Parental Advisory for Books?

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Just a picture, not actually a warning for this post.

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.

So now that I’ve made some clarifications in my opinion, what do you guys think? Do you still think it’s a bad idea? Or would you find this kind of information helpful as well?

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11 thoughts on “Parental Advisory for Books?

  1. As a new follower to your blog, this was a new discussion piece for me! I think that the information would be helpful. There are have been countless books that I’ve read that have been outside of my comfort level as I explored new genres. If I new what type of content was in them beforehand, I would’ve saved myself from feeling uncomfortable. I do agree with you on not banning anyone from any book. Reading tastes and boundaries are completely subjunctive, so a reader should be able to read what they want when they want. The type of information that you proposed seems to be a great idea in my opinion. Readers would know what they’re going into beforehand without being banned from reading any books! Great discussion topic! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’m so glad to hear you agree. I’m right with you about trying to explore other genres. I mostly stay in YA because I know that there isn’t going to be as much content in them. I would like to branch out into adult fiction occasionally, but I don’t really enjoy reading books with a lot of language or a lot of sexual content–that keeps me from trying new books a lot of the time. Thanks for commenting and for following! 🙂

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  2. I think you’re spot-on when it comes to the fact that librarians or book sellers shouldn’t be the ones deciding what a kid should read, rather the parents should be deciding that. Perhaps the reason your post has been getting more views recently is the release of A Court of Mist and Fury. Most of the negative reviews on Amazon are from parents who are outraged that such explicit sexual material exists in the YA genre. While ACOTAR and ACOMAF are dubbed by the author as “new adult,” they are marketed as YA. They are found in the YA section of bookstores, so teens pick them up expecting the usual tameness that comes along with the YA genre, only to discover that some of the language used parallels that found in Fifty Shades of Grey.

    In that regard, I think it’s important for labels and/or ratings. Especially when an author says that the explicit material is not suitable for YA and the book is being marketed that way anyways.

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    1. Thank you for your comment! That’s really interesting–I haven’t read those books so I was unaware about all of this. Though, I did see the first book shelved in the adult section of the library the other day and I thought that was interesting. I think you’re totally right about how ratings would be helpful in this case. Especially when an author has been pigeonholed into YA by previous books it’s hard when they try to write in other age ranges. Both for the publishers with marketing the books and readers who have read the author’s previous books. This was a really great perspective, I’m glad you shared it!

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  3. I completely agree with you. I would never want to censor any artistic material, but I think that books really need to come with more of a warning about mature content, especially in the YA section. If a parent feels that their kid is mature enough to read steamy sex scenes or gory violence, I’m not going to stop them from buying a book, but I’d like to be able to warn them about the content first. As a bookseller I feel responsible for what I suggest to my customers, but I can’t be expected to know everything about every single book in the store. I try to keep myself well-informed, but having a rating system would help me do my job better.

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  4. I’m just finishing up lunch at work so I don’t have a ton of time to post an in-depth comment, but this whole discussion reminded me about the company that Audrey Greathouse recently published her books through, Clean Teen Publishing. They have their own disclosure system that they use for their books. Obviously it’s a smaller publishing company, but it’s an interesting system they’ve put together!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I just checked it out. I LOVE what they’re doing and I like that they’re emphasizing the right to have knowledge, not the right to censor stuff. This really gives me hope that maybe other publishing houses will try to do something like this–at the very least we can see that it’s possible and sustainable.

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