School librarians choose books based on sound criteria when developing their collections, but in all cases we consider the audience the book might have, the kind of readers a book might attract, the reputation of the author and the needs of our community. It is impossible for a librarian to read every book in their collection but if a book provokes controversy we would be likely to take it home to read for ourselves. If it proves to contain matter which we feel might not be suitable for younger or more sensitive readers we might restrict access to that item. School library staff do not act as censors but instead introduce students to a range of material, as well as ensuring students know how to determine if a book is the right one for them to read at that point in time.
We want our students to read widely and deeply, to find new ideas and to read across a wide variety of genres and subjects. Part of the joy of reading is finding new things to take you to new worlds, new places and to read of experiences other than your own. But there is also the thrill of finding the familiar in a book, recognising the setting, finding lives which you connect with on a local level and this is why reading literature by New Zealand authors is encouraged, promoted and celebrated in schools.
Book awards are important. They recognise excellence in writing and they do much to encourage readers to try new authors. The judges are not censors either, but are reading with a focus on excellence. Books with great writing are often recognised with awards but these books are not necessarily going to be the most popular in school libraries, however good writing must be identified and many schools will purchase the awardees because they wish to stock quality books. There are of course many excellent books which do not receive awards and school library staff make purchasing decisions every day using a number of tools such as reviews, the author’s past work, recommendations from other librarians and also their knowledge of their readers and own experience when choosing books.
Ted Dawe told Kim Hill that he wrote Into the River for a 15+ reader. Our schools have a responsibility to extend older readers while being thoughtful towards younger readers. The New Zealand Post Book Awards determine criteria for the awards, but it is for school library staff to ensure that any book purchased meets their school’s collection development needs. For some schools that would mean suggesting that the student visit their public library and for others the book would be available with or without restrictions.
SLANZA respects the ability of school library staff to build collections to meet the needs of their community. It would not assume that any school library would stock a book for its shock value, because it could be considered to represent a particular ethnic group or because of a perceived need to portray a view of society, as incorrectly reported by the Herald on Sunday.