What's your take on leveling books? I work in a middle school where we have fifth to eight grade, and I label YA books with a YA sticker. The YA books, in our policy on the website, are for seventh and eight graders. However, I will sometimes allow sixth and sometimes fifth graders who want those books to take them. I never tell a kid they can't read a book, but I will ask for a parent email or a teacher conversation. This feels like a violation of privacy, but kids seem willing to do it. Is this censorship, or self-censorship, or self-selection, or am I worrying about it too much?
AASL has a good position statement on labeling that sorts through labeling issues and privacy concerns. It is found here. ALA also has a document called Labeling Systems: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights document found alphabetically in the list of interpretations found here.
Labeling the spines with reading levels or colored dots definitely impinges on students’ privacy. If they are expected to read only in their reading level area, or if they are required to obtain parental permission beforehand as this will certainly not encourage them to choose books labeled YA, and may even discourage them from using the library at all.
Think about why you have the YA label. Does the district require YA labeling? It appears that your district’s policy states the books are only for 7th and 8th graders, but some considerations include:
- The YA label may discourage readers if they feel they have to ask for parent or teacher permission to read a specific book.
- Some students may know that their parent would never allow them to read a book with an LGBTQ character, or with sex, or fill in the blank. Do those students ask a friend to check out the book for them?
- Labeling with YA also makes it seem as though the book has mature content, but yet you have that age where some students are more mature than others of the same age. This has always been a thorny question.
Your concerns about overthinking this issue demonstrate to me that you want your students to have free and open access to books of interest to them. While you do ask for teacher or parent input knowing that action provides some “cover” and extends greater access to your chronologically younger/lower grade students, this “ask” may certainly be a barrier to some students who need/want to read these YA books. However, and here is the issue that is the “elephant in the room”, with book challenges and more parental oversight these days of what students are reading, are you willing to eliminate the procedure you have in place and open up all YA books to everyone, grades five to eight? Is this in direct violation of district policy?
I wish I had the magic answer, but I do not. If it were my library, I would open up the books to all readers without publicity, but quietly. This may be your answer, but only you know your audience, parents, administrators, and community culture. Good luck.