Tuesday, March 17, 2009

...But I know it when I see it

Via YALSA-BK and the news, I've been following the saga of the West Bend, WI, library and the town debate over YA books that contain GLBTQ content (the one most often named in the news is Geography Club by Brent Hartinger) belong in the YA section of the library, which services 6th-12th grade. I've actually read the story with more interest than rage. That was, until I listened to this radio interview (link is "West Bend Library Issue") with the woman who filed the complaint against the GLBTQ suggested booklist for teens. During the listener call-in, the complainant, Ginny Maziarka, said that she'd met with West Bend's YA librarian and read the "explicit" parts aloud. When asked by the DJ how old the YA librarian, Kristin Pekoll, is, Maziarka responded that Pekoll was in her late 20s. Then comes the irritating part.

Maziarka had the gall to ask Pekoll if (and I paraphrase here) if these were the kind of books that she would take home and read to her children. Pekoll responded, "That is irrelevant to this discussion." Ms Pekoll: GOOD FOR YOU. That was absolutely the right and professional answer to give. Your delivering that answer does the profession good. I don't know how the rest of you feel about this, but my personal life is not up for discussion with my patrons. None of ours should be, regardless of the community we serve.

First, what an incredibly rude question for Ms Maziarka & Co. to ask. That's the kind of question my mother taught me to respond to with a smile and an "I'll forgive you for asking that question if you will forgive me for not responding." Second, and I know this may come as a shock to some, but the number of children one has is completely irrelevant to whether or not one can do a great job as a YA librarian. I've known wonderful YA librarians with no children. I've known terrible YA librarians with two or three children. Ms Pekoll's reproductive status and her parenting choices (if she decides to parent) are no one's business but hers. I wonder if the would-be censors asked the male library director if he had kids, or would read these books to his kids. I bet not. Okay, off that soapbox; it's just a topic that's close to my heart and I had to rant.

The most fundamental problem Ms Maziarka & Co. have, in my opinion, is that although she knows the YA section is supposed to serve people in sixth to twelfth grade, she refuses to acknowledge that anyone over the age of eleven is reading the books. YA is published for people approximately 12-18 years old and despite what the media likes to tell us, there are older teens who love YA. I also find the excuse of "there's nothing on Geography Club that would indicate its content" a little silly. Is there no printing on the book jacket? Every hardcover copy of Geography Club I've ever seen has flap copy written on it. Every review ever written about this book, several of which are easily readable on Amazon or Barnes&Noble.com, discusses the content. With all that information readily available, I'm not buying the argument.

Listen to the whole interview. The callers that call in clearly haven't got a clue as to how the internet differs from books, or how collection development works. The DJ and Ms Maziarka are trying to rile people up. Frankly, I'm not riled because it's patently obvious they, like their listeners, also haven't got a clue as to how collection development, accessibility to materials in libraries, literature awards, writing for teens, bookselling and library law, etc. works. Sometimes I think that the lack of knowledge and education in those who want to control what other people can access at the library is a greater threat than their opposition to "objectionable" content itself.

At the end of the interview, Ms Maziarka stated that she believed West Bend to be a faith-based community. If that is so, then I have faith that the library will keep books like Geography Club in YA where they belong and will leave parenting in the hands of individual parents, not one small group.

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