The Great Debate: What is “Appropriate” for Public School Libraries?

Censorship, School Libraries

By Linsey Milillo

This discussion is not new nor will this particular incarnation be the last.

In November 2015, Gayle Forman’s Just One Day was challenged by parents in Rosemount public school district, a suburb of Minnesota. Ben and Kandi Lovin, parents of a sixth grader, called for the title to be removed from Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan libraries, citing adult themes such as a graphic sexual encounter, underage drinking and date rape as reasons for the removal. Forman’s novel centers on Allyson, a teenager, who spends a romantic day with a mysterious actor and later decides to spend her summer vacation returning to Europe to find him.

The school responded by forming a committee comprised of instructors, students and parents in the system to review the novel and make a decision. On December 3rd, the committee decided to retain the book in libraries with a 7-4 vote, citing fervently the district’s policies supporting standards of academic freedom and the freedom to read.  The ultimate decision regarding what content is appropriate for an individual, even if that individual is a minor, remains a task for the parent. The district will continue to support a selection policy toward building collections of resources “appropriate to the development and maturity levels of students.” The Lovin’s have the right to appeal the decision.

We come back to the question: what is “appropriate” for public school libraries or libraries in general? It is more likely that this ongoing debate will never be solved.  For as long as libraries have collected materials to share with patrons, there is inevitably someone who wants to sanction the types of materials purchased and made accessible to the public. It remains our jobs as librarians, the disseminators of information, to uphold the ideals of intellectual freedom as well as encourage libraries to cultivate written collection development policies and procedures. A well balanced collection should have appeal to each and every patron. We must encourage the act of viewing a piece as a whole and not singling out words or scenes to devalue the novel as a collective entity.

The same should be said for a public school library and its YA collection.  While not a parent, I can understand the Lovin’s concern.  Having just finished Just One Day, I would concur that it probably is not the best choice for a sixth grader. The story, characters and themes are meant for a more mature audienceappropriate for a mature middle school or high school student. It is certainly their right to revoke their child’s access this title; however, it is beyond their reach to expect the district to pull the title from shelves. They should not regulate what is appropriate for other readers or parents. From experience, I know that books can help readers explore and deal with circumstances from a fictional standpoint that they might be encountering in their own lives.

The bottom line is that the fight for intellectual freedom in all libraries continues.  The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district handled the situation appropriately. This question concerning appropriateness will remain in flux. What is important for librariesschool, public, and academicis to have the policies in place to promote quality collection development to place students within reach of diverse resources but to also have an instituted plan should a challenge arise.


Linsey Milillo works in teen and adult reference services for the Lane Libraries in Fairfield, Ohio. She’s an avid blogger with interest in reviews, programming and discussing timely issues at the center of library and information services.


  • I agree with you that although the subject matter of Gayle Forman’s Just One Day may not be appropriate for a 6th grader, the book resonates with a more mature audience of fourteen and up. A parent, who monitors their child’s reading selections, may use this book as a conversation starter into what their opinions are on the decisions the main character makes. The book contains many teachable moments for young adults who may not have experienced these situations yet. As a librarian and a parent, I would keep the book on the shelf. I am an advocate for intellectual freedom but I also want young adults to find the genre that gets them excited about reading. Some teens will read every romance on the shelf while others will read only science fiction. Opinions on what is appropriate reading for teens will always be present whether it is about dystopian society, violence, magic, or romance. What is important is that teens are reading for enjoyment and parents have the opportunity to keep an open dialogue about the subject matter with their teens.

  • It makes sense that the Lovins were concerned about the content for a sixth grader,
    because sixth grade does not seem to be the target audience for Just One Day. If their
    child is in the sixth grade, is she at an elementary school or a middle school? If she is
    at an elementary school, her parents’ concern is warranted. With all of the great
    books a school library could provide for an elementary school child, why would a
    portion of the budget be spent on a title that includes such mature content? If,
    however, her school includes junior high or high school students along with 6th
    grade students (or even younger students), this issue becomes far more

    I am a school librarian at a private school for 7th-12th graders, so I understand the
    issue of the great difference in maturity levels and interests between a 12-year-old
    and an 18-year-old. In a private school, the expectations, criteria, and budget are
    different than that of a public school, although we do still have books on our shelves
    that could be found offensive and that contain mature subject matter.

    It is difficult to meet the educational, informational, and entertainment needs of the
    student body without providing some content that is too mature or advanced for the
    younger students. Because of this, I have created a system that lets me know what
    books are generally categorized as high school-appropriate. It is not a perfect
    system, but it is helpful. Although I don’t remove the books from my library, I check
    out these books to high school students only. Since parents are not present at the
    school library to help their students to make these decisions, they may not have the
    opportunity to be a part of these conversations. However, If a 7th grade student talks
    to his parents about a specific book with mature content and his parents let me
    know that they are fine with their son reading it, I allow him to check it out. As a
    general rule, I want to give parents a say when obvious mature themes are present.

    Because of this, I can understand why the Lovins might be concerned about the fact
    that their daughter found a certain book in the school library, even though it might
    not be the right decision for them to want to remove it completely. In school
    libraries, there has to be a balance between offering challenging material for older
    students and making sure not to overwhelm young readers with information and
    issues they aren’t developmentally ready for. It’s definitely an ongoing challenge
    that requires constant maintenance, planning, and thoughtfulness!

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