• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Should children need parental permission to borrow books from the school library?

ByEleanor Pritchard

Sep 28, 2023
image of a library interior, with computer stations and book shelves

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of school libraries. For many children, the school library is the first place where they can begin to truly explore literature – the joy of finding a new book isn’t a feeling which any child should miss out on.

Recently, the Dripping Springs Independent School District in Texas decided to introduce a parental ‘opt-in’ policy for YA books in their school libraries. Parents were sent a form to indicate whether their sixth or seventh-grade child (ages 11-13) should be able to access books categorised as ‘Young Adult’. This means that some children have unlimited access to all school library books, and some children have no access to books which the school deems YA, such as Oliver Twist and Lord of the Flies. It opens up an interesting question – should children need parental permission to borrow books from the school library?

There are so many reasons why children might depend on their school library – limited access to books at home, no public library access, unsafe home environments, to name just a few. Restricting school library access in any way limits the potential of these library-dependent children.

I think it’s also important to recognise that parents aren’t necessarily the best judges of what children should be able to learn. What of the LGBTQ+ children whose primary exposure to their community is through queer literature? Should they be potentially kept from key sources of information, acceptance, and community by anti-LGBTQ+ parents?

In her article, Kelly Jensen is right to suggest that this “creates inequity among students…The kids who are already at a loss – those who most depend upon their school libraries to help them succeed in class and acquire entertainment and enrichment – continue to lose.” The requirement for ‘opt-in’ parental consent puts literature even further out of the reach of those children who are most in need of accessing it. 

However, it’s commonly agreed that not everything is appropriate for children. I remember secretly pinching a book from my older brother after he told me I wasn’t old enough for it, and being incredibly angry mid-read when I realised that he was right. All films and games also have an age rating which suggests a suitable audience, and these classifications are not decried as censorship at every corner.

I am far from suggesting that we introduce a similar age rating system for every book ever. Perhaps, though, we could consider teachers as a sort of microcosmic BBFC or MPA when it comes to stocking their school libraries. When children are at school, their teachers are responsible for their wellbeing. This is true in lessons, during break and lunchtime, in school clubs – and in the school library.

Given the vast number of safeguarding boxes which schools need to tick, doesn’t it make sense that all the school library books should be appropriate for school children? Adding an extra layer, separating the books into ‘definitely fine’ and ‘fine if your parents say so’, is restrictive and, frankly, undermines the ability of the teachers to create a safe learning environment for children.

That said, it’s a tricky line to walk. How can you guarantee that teachers aren’t being restrictive in their text selections too? There has been a lot of conversation in recent years about reforming the standardised education syllabus, a process which I hope continues to develop – but perhaps that’s a slightly different topic.

What I really mean is this: libraries should always be a freely accessible means of expanding knowledge and experience. Creating ‘permitted’ texts generates a form of censorship which strongly contradicts this principle.

Ft. Vancouver High School Library Media Center 03” by WA State Library is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0