There has been discussion and implementation of labeling on children’s books, proposed by teachers, parents, and publishers. The labeling addresses issues of reading ability and appropriate context based on age and grade level. Based on the labeling system, it would be easy to tell at a glance if a child would be able to successfully read a book.
Situation of Labeling Usage
A situation could develop when a child has selected books and their teacher chastises them for their book selection. The teacher could indicate that the books are either too low or too high for their reading level. If a child becomes interested in a book that is above their assessed reading level, they might be told the book is too advanced for them to comprehend the context. Books that are considered too low in level could be dismissed based on the lack of reading challenge to the child.
A librarian’s response to the above situation would be to ensure the rights of the child in selecting their own reading materials. While being confronted with the teacher and student, the library professional should encourage the student’s current selection of books, and propose additional books that are more or less challenging within the same topic based on their reading abilities. Later, when the student is no longer around, the library professional should discuss students’ rights to privacy in their reading material selections with the teacher.
Implementation of Library Freedoms
Section five of the Library Bill of Rights indicates that a person should not be forbidden use of library materials based on “origin, age, background, or views” (ALA, 1996). To discourage any age group from reading resources because of their perceived ability to process the information within the resource violates the Library Bill of Rights. This includes children as having the right to select whatever library materials they would like.
The American Library Association (ALA) has made their position against the labeling of children’s books clear. ALA stated in 2006 that materials should not be labeled based on reading level, grade level or age. Reading level labeling can create barriers for those who do not know their reading level, as well as people who are aware of their assigned level might limit themselves to only those resources (ALA, 2006).
Cregar (2011) proposes children are discouraged from exploring personal interests in the pursuit of finding resources that meet a teacher’s approval based on labels. This inhibits a child from having access to all the resources within a library (ALA, 2006). Moreillon (2013) suggested everyone, children included, should read above and below their reading abilities. By reading above their abilities, people are challenged to read about subjects that are interesting to them, and as a result build content for future reading on the same topic (Moreillon, 2013). By reading below their abilities, people can revisit old favorites and “the satisfaction that comes from the familiar” (Moreillon, 2013, p. 27).
In 2013, ALA discussed additional reasons against labeling. Confidentiality is compromised when resources are assigned labeled reading levels on the exterior of a resource, allowing other children to see the private reading level of the child which should only be known to parents, teachers and school librarians (ALA, 2013). ALA (2013) also points out the difficulty of non-standard shelving practices. Finding resources becomes more difficult when the organization of resources is not based on topic or category, but instead on the specific labeling system being used within that library.
Children need to learn how to navigate a library. Wachsmann (2012) suggested browsing skills are honed by allowing students to choose their own resources. By allowing these students to look without restriction, these children lose the fear of exploring a resource because it does not immediately seem to be a good fit (Wachsmann, 2012).
Children should be able to select whatever resources they want to in a library. Labeling is most beneficial to adults, allowing for less time in the library and depriving children from the freedom to select their own materials. Labels make it easier for adults to assign appropriately leveled reading material to children, whereas without labeling systems children are still able to find materials to read. Materials that are beyond the reading ability of a student could motivate them to explore other resources in the same topic. They could utilize the images and graphics within the resource to obtain a basic understanding, and want to find out more. This supports the most important aspect of a library, providing materials that interest and engages the users.
Materials that are below a child’s reading level might have been selected because it is pleasurable to read, and not as much of a challenge as the labeled reading materials. The topics in the books might be more interesting, and the graphics more appealing to the student. Regardless, the experience of reading, even if at a lower skill level, is still based on the child’s selection and preference. As such, it should be respected and not criticized.
Students are only allowed a finite amount of time to peruse school library resources. Allowing them to build browsing skills is a critical part of library competency that a student obtains while in school. Depriving them of these skills does not help them when they graduate to higher grades and resources are not separated by reading ability labels. Libraries that are organized by labeling systems do not teach children how to find materials based on the same system used in higher educational and public libraries. They need to learn at a young age that they are responsible for selecting reading material that interests them, and that the librarian is there to help them find materials of interest. If the librarian is instead an authoritarian figure that is there to ensure they do not deviate from materials within their approved reading level, that undermines the child’s belief that librarians are there to help them and not police their reading materials.
American Library Association. (1996). Library bill of rights. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill
American Association of School Librarians. (2013). Position statement on labeling books with reading levels. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/position-statements/labeling
American Library Association. (2006). Questions and answers on labeling and rating systems. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/qa-Labeling
Cregar, E. (2011). Browsing by numbers and reading for points. Knowledge Quest, 39(4), 40-45.
Moreillon, J. (2013). Policy Challenge: Leveling the Library Collection. School Library Monthly, 29(5), 28-29.
Wachsmann, M. (2012). Does labeling children’s books constitute censorship? Reference and User Services Quarterly, 52(2), p. 90-92.