Am I Censoring if I Return a Book I Ordered after Seeing It?

Q: I ordered a book for my school library and when I received it and saw it firsthand, I determined that the content was too mature for our book collection, so I didn’t add it. Now I’m concerned. Was I censoring that book?

From time to time everyone is surprised to see that something we ordered is different from what we expected. Even if you had looked at professional book reviews, rather than ordering from an ad (which in most instances isn’t a sound practice), you still might be disappointed. Perhaps the book jacket seemed sensational, or the content of the book was clearly much more mature than what the library typically has for children at all reading and interest levels.

You had a couple of options in your situation. You could have returned the book and asked for credit or a refund. But the person in your building or district who handles requisitions may have told you that it wouldn’t be worth the time necessary to complete the paperwork. Still, this item was purchased with public funds–you can’t just discard it.

Usually the best option is to offer the book to the library at the next level. If you’re in an elementary school, contact someone at the middle school, or even the high school. Make a note of when you did this. Follow up.

If this book isn’t welcome in the district at all, you might want to donate it to the public library. Again, make a note and follow up.

If the book  isn’t welcome at the public library, make a note of that and, with your administrator’s OK, donate it to an upcoming book sale of a publicly funded institution in the community. And yes, make a note.

It’s important to know that you may not donate the book to the sale of a religious organization or your own garage sale. The book was purchased with tax dollars. Somehow a library Friends group or affiliate of a public agency must benefit from this ordering mistake.

Maybe you’ll have a half-dozen such items by the end of the school year. Do them all at once.

You aren’t a censor—unless of course this happens over and over, time and again. If so, then take a close look at your selection practices and look again at your selection policy. If you think a book is too mature, are you remembering the reading interests and reading levels of all the kids in your school? It isn’t always easy to remember this when something you see makes you really cringe.

Finally, it’s important to remember that it isn’t “your” library in a literal sense: it’s the school’s library, the district’s library, and the community’s library. It’s a library for everyone you serve. Remember this when selecting materials to support the curriculum, which includes opportunities for students to practice the reading skills they’re learning in class by choosing books for leisure reading as well as books with which they’ll complete homework assignments. It isn’t easy to remember this when you really cringe at what you see. Check the reviews regarding quality and age/grade recommendations before automatically pitching a book to the next level.

October, 2005