interests and intellectual levels of our students. For me this means that I should add books to the collection that students request because they are interested in reading them, even if they are at or a little above their maturity level, all other considerations aside, otherwise I am putting myself in the position of censor. Considering all this, I have now changed my view and have decided that as long as the reviews that are published support the current age range for our oldest students (12-13 years old) then the books should not been viewed as beyond the maturity of our students. Our district selection policy is written in a way that supports this view, “(Selection) take(s) into consideration the varied interests, abilities and maturity levels of the student’s served”.
There are some in our district who may be concerned that parents may object, myself included. I looked into our policy and found there is nothing that says we need to take extra steps such as seeking permission from parents, for example for students who want to read certain books. Our policy allows for the understanding that some people may object to items in the collection, “The Board of School Trustees recognizes that any item in a school library’s media collection may offend some patrons. The selection of materials on controversial topics should be based on the merits of the material and its value to the collection.”
This course gave me the opportunity to really consider this deeply and in doing so I changed my view from the previous practice of not adding titles that are considered more mature due to violence, such as The Hunger Games, to a view that allows such titles as long as they interest students and are not beyond their maturity level. This shift requires that I have a good grasp of the idea of intellectual freedom, our policy, and a comfort level with how to deal with possible concerns or challenges to such selections. In theory I now fully support the freedom to choose what one reads.
In practice, this does require the support of the school staff and principal. And in practice I think it requires a clear understanding in the concept of freedom to read and how this relates to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In discussions with one of my school principals I discovered that she was not comfortable with this shift at this time. Partly because she dose not share the same understanding of freedom to read, partly because she wants to promote quality literature, and partly because she is new to the position as Principal and is not feeling like she has any time to spare to hear possible objections. Since I want to build trust with her, I agreed to purposely not add any titles, other than The Hunger Games, at this time, and that it will be something to reconsider in the future.
Coming to this understanding with her was involved and time consuming, but considering this was a major shift for me, I can see why it may take time to help others shift to the same understanding. I see why promoting and bringing awareness in our schools of the idea of intellectual freedom and Freedom to Read Week are important, and I plan to do more of this in the future.
There were a great many practical things that I learned during this course. Assessing the collection in a quantitative way, particularly collection mapping was one of them. I have heard of collection mapping for a whole collection, and understood that this was an involved service that was sometimes provided to libraries, but I had not yet been involved in it. Being asked to map part of the collection for the course was very helpful for me, as I was able to see the collection a way that was both graphic and numerical. Reading about “The Elephant Technique” helped me to understand that collection mapping could be done in pieces over time and did not have to be an overwhelming job. After reading this, I realized that it was possible to do this myself and on a small scale.
For my collection mapping exercise I discovered that I could map curriculum content with resources that support particular learning outcomes. This was very helpful when assessing if the collection needs additional support resources. I also discovered that we were not, in general, including reading level information in the catalogue records. Having that information is helpful when assessing if the collection is meeting the needs of a range of reading levels. This is something I want us to add to our new catalogue records. I found collection mapping to be a helpful assessment tool, when considering improvements to the collection, and I plan to continue using.
Another tool I plan to use in the future, but did not have time to try yet, is to survey the students and teachers on how they use the collection. I believe this perspective would be interesting and may better contribute to helping the collection meet the needs of the users.