Saturday, April 24, 2010
Censoring the OPAC
I am usually pretty open about what is put into our school library - I try not to censor too much. I do have a few rules to help me in my decisions which include not including pornography or support magazines that have soft porn advertising, PG DVD's are not lent to students in the elementary school without parental permission, and we do not hold "R" rated DVD's. The books that are included in the senior collection may include swear words and 'undesirable' behaviour, these are only available to the seniors to access but need to have literary merit to be included in the collection. Our art books have pictures in them that are well worn from being looked at - Renoir and his ladies along with some others being the favourites. Graphic novels are examined and restricted based on depictions of the female form and activities of the characters (ie violence, sexual depictions) I am in a K-12 school so need to be careful of what the young ones have access to, without restricting access to information and literary experiences for the older ones. I need to 'protect' the young ones from exposure and allow some access for the older ones. It is a balancing act.
We also have some secondary students who deem the non fiction title 'Sex 101' along with other factual resources on the human body as inappropriate for our library and hide them among the furniture or shelves so others can't access them. They will come to me with pictures from National Geographic showing indigenous people in their natural surrounds topless, and ask me to rip the page out as it should not be in the school library. This leads to discussions on censorship and appropriateness.
So this is the scene of the latest event in the library ... a year 3 boy trying out his newly learned word "F#@*", typed it into the OPAC with his teacher about a metre away. Normal naughty behaviour for a boy of this age, they used to use the dictionary before computers. It wouldn't have normally been an issue - he would have typed the word in and found no results. End of experiment. However, he did get a result ... there is a play at the very senior level called "Shopping and F%&*ing" which the drama dept have in their collection and is in the OPAC, as all teaching resources in the school are catalogued. The teacher glanced across to see what was causing the giggling and strange sounds and was shocked at what they were looking at. She cross examined the boy as to how he achieved such a result and he was open about how he got to it. He then got into trouble for trying such things, and I got the email about the resource.
How this got put on the system with a title like this? The library assistants have English as a second language and so are not aware of the seriousness of such a word in a school library, we download records from other sources and they work feverishly through the long list of items to be catalogued. I do not check every record that is entered, and I do not handle orders from other departments. So it slipped through and has lay dormant in the OPAC for about 12 months.
So what to do? The problem is now that because a result came up and other students saw this, it will spread through the junior school like wildfire, all having a go to see if it is real, it will then get back to the parents and we will have a major problem about the types of resources that are being held at the school and what we are exposing their children to etc etc... We could withdraw the resource from the catalogue but then that defeats the purpose of ensuring we have a record of what is in the school.
I made the decision to change the F word in the OPAC to something that means the same thing but is not as offensive and certainly not as controversial or as easily searched. The title is now "Shopping and fornication". It still can be found through searching for 'shopping', and the playwrights name, but the word fornication probably will not be in the vocabulary of a primary aged student. Hopefully this will be a win win situation for everyone.
What would you have done?