Most Parents Want School Libraries for Their Children–But With Restrictions

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She’s the editor/author of (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

The third in a series of surveys conducted by Book Riot and the EveryLibrary Institute on parental perceptions of the library is finished, and the results are in. This time, the research focused specifically on what parents and guardians thought about school libraries. Like with the results from the survey on perceptions of the public library and on library workers, there is tension between the ways parents feel about school libraries from question to question.

In the abstract, parents love school libraries and believe them to be essential components of the school:

  • 95% of parents believe every school should have a school library
  • 93% of parents believe their child is safe using the school library
  • 80% of parents trust school librarians to select age-appropriate material for the school library, while 82% trust school librarians to recommend age-appropriate material to students.

The above are positive findings, and yet, when more context is given to survey questions, there are somewhat contradictory responses:

  • 60% of parents believe school libraries should restrict access to books by age or require parental permission to check out a book
  • 57% believe that parents should receive notifications when a child checks out a book
  • 53% of parents believe they should be able to opt their children out of access to the school library while 38% believe they should have to opt their children into access.

The good news to be pulled from here is that most parents do not believe in wholesale restriction of school libraries via opt-in forms, though those findings contradict the first bullet point, where parents indicated access restriction as being okay. Is that because the onus is on the librarian to make the decision about appropriateness and thus, seek parental input? Or is it because that is a far less reaching idea of restriction than an opt-in form to use the library? Opt-in forms have been extremely unpopular when implemented over the last several years.

Opt-out policies, however, have much higher percentages in their favor.

It is concerning to think about the majority of parents wanting to know every book their child borrows from the school library. We already know students are not using the school library the same way they once did due to book bans, and more, in this survey and in the prior ones, the vast majority of parents report never having been made uncomfortable by the books their child has borrowed (86%) and that their child has never been made uncomfortable by the book they borrowed (87%).

If, as parents in this survey indicated (70%), they are responsible for what their child reads and that their children have the right to select their own books (60%), why the need for knowing everything they borrow?

In addition:

  • 81% of parents report not knowing how books are selected for the school library
  • 41% of parents say they have met their child’s school librarian
  • 16% believe school librarians should be arrested for giving children access to certain books.

More, 85% of parents believe there are some books that are inappropriate for all children. If parents trust their librarians, why are so many under the believe there is something inappropriate for every child in the library?

As in previous surveys, parents report wanting their children and teenagers to have access to books that include diverse experiences (86%) and that teenagers should have access to a wide range of books in their school libraries, including those on complex or controversial topics (87%). However,

Nearly one-third of the responders indicated that if a book made them or their child uncomfortable, they would request it to be banned. At the same time, 63% said book bans infringe on their rights as parents and 54% said book bans harm children–yet, 42% also stated that “banning books is an appropriate way to prevent children from learning about certain topics.”

When asked about book ratings systems in school libraries:

  • 80% of parents believed there should be a book rating system in school libraries like those used for movies or music
  • 50% believed that school libraries should only contain books appropriate for every age group in the school (i.e., the youngest and most sensitive readers)
  • 67% believed the school library website should list every book available in the collection.

Parents trust librarians, even if they do not know how librarians select materials. Parents trust librarians, but they want some kind of made up ratings system. Parents trust librarians, but half of them believe the library should only have materials for the youngest people in the school–imagine a school serving kindergarten through eighth graders and those eighth graders only having access to picture book biographies to work on reports. (No, don’t look to the public library for that, as they’re under attack, too).

That final question is particularly interesting, given that the demand for lists of every book in the school library has come up as either a solution or compromise to demands to remove inappropriate books. The reality is schools have this already via their online catalog–it’s just that parents either do not know this or do not want to take the time to assert their rights by searching it.

In the new year, Book Riot and the EveryLibrary Institute will continue our partnership and release a series of stories and a report highlighting the findings across all three surveys. The goal is to help empower library workers and library advocates.

Access the press release and full findings of the survey on parental beliefs about school libraries.

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