Monday, August 3, 2015

Do Books Need a Rating System for Kids?

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Seven out of ten Americans expect librarians to prevent children from borrowing materials that are inappropriate for their age. This puts librarians in the role of a gatekeeper and many of them are now calling for a rating system for books. They cite that movies, music and video games all have age ratings and books should too.

The Harris Poll surveyed over 2,244 adults last March and they found the vast majority of respondents want a book rating system, instead of banning books outright. Three-fifths of Americans believe children should not be able to get books containing explicit language from school libraries , while half say the same of books with references to violence.

Some people disagree that books need a rating system. “Books can be a safe way for young people to explore edgier, sensitive, or complicated topics, and they provide parents the opportunity to help their teens grow and understand these kinds of sensitive issues,” says Beth Yoke, executive director of the Young Adult Library Services Association, an offshoot of the American Library Association. “ALA’s interpretation on any rating system for books is that it’s censorship.”

I think Beth Yorke is completely wrong. Censorship is when an authority (usually government) suppresses speech or communication. Simply using a rating system to describe content is not censorship. Movies and TV shows, all have a rating system, and while market forces might encourage or discourage content of a certain rating, market forces are not systematic censorship by a controlling body. Movie ratings have not prevented R movies from being made, and TV ratings have not prevented True Blood or Game of Thrones from becoming hit shows.

Books need a rating system in order to have our children reading age appropriate material. This would make millions of librarians jobs far easier when loaning out physical copies at their branch, but more importantly e-books.

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