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 audience—appropriate 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 libraries—school, public, and academic—is 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.