I believe in the Children's Right to Read and Library Bill of Rights. I want children to have unlimited access to a wide variety of materials in multiple formats. I want to be a good librarian and exemplify all that is right and good in our profession.
There are times when I cannot abide by these documents. There are times when I cannot allow children unfettered access to the library collection. There are times when I must put my foot down, when I must deny access, when I must hang my head in silent shame that I have besmirched my professional ethos. At least one of those times occurred today, when I refused to check out books to children who could not read the items they selected. Here's why:
School librarians have a responsibility to support and enhance the instructional goals and objectives of the school. If it is an instructional objective that children should select and read materials on an appropriate reading level, then we must honor and respect that goal.
So, when I have a first grader who wants books on basketball, I strive to help him select a book on the appropriate reading level. If such a book is not available on his level, he must choose something else. While I insist that the child get one book he can read, I allow him to get a book of his choosing as well.
Sometimes, with older children, I disregard this this policy if I think for reasons of self-esteem children need to be seen carrying around a book similar to those carried by their peers, even if those books are too difficult for them. It has always amazed me that the most struggling readers really want the biggest, most difficult books. I try to get the most popular books for older readers in an audiovisual format to support struggling readers, but budget constraints too often limit my ability to provide enough.
Conversely, some of my most able kids choose books that are well below their abilities. I gently prod these children into choosing more suitable volumes, usually with an attempt at humor. Children generally understand my understated sarcasm when I compliment them on "choosing books to read to the preschool" and make more appropriate choices the next time. Sometimes, however, kids just want to revisit a childhood favorite. And sometimes they just need a break.
I try to get the most popular books for older readers in an audiovisual format to support struggling readers. Playaways have been very popular with the students of all ability levels. Research has shown that when audio devices are used in accompaniment with the printed word, children's comprehension increases. Unfortunately, again, budget constraints limit how many novels I can provide in Playaway or other audio format.
I also invoke the concept of in loco parenti when I deny children access to VHS or DVD feature films on weeknights. I am happy to allow them to borrow movies on Fridays, so that they can have a weekend to view the film. I feel I would be doing a disservice to the children and my fellow faculty members if I distracted children from their homework with non-educational films. Of course, if the DVD or video is educational, I will circulate it to students at any time.
I don't really feel bad about my flaunting of ALA ethics in these cases, because I strongly feel I have an educational charge to fulfill. The tenet I abuse that troubles me is the violation of privacy that occurs when I send overdue lists to classroom teachers in attempt to retrieve materials. Again I cite the in loco parenti facet of the educational system, but this violation bothers me most. I would hate to have a child feel embarrassed because I shared information in this manner. I violate this knowingly, because without teacher help I would have a hard time getting items returned.
I would like to hear from other library media specialists and hear how they have addressed these ethical dilemmas. I think using in loco parenti has a reason for my actions could very easily be used as an excuse for other restrictive actions, such as censorship. That is one line I do not want to cross.