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?

9 comments:

Anni said...

Love this story and may I say I couldn't have handled it better. Well done.

Anonymous said...

While I understand the implications of a library assistant entering F word in the system, it is just so cheap and banal blaming the mistake on assistant's having English as a second language. You could have just explained there was an oversight with them entering such a word. This carelessness could have equally happened to a person HAVING English as a second language.

Anonymous said...

Hi, what a great story! You handled it beautifully - and I don't know if I would have thought of the word "fornication" - good job. Just a thought, our system lets us hide teacher resources from student enquiry results. Does yours do that?

Dianne said...

Anonymous 1 - thanks for your comment, I am sorry that you chose to post as anonymous. I don't think it is a cheap or banal excuse to say the assistants language was part of the problem - it was just one of the reasons the word got through the system. I work in an international school in an environment where 97% of the people in this country speak a language other than english. They are not exposed to the colloquial language or swear words in their limited everyday exposure to english, as I am not exposed to the swear words in their mother tongue. If I was cataloguing in chinese, I would not know the characters that should be avoided. It is just the way it is.

Anonymous said...

I can see the part of your original blog is changed now- the one that mentions context in which the error occurred - caused by assistants having English as a second language. Thanks - this genuinely sounds much better now. We can all learn from a mistake after we admit we've made it. In the same manner, as mistakes do happen even with the best of intentions, perhaps you could explain to potential dissatisfied parents offended by the slip in the system, that although the slip had occurred, it is not likely to happen again - fornication was a clever word to use. But I do hope there won't be any.

Dianne said...

I didn't change any of the original blog post - I put the situation in context in a reply to you in the comments as you seemed to be upset about my inference that because someone was using their second language, they may have difficulty picking up a swear word. Maybe you read the original post too quickly the first time and didn't really see the rest of the words that I had written because you got so upset about my first reason of why the word slipped through without an alert.

Anonymous said...

We have an unauthorised censorship policy in our library - books disappear into the recycle bin. It seems that literary merit is irrelevant, as is student interest, and no-one, not even library head, is consulted. How does one argue with that? Yes we have a challenged books policy - the censor has access to the LMS!

Dianne said...

Interesting situation on your hands anonymous 3! I am glad that I am not in that position - not sure how I would handle that!

Dianne said...

Anonymous 2 - Hiding resources from student searches - we have Oliver as our LMS, I have tried to hide teacher resources from the OPAC- but then it does not allow for OPAC searches by the teachers of the resources they wish to search - any solutions to that one?