|Photo from Tumblr, apparently taken inside Riverdale High School in Jefferson, Louisiana.|
A Louisiana student posted a photo of her high school librarian smiling and giving the thumbs-up next to a bright orange sign reading:
WE WILL NOT EVER
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
Please go to your public library
for poorly written books on
mentally and physically
abusive sexual relationships
When I first saw this photo, especially the face of the librarian who is clearly so enchanted by her masterpiece, I had a pretty good flood of emotions. My mind instantly took me back to being a teenager and translated this sign into the language I would have read then:
The types of books you like to read are stupid and worthless. The only books acceptable are the ones you don't like or don't want to read right now. If 'stupid and worthless' is your thing, either leave this safe space or just quit reading.
Because, really, let's be honest: that's the message there. This sign isn't standing up for fine literature or taking a bold stance against the negative portrayal of women, sexuality, and consent to which readers are exposed.
The sign is simply shaming anyone who wants to read the book. And while that's okay to do on Tumblr or in your living room or over the phone with some friend you made on Goodreads, it is never, ever, ever okay for a professional librarian to do in a public school.
Deciding on a collection development basis that it doesn't fit your library is absolutely fine. I would probably make the same decision as a public high school librarian. But to celebrate the fact that you've banned a book? Keep it classy, Riverdale.
What that incredibly self-satisfied librarian should do regarding Fifty Shades of Grey is simply, well...her job. Here are things she could do:
- Not even mention the thing, because really, you think those students are rushing the desk every day for that book?
- "I'm sorry, we don't have that book, but I can suggest some romance novels we do have that you might like..."
- "I'm sorry, we don't have that book, but let me give you the hours for the public library..."
- "I'm sorry, we don't have that book, but do you know how to place a hold at the public library on-line? Here, let me show you. If you have your card, we can even do it right now!"
- Basically anything else not snarky and demeaning.
No matter how awful a book or its message is, your job as a librarian is to educate and empower. You don't say, "Neener, neener, I'm withholding information from you and you can't stop me!" with a bright orange sign. You don't make patrons feel like garbage because they are intellectually curious about a material. (Did it not occur to this librarian that some students might be interested in the book precisely because of its negative aspects, because they are looking into media portrayals of domestic violence or because they are an emerging feminist and want to know what the heck people debating the book are talking about?) You don't make the public library sound like a cesspool of inferior materials that could only benefit from your learned weeding touch.
If the demand really is that high? Make a multipurpose handout of suggested alternatives, educate about (and respect) the public library, and casually put up a display of books dealing with the topic of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. And jump up and down over the fact that a teenager asked for a book in the first place.