Principal: “Don’t Suggest Books” | Scales on Censorship

As censors attack, administrators issue directives; getting ahead of Moms for Liberty; a parent bars his son from the debate team.

The mother of a fourth grader complained to my principal that I gave her son a book she finds offensive. The principal reprimanded me and told me that because of the hostile environment in which we live, it isn’t a good idea to recommend books to students. He said, “Let them find the books on their own.”
People, especially kids, gravitate toward books that are recommended to them. A strong reader guidance program should be central to all school libraries. Invite the principal in when you’re doing book talks; encourage him to follow you as you lead students to the shelves in search of “just the right book.” Make sure he hears you tell students that it’s OK to return a book if they don’t like it. This principal is allowing fear of controversy to interfere with helping students develop a love of ­reading. Keep doing your job. We have to stand up to bullies, whether they are organized groups, parents, or school administrators.

I’m a children’s librarian in a large public library system. A mother who has complained about many titles in the children’s room has invited me to speak to her neighborhood association. I’m nervous, because I think I will be attacked.
I would view this as a wonderful opportunity to share with parents the many books that are available to children. Parents fear the unknown, and many, including this woman, may have fallen prey to organized groups who want to recruit people to think as they do. If you are ­nervous about going to the neighborhood, invite them to the branch library that serves their community. Display lots of books, and share titles the same way you would with children. Talk about why children gravitate toward certain titles. Use this as a chance to let parents know that their views are respected, but the public library serves all people—including all cultures, ethnicities, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and identities. You may be surprised to find allies in the group. Take the chance and go.


The debate team in my high school uses the library to do research for practice debates and competitions. The topic of an upcoming competition is gun violence and whether there should be universal background checks. A father stormed into the library, pulled his son out of a chair, and told him he could no longer be on the debate team. The team is very upset. What do I say to them?
I’m a little surprised that the father had such access to the library, given the security in schools. Regardless, this is a teachable moment. Ask the members of the debate team to discuss what side of the issue they think the boy’s father is on. How would they address the father if given an opportunity? Tell them their teammate is likely embarrassed by his father. I hope they will be nice to the boy and not allow the incident to affect their ­relationship.

It’s tempting to remove yourself from the incident, but I would call the father and ask him to come in to discuss it. Make sure he understands that all angles of a topic are debated. Perhaps the son could tell his father how he planned to approach the subject. The father may be surprised to learn that they share views. Either way, you have helped the boy find his voice.

There are seven different school districts in the large city where I live. Two very conservative districts have a chapter of Moms for Liberty. They have presented the school boards with a list of books they want removed from all libraries. I’m a middle school librarian in a progressive district, but the superintendent just sent a letter asking that we be prepared should this group attack. He encouraged us to remove the books this group finds offensive.
A letter that encourages isn’t a demand. I wouldn’t make such a move unless under strict orders from the school board. In the meantime, start developing support by letting parents know what is happening in neighboring school districts, and that some administrators are worried that this district will be the next target. If your district is as progressive as you say, I would guess that parents would never let such a thing happen.

Pat Scales is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Send questions to

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