Coping with Challenges

Kids and Libraries: What You Should Know

Kids and curiosity go together. Children and teenagers have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge that usually pleases but sometimes overwhelms their parents. Why? How? The questions never seem to end!

Fortunately, there are libraries and librarians to help answer these unending questions, send kids on wondrous adventures and provide them with the resources they need to learn and grow. And parents can relax knowing it is a friendly place for all families.

With so much available, how can you help your family make the best use of the library?

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions, along with suggestions for helping children become lifelong learners and library users.

What is the role of libraries and librarians in serving children?

Libraries are family-oriented public institutions charged with making a broad selection of materials available for everyone, including children and teenagers.

Most public libraries have special areas for children and teens with materials that appeal to various ages and interests. Libraries also offer summer reading programs, storytelling, book discussions and other special programs for young people. Programs such as these help kids learn to enjoy libraries and use them for their information and entertainment needs.

School libraries have a responsibility to support their school’s curriculum and to provide materials that serve the diverse backgrounds, interests, maturity levels and reading levels of the entire student body.

How do librarians select their collections?

Each library has its own selection and collection development policies. Criteria may include popular demand, ensuring diversity in the collection, available space and budget. These policies must be approved by the library or school governing board, which is made up of community representatives.

The ultimate responsibility rests with the library director or school superintendent, who delegates selection to appropriate staff acting within the framework of the established policies. In schools, librarians work closely with teachers and school administrators to provide collections that support and supplement the school’s curriculum.

The majority of books and other materials selected have been reviewed and recommended by professional librarians or reviewers. Purchases are also sometimes made on the recommendations of book discussion groups or requests by library users.

Selection is an inclusive process, in which librarians seek materials that will provide a broad range of viewpoints and subject matter. This means that while library collections have thousands of items families want, like and need, they also will have materials that some parents may find offensive to them or inappropriate for their children.

Because an item is selected does not mean the librarian endorses or promotes it. He or she is simply helping the library to fulfill its mission of providing information from all points of view.

How are libraries different from movie theaters, book or video stores, which often have restrictions for children and teens?

As public institutions, libraries cannot discriminate based on age, sex, race or any other characteristic. Movie theaters are privately owned businesses that can choose to show only children’s movies or westerns. Similarly, video stores can decide not to rent certain movies to anyone under the age of 18.

Libraries must meet the diverse needs of everyone in their communities. They cannot overrule the rights and responsibilities of individuals by deciding who does or doesn’t have access to library materials. Most libraries provide movie reviews and ratings for parents to use these in guiding their children’s library use.

Can’t parents tell the librarian what material they don’t think children should have?

Decisions about what materials are suitable for particular children should be made by the people who know them best—their parents or guardians.

Children mature at different rates. They have different backgrounds and interests. And they have different reading levels and abilities. For instance, a video that one 10-year-old likes may not interest another. Or parents may feel a particular library book is inappropriate for their daughter, while the same book may be a favorite of her classmate’s family. These factors make it impossible for librarians to set any criteria for restricting use based on age alone. To do so would keep others who want and need materials from having access to them.

Like adults, children and teenagers have the right to seek and receive the information that they choose. It is the right and responsibility of parents to guide their own family’s library use while allowing other parents to do the same.

Librarians are not authorized to act as parents. But they are happy to provide suggestions and guidance to parents and youngsters at any time.

What is the Library Bill of Rights?

The Library Bill of Rights is a policy adopted by the American Library Association to guide librarians in serving their communities or schools. This policy, based on the First Amendment , protects the rights of all library users to choose for themselves what they wish to read, listen to or view. It has been voluntarily adopted by many libraries to ensure that they serve everyone in their communities equally and fairly.

Under the First Amendment, children and teens have the same rights as adults to select the materials they wish to read, listen to or view. The Library Bill of Rights simply reminds libraries of their responsibilities to serve all the public, regardless of age.

How can parents help children and teens make the best use of the library?

  1. Allow your kids to explore the library. Children and teens are naturally attracted to materials intended for them. They are generally not attracted to materials that are too advanced for their reading or maturity levels. By asking questions and learning to find their own answers, young people learn to think for themselves, to compare and contrast differing opinions and to analyze what they see and hear, rather than blindly following others.
  2. Ask your librarian for suggestions about materials that are appropriate for your children’s ages, maturity levels, knowledge and interests. Read books and brochures that review materials for children or teens. Review those materials yourself to determine if they are what you think your children may like or need. While librarians and resource lists can provide guidance, you know your children and family’s needs best.
  3. Discuss your family rules regarding library use with your children. If you are concerned they will not respect your wishes, it is your responsibility to visit the library with them.
  4. When you can’t go along, show an interest in what your children bring home from the library. Have a special shelf for library materials and take time to familiarize yourself with them. Ask your children in a non-threatening way to share what they found at the library. Praise their independence and responsibility in caring for library materials and returning them on time.
  5. If you feel an item is inappropriate for your children, use this as an opportunity to express your views and provide guidance. When you return the material, simply ask the librarian to help you find something else from among the many choices available.
  6. Be aware that many young people seek information from libraries that they are embarrassed or afraid to ask an adult. A factual library book, unlike hearsay from friends, can ease their fears or even keep them safe from harm. Remember that just because a child is reading or viewing something, it doesn’t mean he or she is participating in or approves of it. If you have a concern, take the opportunity to discuss it.
  7. Be a role model for library use. Nothing teaches children better than seeing you use and enjoy the wide range of materials available.
  8. Establish a family routine of going regularly to the library. Visiting the library once a week or once a month encourages young people to use the library both for learning and pleasure, and teaches them how to find what they need—an invaluable skill for school and a lifetime of learning.
  9. Get to know your public and school librarians. Their expertise can help you and your children get the most out of libraries.
  10. Ask for the item you want. If the library doesn't already own it, the librarian may be able to locate similar materials, borrow it from another library or add it to the collection.

For more information about how your library can meet your family’s needs, talk to your librarian.

Published by the
American Library Association
50 E. Huron St.
Chicago, IL 60611
© 1999