This week in my Literature for Youth class, I was asked to consider the following scenario:
Pretend you have a kid (or a family of kids) at your library who is only allowed (per their parents) to check out Christian Fiction titles. Discuss how you would help this child identify books their parents won’t object to. Consider (address as many as you like):
1) Would/does your library have a Christian Fiction label?
2) How will/won’t that label impact this child?
3) How many books does your library have that this child can read?
4) As librarians, is it ethical for us to have a label for Christian fiction if we don’t have one for Muslim/Pagan/etc. Fiction? (Support your answer by citing the values, mission and ethics listed by PLA, ALA or AASL.)
In my mentor’s library, Christian fiction is not labeled. However, when doing an online catalog search, it is possible to filter out the Christian fiction as a genre. When I did that, the results included twenty books. Other filters included Jewish fiction and Religious fiction. When I have my own library, I don’t intend to have Christian fiction labeled, but I would consider tagging them in the catalog so that they could be found that way, if I thought it was important to my students, teachers, and community. If I tagged the Christian fiction, I would make sure to do the same for the other religions representative of the community. I would identify religious books by searching for them on Amazon or using Goodreads lists.
I do believe it is impossible to know exactly how many library books the child in this scenario would be able to read. Parents have different opinions about what books are appropriate, and it should really be up to the parents to pick out the books they approve for their child. As an example, many classic and modern books are aligned with Christianity or address Christian themes, though they are not labeled as such and may not be overt about it. Would these parents be okay with their child reading these? It would be hard for a librarian to gauge, so the parents would have to make these decisions until they felt their child could make the decisions on his own. Being limited to Christian fiction would likely prevent that child from reading many great books, but I can attest, as someone who grew up in a very strict Christian home, that eventually that child will find a way to read what he wants.
I do not believe that it is ethical for us to have a label for Christian fiction if we do not have labels for other religions. Labeling only Christian fiction gives the appearance of supporting or endorsing Christianity. The ALA response to the question of whether libraries may label religious materials in their collections is this: ”Yes, but some considerations are necessary. People of all persuasions and traditions have sincere, heartfelt concerns when their government in the form of a public library addresses religious issues. As long as the selection of materials to be labeled is inclusive of all such persuasions and traditions and the labels used are viewpoint-neutral directional aids and not pejorative, this practice would not violate the Library Bill of Rights. This practice of applying specific religious symbols to materials—such as using a cross to label Christian fiction—violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the Library Bill of Rights.” This seems pretty clear-cut to me.
The ALA Library Bill of Rights states that 1) Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation and that 2) Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. There is no exception for the religious views of authors or readers, or the lack thereof.
American Library Association (2006). Library bill of rights. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill
American Library Association (2010). Religion in American libraries: Questions and answers. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/religionfaq