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Who Decides What Books Go On School Shelves?

November 12, 2009, 5:01 PM by Katie Janssen

Who Decides What Books Go On School Shelves?
After a book was pulled from student shelves at two Sioux Falls middle schools, some wonder who decides what books are offered in school libraries. It turns out, book selection is left up to individual librarians, and it's not a decision taken lightly.

Just this week, the book "Stuck in the Middle" was removed from student areas of Patrick Henry and Edison Middle Schools because of what some call inappropriate content.

District Library Coordinator Ann Smith says the book has been in Patrick Henry and Edison Middle Schools since 2007.

"Yes, you pull them out, thumb through them, see that this is the book you thought you'd be getting," Smith said.

Smith says the librarians who ordered the district’s two copies of "Stuck in the Middle" likely knew it contained swear words and references to sex, but also addresses important adolescent issues.  Staff pays close attention to professional reviews and current course work before deciding what to buy.

"They consult the bibliographies of curriculum materials, get recommendations from teachers, students, parents," Smith said.

Smith says librarians are always looking for age-appropriate material, but middle schoolers are especially hard to buy for.  What may be suitable for an eighth grader may not be so for a sixth-grader.

"Having a wide variety on the shelves, things that will appeal to them while they're here all three years can be challenging. Age-appropriateness when that age has such a wide range," Smith said.

From now on, the book will be kept in the library office so teachers can still use it for in-class discussion.

"The most valuable thing about books is they can open up opportunities to discuss difficult issues with children," Smith said.

Smith says she hates to see any book kept from students, but appreciates the fact that at least one parent is paying attention to what their child is reading.

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