The International Federation of Libraries Associations and Institutions (IFLA) “declares that human beings have a fundamental right to access to expressions of knowledge, creative thought and intellectual activity, and to express their views publicly.”
As a reader and user of different media forms, I could not agree more with the statement above. People, regardless of race, gender, social-standing or religion, should be able to access and utilize these tools as well. But is there ever a time when it is appropriate to limit the access to said materials? Should the materials available to a 15 year-old be the same as those available to a 5 year-old? Are materials deemed appropriate for adult patrons the same as those in which a 6th grader can view? As a future parent and a sibling of young children, I do feel that there may be the need to limit minors’ contact with mature materials.
Every American is familiar with movie ratings. The ratings range from G, PG, PG-13, NC-17, and R (contrary to popular belief, there is not an X rating). The rating systems for movies was developed and is maintained by the Motion Picture Association of America, Also, anyone who has ever picked up a book aimed at younger readers should know that most books have a targeted reading level. However, this reading level is usually based on the technical difficulty of a book, such as the vocabulary and complexity of grammar used by the writer, not the subject matter of the material.
How will a parent to know which materials are acceptable for their children? Some children in elementary school have the ability to read at a high school level, but that does not necessarily imply that the subject matter is suitable for that reader. Just because a 12-year old can read Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” (a novel containing explicit language, graphic images of sex and violence, as well as a pro-anarchy plot), doesn’t mean that they should read it. It can be very difficult to navigate children’s and young adult books when there is no clear definition of a book’s material level.
Some communities will ban a book or an author’s complete works if the material is deemed inappropriate. But could a rating system, which would make a book’s subject matter explicitly evident, and eliminate the need for banning books? Some parents claim that they didn’t realize their kids were reading. Had the book been labeled as “PG-13”, it would have been easy know, at a glance, if material is age appropriate. If books were rated the way movies are, conservative readers would have no excuse to ban literature and librarians would know whether to verify a patron’s age before lending mature materials.
In short, a rating system for literature and other materials could help eliminate the desire for over-zealouz book-banning, inappropraite materials falling into the wrong hands, as well as assisting parents in selecting appropriate books for their budding readers. As librarians, the last thing we want to do is turn people away from libraries, and a helpful (and accurate) rating sustem for books could really help develop committed and comfortable library patrons.
(2004, September 18). IFLA Statement of Libraries and Intellectual Freedom. Retrieved from http://archive.ifla.org/faife/policy/iflastat/iflastat.htm
(2005). Motion Picture Association of America. Retrieved from http://www.mpaa.org/