Letter: Here’s how book selection — and school librarians’ role in it — works

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Highland High School's book depository, Sept. 27, 2022.

While I usually agree with Robert Gehrke’s op-eds, when it comes to book selection (and the librarian’s role in it), he, like many others, doesn’t have a clue.

As a retired middle school librarian from northern New York, in my 29-year tenure I had three book challenges, at most. None ever reached even the selection committee stage. Why?

First, we followed the American Library Association-recommended process: Anyone challenging a book had to fill out a detailed, two-page questionnaire, guaranteeing that the objector read the entire book and could find no redeeming value in it. At that point, I would call the committee (which included teachers, parents and students) to read the book, review the challenger’s objections, and vote whether to keep or remove it from the collection.

In our district, composed of six different schools, book challenges rarely even reached the building principal, much less the superintendent. Of course, every librarian was required to have a Master of Arts in Library Science degree, and our principals — who hired us — usually respected our judgment, and let us do our job.

While librarians solicit, and receive, book recommendations from their teachers, students and staff, it is the primary responsibility of the school librarian to select and purchase books and all other materials. Librarians take graduate classes in book selection. It is their responsibility to read professional reviews (Booklist, School Library Journal, etc.) and use them as guides in selection. When thousands of new children’s and young adult books are published every year, it would take a large number of volunteer parents to read even a fraction of what is published, much less what is already in a library collection. My library alone housed over 5,000 books.

In short, schools need to hire professional librarians at every level, pay them fairly, and expect them to do their jobs, only a part of which is materials selection. Of course, to do that, you need to truly value public education, support it with your tax dollars, and keep ignorant legislators at bay. From my perch, that’s not the Utah Way.

Randy LaLonde, Millcreek

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