Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Filtering Focus (part two)

Posted by lpearle on 19 June 2008

When people in my world talk about filtering, they generally mean filtering internet sites (as mandated by silly government legislation like CIPA). Recently, however, a new form of filtering has been creating a fuss: age banding.

Say what?

Age banding. It’s when you designate a specific appropriate age (or age range) for books. People are protesting (for example, here and here), but I’m confused. Many of the reviews I read, in such august publications as School Library Journal, already give an age range. Harry Potter #1 was considered appropriate for Ages 8-12 by Publisher’s Weekly. We librarians rely on this type of comment when we purchase books all the time, so how is this new “banding” different?

I’m not sure I understand.

I do know that there are issues with programs like Accelerated Reader, where students are tested and given an “appropriate reading level” from which to choose books. I hated this sort of limitation when I was in school. There were days I’d want to read Nancy Drew, and days when I read Victoria Holt, and I was in sixth grade. Being told I could only read “appropriate reading level” books would have driven me nuts! However, my parents were well aware of what I was reading and could, had they wanted, suggested I stop. It wasn’t some outsider making that decision.

There are school librarians I know that do limit their students reading to “appropriate reading level” books. If you’re in second grade, you should only be reading books like Frog and Toad, their thinking goes. Nonsense. If the child is able to read above level, and the parents are ok with them encountering material that is, perhaps, above them, fine. Let them.

And then there’s the whole genre label issue. ALA is against it, yet many of us do it. Now, I do get frustrated when a book falls into several categories (mystery and sci-fi and humor, a la Dirk Gently), but I still think there’s value to it. I don’t think it’s filtering to say “this is Christian fiction” or “this is a mystery”, although there are some that do.

Part of my job really does involve “filtering”, however gently. Collection development involves choices: which books are appropriate for my school based on interest, content, curricular connections, and myriad other considerations? Selecting Agatha Christie over Ellery Queen is, to some extent, filtering. Choosing to not purchase Academy X or V for Vendetta – filtering.

It’s a dilemma, isn’t it? On the one hand, I’m against filtering resources. On the other…

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