The article that I read was:
Hunt, L. & Wachsmann, M. (2012). Does labelling children’s books constitute censorship? Reference & User Services Quarterly, Winter 2012, Vol. 52(2), pp. 90-92.
This article was useful and thought provoking. It not only addresses the usefulness of labelling library resources to assist younger readers but also opens up questions of about what censorship is and what it isn’t.
It’s worth starting with definitions. To effectively consider whether labelling children’s books constitutes censorship we have to ask, ‘what is censorship?’ Censorship typically refers to the elimination of all or part of a book, film etc. so that it becomes unavailable to anyone who may want to access it. Censorship is loaded with value judgments and conjures up images of restrictive governments who want to control what people learn. The Oxford dictionary online is very specific, censorship is “The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security”. On the other hand the definition of ‘labeling’ refers to attaching information about an item or classifying it in some way (“Censorship,” 2016) be argued that labeling is an extension of a key function of librarianship, that is, cataloguing of resources. It does not restrict access to information but rather seeks to assist patrons in the use of library resources by appending information about the item. This information takes on an even greater significance when the patron is a child or student.
Using a loaded word like censorship in a discussion about labeling could be construed as leading the reader to a decision about labeling that is completely unwarranted but rather reflective of the writer’s personal opinion of labeling.
It becomes clear from the article that the concerns made by those against labeling do not proceed logically from labeling itself but rather from how labeling is used by those directing children’s learning in libraries.
The article describes a number of labeling uses that could result in labeling being seen as the problem to learning. These include:
- Instructing students to only borrow books ‘that are on their level’ or ‘on the prescribed reading list’. Such a restriction is not inherent in labeling itself but the result of those directing the use of library resources. An alternative positive use would be to direct students to read from several or all reading lists, or to extend students by asking them to include a ‘next level up’ book.
- Shelving books according to their labels. This is noted as preventing children from understanding how libraries are organised. Again, there is no expectation that books should be organized in any way other than the library’s cataloguing system. Labeling adds information to the specific resource wherever the library has catalogued it. Grouping resources according to label categories is a misuse of labels.
In the article, a strong case is made by both writers on the benefits of labeling in promoting library use, fostering an interest and desire to read, and guiding the selection of books.
Labeling can be an effective way of fostering a broad acquisition of knowledge or understanding. An example is the objective of ‘diversity’. Labeling can help promote diversity by requiring students to read (for example) one book from every label category established by the library. These categories could be based on culture, philosophy, climate, gender etc.
In conclusion it can be said that, if labeling results in unwarranted or misdirected behavior in library patrons then the fault most probably lies in the system of labeling adopted (labels are not useful / appropriate), or in how the library users understand or perceive the labeling (ineffective education about what the label represents). There is nothing to suggest that an objective system of labeling restricts patron usage of resources and there is no basis for claiming that labeling is censorship in any way.
As someone who works in the industry, I learned that labelling can be used as an effective tool for guiding learning for students so that it’s both balanced, increases knowledge and addresses learning goals. Censorship by its nature restricts knowledge by limiting access to information.
Censorship. (2016) In Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/censorship