Historically, Children’s library collections have been focused on edification and education. The emergence of children’s literature and young adult literature as separate genres to adult fiction has been highlighted over the past century. The market for literature targeted specifically at children has grown exponentially over the last century to include fiction and non fiction, with a focus on developmental phases notably in the creation of the picture book, and other interactive texts. This demonstrates a reflexive relationship between pedagogy, society and the publishing industry that libraries engage with when creating and updating collections. The selection of texts for children in both school and public libraries has undergone several iterations of policy development, from a purely educational perspective to enjoyment of reading, banning of comics and penny-dreadfuls (which has waxed and waned over time) to the current ‘let them read what they want as long as they’re reading’ approach which is gaining momentum in library circles.
The debate over the withdrawal of books that no longer meet societal standards also influences the development of the children’s library. Many of the discussion around withdrawing books such as Dr Seuss’ “If I ran the zoo” and Lynne Reid Bank’s “Indian in the Cupboard” from libraries seems to centre around ensuring children are exposed only to the ‘right sort of books’ versus understanding the past and why such images, depictions and language are no longer acceptable. The argument being made for the former is that having such books openly available to children with no context to help parents discuss them, as they lack training in this area, is propagating harmful ideologies. Libraries and librarians could be ideally placed to support this kind of discussion, however, the decline in trained librarians with experience in pedagogy employed in the public library system in the UK makes this idea very difficult. It is far simpler to pull the book from circulation and have it destroyed, therefore eliminating part of a history that perhaps should be recorded and examined.
Interestingly, the Lynn Public Library in the USA, specific Children’s Library Collection Policy states:
“Responsibility for children’s reading/viewing rest with the parents or legal guardians. Parents or legal guardians are the only ones who may restrict their children, and only their children, from access to library materials. Minors have free access to library materials in all departments. The library staff does not serve in loco parentis (in the place of a parent).”
In addition to this, the policy also clearly states that the library does not approve, endorse or disapprove of content in controversial materials purchased by the library under their guidelines in that the material is of interest, not prohibited by law, published by a reputable publisher and widely available in bookstores. The freedom of the individual’s right to access all information is put foremost as is the parental rights and responsibilities for monitoring what their children read. This position is also part of the Buckinghamshire and Southwark Council Libraries’ policies here in the UK as well, whcih may be indiciative of public libraries in the UK as a whole. How this approach may change over time will be interesting to monitor.
IFLA’s guidelines on how to develop a collection for children emphasise the importance the collection reflecting the community it serves. It also states the significant role of collaboration with patrons in developing the collection. There is always a point of tension in library budgets between provision of digital resources (including devices, wifi etc), creating a balance of materials in terms of topics, perspectives, fiction and non fiction, and the requests of patrons for the latests book by a particular author. IFLA emphasises the need for children’s collections to be ‘in all local languages… created by local authors and illustrators…[and] support local school needs’ (IFLA, 2018 p10). A balanced approach to inclusiveness and diversity represented in the materials is also highlighted, where there is a expectation that equal representation is given to all groups and perspectives. A recent diversity in children’s books report showed that only 22% of books published in the UK and aimed at children have explicitly non-white main characters, it is even less for LGBTQ+ characters. One criticism is that to make storylines about diversity more “publishable” the illustrations feature animals or creatures rather than human beings of different ethnicities or religious groups. In order to redress this balance in representation in children’s collections, purchasing will need to be highly targeted in the coming years. One way libraries can meet this need is to utilise social media to keep up with new publications and diverse authors and illustrators – particularly local ones. The wider challenge of provisioning for specific communities and their needs, or transitory communities, is not explicitly addressed in the IFLA guidelines, but rather the word ‘should’ is use with a inference that libraries need to be flexible and sensitive to the communities they serve.
IFLA also emphasises the need to provide physical and digital resources, potentially by partnering with specialised libraries for those with specific accessibility needs such as large print and braille books, and ensuring that their digital content is also accessible. They also state that computers and wifi should be provided in the children’s section equally to the provision for the adult section. This does raise questions about the design of space and number of books and physical materials. In my previous post, I discussed the development of the children’s library space, in particular spaces for young children for play and interaction. How this is balanced in the UK where there is a finite space for public buildings and where school libraries often exist in corridors (Great School Libraries, 2019) again is a challenge for libraries and local authorities, and one that is not easily solved. Addressing space through digitisation is one option, but one that leaves the digitally disadvantaged communities that need library services the most, behind.
As always, budgets, training and engagement seem to be the most influential factors in libraries. Children’s collections and their development are no exception to this rule.
Buckinghamshire Council Libraries. n.d. “Stock Management Policy.” Buckinghamshire Council. Accessed March 22, 2021. https://www.buckinghamshire.gov.uk/libraries/library-membership/library-policies/stock-management-policy/.
Great School Libraries. (2019, October 16). Great School Libraries Report 2019 WEB FINAL 17.10.19.pdf. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.greatschoollibraries.org.uk/ website: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1rjo_wPFjwppcl3e-DrJMk7CAH9JJnMMc/view
Helmore, E. (2021, March 7). “It’s a moral decision”: Dr Seuss books are being “recalled” not cancelled, expert says. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/mar/07/dr-seuss-books-product-recall-cancel-culture
IFLA. (2018). Guildelines for Children’s Library Services. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, Third Edition (2nd ed., pp. 2898–2911). doi:10.1081/e-elis3-120044963
Lynn Public Library. (n.d.). Collection development policy – children’s department. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from Lynn Public Library website: https://www.noblenet.org/lynn/collection-development-policy-childrens-department