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'Skim and scan' to be added to selection process

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By Tom Wilmoth

A committee looking into how Bedford County schools review books to be included in school libraries doesn't want to see its policy changed, but it does suggest adding another layer of protection ? a "skim and scan" approach.

Members of a committee that had looked into the policy, following two instances of materials being pulled from county school shelves because of inappropriate content, told the Bedford County School Board Thursday that while the selection policy shouldn't be changed, additional measures can be taken to review materials before they're made available to students.

"It will take a lot of time," Victor Gosnell, director of technology for Bedford County Schools, stated about the additional layer of review. He said, however, that the time will have to be made to look at additions to the libraries.

The committee was made up of 15 Bedford County library media specialists. "We are aware that during the selection process we must be vigilant to select materials that are appropriate for our library patrons," a letter from the committee to the school board stated.

The committee concluded that the current guidelines should be followed. "As endorsed by the American Library Association, this policy focuses on authority, scope, reliability, format and treatment of materials. We will continue to rely on professionally recognized collection development tools, professional reviews, bibliographic sources, reading and award lists and recommendations by reliable sources," the letter stated.

The school board will vote on any changes to the policy at a later meeting.

While called isolated incidents, two challenges to books available on school shelves led to the review. One book, "Totally Joe" by James Howe, had been checked out by a student at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. The book was brought to the attention of School Board member David Black who said a look at the cover of the book should have revealed it wasn't appropriate for elementary students.

The book recounts the story of Joe, who knows he's gay, completing an English assignment which, according to the American Library Association, helps him "express his growing self-awareness." The ALA recommended the book on its 2006 Notable Children's Books list. The book was listed under the "Older Readers" section of the list.

Each library is autonomous in its selection of books. The ALA has served as a recommendation point for books considered by the library media specialists.

In addition to the book at Thomas Jefferson Elementary, a book was also taken off of the shelves at Liberty High School. A parent thumbing through the pages of a student's selection, "The Making of Dr. Truelove" by Derrick Barnes led to that challenge. That book focuses on the efforts of a 16-year-old boy named Diego to win back the girl of his dreams. Eventually the boy becomes an online sex and relationship columnist.

Though this book had received glowing reviews, school officials stated that it was "very sexually explicit." Those reviews included the book making the "Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers" from the ALA.

With those reviews in mind, the committee stated in its letter to the school board that it will be imperative for the library media specialists to look over the material once it arrives at the school. "Library media specialists will use a 'skim and scan' approach to review each book and all video will be reviewed by instructional staff before being added to the library collection," the committee told the school board. "This will allow the library media specialist to obtain a better understanding of the material and its suitability for her patrons."

If the library media specialist then questions the material's suitability, she is to seek other qualified personnel to view the item to help determine whether it should be added to the collection.

"Bedford County is a very diverse community and each library media specialist must keep in mind the needs of her patrons when deciding what is appropriate for her collection," the committee stated. "Material suitable for one zone may not work for another."

Gosnell said the schools get in hundreds and sometimes thousands of books a year. "There's no way a library media specialist can go through and read all of those," he said. "With the recent instances that happened, the determination was made we just have to make the time to go in and look at every single addition to the library more carefully and not depend solely on reviews."

That process, according to the committee, should be "sufficient to ensure safe, factual, informative, entertaining materials for our patrons."

One policy change that is being considered is the addition of an informal challenge opportunity for books already on school shelves. A complaint may be filed verbally or in writing, under the proposal, to the library media specialist at the school. If it is determined the material is unsuitable and was placed in error, the library media specialist may choose to remove the material from use. Such a determination would need to be made by consulting the school principal and the division's Director of Libraries. The current policy also has steps in place for a formal challenge in which a committee is set up to consider the challenge.