I was recently dismayed to here a YA librarian talking about collection development refer to books like The Clique, Gossip Girl, and The A-List as “trash,” and subsequently question the value of purchasing them for a teen collection. While I’m not a fan of these novels (something about the writing style makes them very difficult for me to get into), my feeling on referring to any book as “trash” is one of immediate revulsion.
This conversation lead me to start thinking about the concept of censorship, something librarians are violently, and vociferously, opposed to. It seems that the attempt to pull Harry Potter of the shelf leads to international debate. Even classics, like Steinbeck and Fitzgerald, get backing from librarians who otherwise bad mouth such novels (another topic that gets my blood boiling, but for another day). But it seems, perhaps, there’s a line after all.
Since its initial publication, Cecily Von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl series has been a smash hit with teenage girls, a difficult audience under most circumstances. And since the day after its publication, parents, teachers, journalists, and concerned citizens have been railing against the series for its message that sex, drugs, alcohol, and vicious backstabbing are not only not a problem when engaged in by teenage girls, but are encouraged as ways to get what you want.
Now, I’m not saying we should be telling our teenagers to act like the spoiled, often immoral characters populating the pages of novels like these. But I am saying that, if you’re going to declare a book like Judy Blume’s Forever a vital part of a library’s collection, despite the sex, why should Gossip Girls be different?
Yes, I understand that in Judy Blume’s “sex” novels, the characters are in committed relationships. They think about their decisions, use birth control, and tell each other “I love you,” while in Von Ziegesar’s “sex” novels, the characters are having sex for power, because they’re drunk, or to get back at someone else. I get the distinction. But there are some readers, parents, religious leaders, and teachers who say sex in teen books is out of the question. Period. If we give in on Gossip Girls, one of the most challenged books in recent years, other books, good books, books with “morals” (whatever that means) could go next.
What I found most disturbing about this conversation, however, wasn’t the suggestion that the librarian wanted to ban the book (which was hazy at best). It was, as I mentioned earlier, her use of the word “trash” and her suggestion that a book she considered of poor quality be removed from collections simply because she labeled it “trash.”
I’m against censorship, but I understand why a parent or someone might take offense at certain books (Harry Potter problems are still beyond my comprehension), but while I’ll listen and respectfully disagree to someone with an argument based in supposed morality, my hackles rise at the thought that someone wants to pull a book for it’s being poor quality.
I think Dan Brown is crap. I can’t stand Jodi Piccoult. But I would still buy them for my collection (if that were my job), because I know they would circulate. And besides, who am I to judge whether a book is good or not? My taste may be totally different from another reader’s. My standards are usually incredibly high. But that’s all a matter of opinion. It’s personal. And just like it’s not the place of a “Concerned” parent to push her personal values on the community at large, it’s not my place to push my opinions and taste on my patrons.