When you search for a code of ethics on the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) website, the search results offer to redirect you to the ALA (American Library Association) page for their Code of Ethics. This suggests that young adult readers are deserving of the exact same service as adult readers. Of course, different libraries and different communities may have opposing views on whether or not young adults are entitled to the same rights as adults. This is most particularly the case with the second statement in the ALA’s (2008) Code of Ethics which reads,
We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
A nice sentiment. Even in the 21st Century, however, it’s not realistic to apply this statement to all library patrons. In a perfect world, libraries and communities could reasonably expect all patrons to handle all materials in a mature and productive fashion. And this may often be the case — the guy checking out ten books on how to effectively kill a nation with biochemical warfare is probably doing research for a novel he’s writing, after all. Yet libraries (and schools) regularly encounter challenges to censor reading and other materials available to and intended for young adults.
In the ALA’s observation of material most-often challenged, about half of the books listed every year are YA books. Previous publications listed include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Looking for Alaska by John Green, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Other books in the list might be considered adult books, but are often found in high school classrooms, such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
If a library is fully supportive of access to all materials regardless of age, other issues arise. Does this “permission” override the exclusion of minors to “mature” content from outside sources? Fan fiction sites, for example, are often generally accessible but require affirmation of age when the user tries to access material marked as “mature.” Popular Harry Potter fan fiction website, Harry Potter Fanfiction, prompts its users with this dialog box before allowing them to continue to stories rated “mature” by their writers:
This box isn’t legally binding and, to be sure, many ignore it. But if a young adult were to attempt to access the material following this box in a public library, what might be the appropriate response? Would the response for textual mature material be the same for visual mature material? The library might argue that the viewing of such content in the library creates a hostile work environment, as the Minneapolis Public Library did (Hansen, 2014). This is much harder to do with textual material such as fan fiction, of course, unless a user prints the material and leaves it on the printer, allowing individuals to approach and read it. It’s a difficult point to argue how much agency the “victim” in this situation has, however.
The line becomes blurrier with content that would not be cause for citing a hostile work environment. The websites of alcohol manufacturers often require a verification of age in order to access the website. It’s easy enough to lie about an age and, while there is information available on the manufacturer’s alcohol, you can’t actually drink (or even purchase) alcohol by visiting the website. Again, the age verification, such as at Budweiser’s website is not legally binding. But who has the authority to say who can access this information? Does the website’s rules trump those of the library’s support of freedom of information, even for those under the legal drinking age?
There are no clear answers to any of these. While supporting freedom of information in all users is ideal, to do so at the cost of ignoring the “rules” of others, such as the Budweiser website, comes at a cost — impressionable as they might be, young adults and others may takeaway from this allowance that ignoring some rules in favor of others is okay. Perhaps they must understand the complexities behind the deliberate disobedience. Or, perhaps we should trust. It all comes down to a case-by-case basis and maybe one day, we’ll have an all-encompassing answer.
American Library Association. (2008). Code of ethics of the American Library Association. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics
American Library Association. (n.d.). Frequently challenged books of the 21st Century. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10
Budweiser. (2014). Budweiser beer. Anheuser-Busch. Retrieved from http://www.budweiser.com/
Hansen, D. (2014). Lecture 2 Intellectual freedom and the web: A troubled history. Retrieved from course materials of LIBR 200 Module 9.
Harry Potter Fanfiction (2014). Harry Potter fanfiction. Fanfictionworld.net. Retrieved from http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com/