Pat Scales on rating systems as barriers to access


Pat Scales has written a thoughtful discussion about the work of Common Sense Media for the August edition of Booklist, entitled “Weighing in: Three Bombs, Two Lips, and A Martini Glass” (full text available here). Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization that reviews media offerings for young people, including books. Her perspective on how and why rating systems such as Common Sense Media’s do a disservice to young readers is invaluable. As she concludes:

“While Common Sense Media isn’t censoring anything, it is providing a tool for censors. There is already a documented case in the Midwest where a book was removed from a school library based solely on a Common Sense review. Common Sense Media allows users to filter books by “on,” “off,” and “iffy” ratings. And reviewers are instructed to point out anything “controversial.” Such warnings encourage site browsers to take things out of context instead of looking at books as a whole.

Bombs, lips, and martini glasses! Indeed, let them be a warning. We must be proactive in helping parents understand that rating books is dangerous. Otherwise, more censorship bombs are sure to explode.”

The American Library Association has a long history of opposing efforts to stifle or restrict access to information, including the practice of labeling or rating materials as a warning to others that some may consider an item controversial or potentially offensive. In fact, our key statement on this issue, “Labeling and Rating Systems: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights,” was first adopted in 1951 and most recently amended in 2009. Libraries have grappled with questions about ratings for many, many years and yet the topic continues to morph, develop, and confound as we move deeper into the 21st century.

Librarians are uniquely trained and capable of providing information and guidance on reading options to families. OIF is pleased to support librarians in carrying out this important work. By ensuring open and unrestricted access to ideas, libraries in this country enable their users to embody the message of this year’s Banned Books Week: “Think For Yourself and Let Others Do The Same.”