If you are a high school librarian cringing at a scene in a book with foul language, or explicit sex, be careful before you decide not to put it on your shelves. Consider your audience. Most students have a smartphone in their pocket. With the swipe of a finger they can access content more offensive than anything our parents or grandparents could have imagined. When deciding ‘is this content appropriate?’ be sure to take into account that context.
Netflix and other content machines are pushing the envelope with film & television like never before. Young people are accessing content that they don’t fully understand. We may not be able to fulfill our desire to protect them from growing up too fast. What we can do is make an impact on building a lifelong love of reading. The internet and modern technology has made censoring the harsh, graphic world from teenagers an impossibility. We do not have to like it, but if we want to be heard by this generation, we most likely will need to accept it. And if we really want students to fall in love with reading we need to make the content they read compete directly against the websites they visit, and the TV shows they love.
Before deciding against a popular YA fiction title that may be pushing the envelope, librarians may need to start asking themselves questions like: Is it more violent than Breaking Bad? Is the sexual content as strong as the thousands of X-rated sites online? Is the language more offensive than virtually EVERY show airing outside of traditional cable outlets?
This will NOT lead to a world filled with trashy books that represent the worst of humanity. Rather, it will allow authors to write with an authentic and modern voice. It will encourage writing without needing to ‘dumb down’ language for greater commercial success.
Yes, your library should be a safe place, but more importantly an honest place. Censoring content to ‘protect’ young people will only drive them away from reading. A library that shies away from content that may be considered inappropriate for young people, may end up being a library that is NOT filled with something vital to its existence: young patrons.