Last summer, my children and I walked into the children's section of a local library and were confronted with a display that flew in the face of our Christian values. It was unavoidable, and it brought lots of questions from our curious 4-year-old that I hadn't expected to answer for a few more years.
I've heard from so many who've had similar experiences, or have brought home books that were marketed for children but contained developmentally- or morally-inappropriate content for children.
So how do you navigate this? Do you just stop going to the library? Do you pre-read every book that comes in?
While I certainly don't have all the answers, I hope what I share is helpful as you navigate your public library with wisdom.
1- “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” -Philippians 4:8
This is the verse that guides us at the library because the books we allow into our home bring ideas that shape our minds and hearts. Does this mean that we only choose Christian books or books devoid of conflict? Absolutely not. But we do choose books that encourage good character, promote respect, and point to hope.
2- On our way to the library I remind my children: "I am the gatekeeper of our home, and it's my job to decide what comes in and out. Because I love you, I only want the very best books in our home."
I remind our older children that all of us- including mom and dad- must be wise about what we allow to shape our minds and hearts. That is discernment. Our children know and respect that I have a final veto authority out of love for them.
3- Every week, I reserve books online that I've already researched so we have a steady diet of good books, no matter what we find in our library trips. I reference lists from The Peaceful Press, Beautiful Feet Books, and Simply Charlotte Mason. Over time, I've learned authors I trust and search for books of theirs we haven't tried yet.
4- Because there is no feasible way for me to vet a chapter book while managing four children at the library, it's rare we check one out off the shelf without prior research. I do the research at home and reserve chapter books online. I use pluggedin.com or google "homeschool review of _____ " to find more information.
5- Once we are at the library, our rule is that the kids can check out as many books as they can carry.
6- There are usually too many books in my children's stacks for me to skim before checking out, so we go ahead and check them out, then I take more time at home to peruse them before sending the books to my children's rooms. Often, my children choose books that aren't my personal taste but are not harmful, so I never mind those being checked out. I want them to have freedom and autonomy within limits.
7- Navigating the library with wisdom requires time, intention, and forethought. But it's worth it, friends. It's worth it to take your role as a loving gatekeeper seriously. It's worth it to protect and guide the precious growing minds under our care.
Last summer at our local library, one of my children pulled "Sex Is a Funny Word" by Cory Silverberg from a display in the children's section and read through some of it before bringing it to me with questions. I flipped through and saw graphic information about m*sturbation, descriptions about how and why to touch certain body parts, and a pervasive questioning of authority (i.e. "Your community might think this is wrong, but what do YOU think?"). It would have been a questionable book in the adult section, but to be in the children's section on display... I was horrified.
As a Christian mom, I fully expect to encounter books in the library that go against our worldview. And that is ok! What I am never ok with is a book like this with borderline pornographic information presented in an appealing way for kids (bright, colorful cartoons). Our kids cannot unsee these things, and we as parents are their protectors. (Besides, this is not just a Christian issue. I've heard from many of you who are not Christians and are firmly against this.)
So what do you do when this happens? Or when you repeatedly encounter a particular viewpoint "pushed" in the children's displays in your local library? How do you go about expressing your concerns? Should we just stop using our libraries?
What I do know is this: Christians are called to be salt (preserving a dying culture) and light (pushing back the darkness). Our libraries are amazing gifts to our communities, and many librarians work hard to ensure that libraries are safe places for our kids. But when they're not, something needs to be said... not just for our own kids, but for ALL kids.
I'll be honest: I haven't had a lot of success talking directly with librarians. I've hit some major walls. But I do have some ideas (many from you guys!) in how to navigate this with grace and truth.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU (REPEATEDLY) ENCOUNTER BOOKS ON DISPLAY THAT ARE INAPPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN?
Speak up. On our library's website (and most likely on yours), there is a place to "Request to Reconsider" a book. Fill our your personal information, the book's information, and detail the questionable material. These requests are regularly reviewed by library staff and are the best way to be heard. Our library's website states, "The Library nor promotes nor censors particular viewpoints." Hold them to that. If there is no way a library will remove a book completely (and this is often the case), request that it be moved to a higher shelf or a different section so parents have the ability to see it first.
Request books for your library to purchase. According to one librarian, libraries will almost always purchase books they know will be checked out. When you are searching for a wholesome book your library doesn't carry, take a few extra minutes to request that they purchase it - then check it out when it arrives. You can usually find this form on your library's website.
Keep checking out good books. We have to keep checking out good, wholesome books to keep them in circulation because books stay in circulation based on the number of checkouts. If we aren't checking out good books, more will disappear from the shelves, making room for less appropriate choices. If you don't want to peruse the shelves, you can always request books online and go in to check them out. This ensures good books will stay in our libraries.
Talk openly with your children. Use these moments as teaching opportunities. With the book my child looked at, I said, "Some books look like children's books because they're colorful and illustrated, but the content is not for kids." This is also a great opportunity to remind your children that the only perfect, fully trustworthy book is the Bible. Many other books - even if they're published - contain lies that go directly against the truths of Scripture. We have to be discerning.
Proactively teach the truth. You don't need specific books for this. Regularly reading and discussing the Bible with your children is all it takes. But if you're looking for child-appropriate books specifically regarding gender and the biblical definition of marriage, here are two great places to start:
Both of these books would be great to request at your local library!
I don't have all the answers, and I share these experiences with humility because even having to post this breaks my heart.