For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you might remember that I did a post on parental advisory for books almost exactly a year ago. Within the last couple of months this post has seemed to regain interest–the views have really started to pick up–and I’m not exactly sure why. I reread through that post and the comments the other day and I felt like I needed to write a new post addressing the topic. Now that I’m halfway done with my Masters in Library Science, I feel like I have a little more perspective and a more concrete opinion on the matter.
Just as a reminder from the brief research that I did for my last post, I didn’t find that ratings or labeling content as “explicit” was required for any medium (movies, video games, music) but that it was encouraged in a lot of them. I’ve seen some books that have warnings as part of the summary, but they’ve all been books that I’ve found on Amazon and appear to be self-published or published by a small publishing house–not by one of the big five.
The last time I talked about this, I proposed that books be given ratings similar to movies and video games. I think a lot of people took that to mean that children would be restricted from certain books if the rating was too mature like they are from R-rated movies and Mature rated video games (which started to feel like censorship to some). As I’ve started my degree, I’ve discovered that librarians feel very passionately about censorship (I’m taking an Intellectual Freedom course next term). They do not agree with it and actively fight against it in a lot of cases. I too do not believe that librarians have the responsibility to censor material for their young patrons–that is the job of parents. Who am I as a librarian to say whether or not someone else’s kid can read Fifty Shades of Grey? I know I wouldn’t let my kid read it, but that’s my own personal decision. I realize now that I should have clarified something in my original post. I’m not proposing that kids be kept from reading certain books if they choose to read them. What I am proposing is that books be given ratings as a source of information for consumers (and parents of consumers).
While you’re not given the responsibility to tell people what they can and can’t read as a librarian, you are given the responsibility of recommending books to people when they ask. This is called Readers’ Advisory (I took a class on that as well). Part of the RA interview is to determine a reader’s comfort level in certain areas. Perhaps you have a patron that loves reading romance. She’s comfortable with some steamy scenes, but she’s not a fan of erotica. It’s the librarian’s job to recommend books that fall within her comfort level. With what I propose, the rating system will only help readers to get the same information that they might get from a librarian during an RA interview. We already have a summary of the book, why not a brief summary of its adult content as well?
Ultimately I see this as a help for the consumer when determining what to read, but also for parents of young readers. My mom was a great mom. She was a stay-at-home mom so she was able to spend a lot of time with me and my siblings and was very involved in our lives. That being said, with the rate at which my sister and I consumed books, there was no way that my mom could keep up with what we were reading. There were a couple of times when my mom caught wind of something “bad” in a book or series that I was reading and she made it clear that I was not to read those books. Honestly, I didn’t care. There were plenty of other books to read so I did what she asked (I mean, she’s my mom…what was I going to do?). I think if books had the kind of ratings that I’m proposing, my mom would have had a much easier time helping us to choose books with content that she thought was appropriate for us to be reading which is exactly what we as librarians hope parents will do.