Watching the shelves

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n the next couple of months the Bedford County School Board will hear how the school system's library media specialists plan to better review books that are placed on library shelves.

Two recent incidents of inappropriate books making their way into the hands of local students are the reason.

One such incident was brought to light by Board member David Black, who received a call from a parent of an elementary school student about a book checked out by that student. During the Oct. 11 board meeting, Black said the student came home with a book he'd be reluctant to have middle schoolers read, let alone make available to young children.

The book, "Totally Joe" by James Howe, recounts the story of Joe, who knows he's gay, completing an English journaling assignment which helps him "express his growing self-awareness," according to the American Library Association, which recommended the book on its 2006 Notable Children's Books list.

In the book Joe is falsely accused of kissing his friend Collin, a jock who's not yet ready to "come out." We find that Joe played with Barbies as a child, has a crush on the male classmate and that the "nasty" Christian boys that bully Joe are sent to another school.

All this mistakenly made available for students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School this year.

At the high school level another book recently taken from the shelves was equally inappropriate.

That book, "The Making of Dr. Truelove," written by Derrick Barnes, also made one of the ALA's lists: Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. According to Victor Gosnell, director of technology and media, the book was "very sexually explicit." Gosnell expressed shock the book was recommended by the ALA.

He shouldn't have been. A variety of books recommended by the ALA seek to undermine the traditional moral values most parents seek to instill in their children.

This book, which appeared on the shelf of the Liberty High School Library, focuses on the efforts of a 16-year-old boy named Diego to win back the girl of his dreams. Diego, who suffers a humiliating sexual incident early in the book, becomes an online sex and relationship columnist. As one reviewer put it, "There's no tip-toeing around the sex talk here."

Yes, it might entice "reluctant" readers, but at what price.

Library Media Specialists in times past have had to trust the recommendations of professional organizations such as the ALA for books they add to their collections. They can't be expected to read every book.

However, trusting those recommendations alone will no longer suffice. As one board member put it, what folks might want their children to read in California or New York is not necessarily what parents in Bedford County want in their children's hands.

According to Gosnell, the two incidents from this year are the exception, not the rule. The good news is the books were challenged by parents the first time they were checked out, and were quickly removed. But if this is a growing trend by what some organizations recommend, it is time to enhance the review process.

The irony of the discussion didn't escape board members. In the same meeting where they were discussing improved ways to stress parental oversight to provide Internet safety for school-age children, they were discussing books that had slipped through the cracks and onto Bedford County school shelves. This isn't about book burning, or stifling freedom of speech. It's simply about providing appropriate reading materials to the appropriate age group.