When I talk with librarians who work at Christian schools, the conversation often turns to the topic of inappropriate books. Many Christian school librarians struggle to fill their shelves with titles that reflect their school’s values and beliefs.
However, in their genuine desire to protect their students from harmful influences and in order to avoid any hint of controversy, I often see well-meaning Christian school librarians resort to this: They read every book they purchase in order to make sure there is no inappropriate content.
Reason 1: It establishes you as the person at fault if a book is determined to be inappropriate.
If a parent complains about a certain book, he or she is basically asserting that you are not doing your job. You become the scapegoat when a parent or other school community member is unhappy. It puts at risk your reputation and your employment.
Instead of reading each title, Christian school librarians can use reviews, bibliographic information, and quick skimming to weigh a prospective purchase against the criteria you have outlined in your collection development policy. (If you don’t have a collection development policy, stop everything and read this now).
You should not be held liable for what is written in the hundreds (or thousands) of books in your library. When you make your decisions based on a thorough, school-approved collection development policy, you can make wise, informed choices for your library without fear of repercussion.
Reason #2: It takes valuable time away from other crucial aspects of your job.
Being a Christian school librarian is not just about ordering approprirate books. You also need time for instruction, assisting students, managing staff and volunteers, fundraising, programming, professional development, collaborating with teachers, and other endless tasks on your to-do list. There is nothing wrong with setting aside regular time to read incoming books, but it is impossible to read every book you order and still find time to fulfill your other responsibilities.
Reason #3: It reinforces an inaccurate representation of our profession.
I can’t tell you how many times someone said to me, “It must be fun to just sit around and read books all day.” Many people think that a school librarian just sits at her desk and reads children’s books all day. They have no idea of all the other things school librarians do. Attempting to read every fiction book only reinforces the belief that all librarians do is read on the job.
(Side note: This is why I recommend that when you do read a fiction book you’re considering adding to your collection, you limit the amount of time you do it in a public location like the circulation desk. Not only will it reinforce the negative perception, it can also send a signal to your students that you’re too busy to be bothered. We always want our students to see us as available to help them).
Reason #4: It sets an expectation that is impossible for you to achieve.
Even if you read every title you add to your library, you still will not please everyone. I guarantee you that eventually you will still receive complaints. Within any given Christian school, there are a variety of doctrinal beliefs, lifestyle choices, and educational philosophies among students, families, and teachers. You cannot make everyone happy.
It’s like trying to cook a single meal to serve at a dinner party where you have a guest who is vegetarian, another who suffers from diabetes, another with gluten intolerance, another with shellfish allergies, and another who is lactose intolerant and on the Atkins diet. It is impossible to please them all.
Just Get That Collection Development Policy Into Place!
I don’t say all this to be cynical; it’s just reality. You only have so much time each day to do your job. So why spend so much time and energy on something that doesn’t need to happen? With a solid collection development policy in place, Christian school librarians can feel confident that you’re adding high-quality materials to your library and that your job and reputation won’t be in jeopardy if a complaint or book challenge is made.
What do you think about the idea that reading all the books is a mistake? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments!