Photo: Bohdan Malitskiy/Shutterstock

The Restricted Section: Why You Need an Escort to Check Out Harry Potter

by Michelle Schusterman Mar 12, 2010
What happens when a public library takes away your right to browse certain genres?

As an aspiring young adult author,
this tweet from a fellow writer caught my eye a few weeks ago:

After it was retweeted multiple times by published children’s authors, I looked into it a bit more and found that the writer had attempted to browse the young adult section of the Orlando Public Library, where she discovered only teenagers aged 13 through 18 are allowed to hang out and browse unaccompanied by a parent or librarian. The library’s policy states:

Club Central is a place on the first floor of the Main Library designed and reserved for use by teens from 13 through 18. It is a comfortable, inviting place created for teens to study, socialize, and have fun. The use of the facility and resources, including the seating, computers and AV equipment, is limited to those from 13 through 18 years of age. Other library users wanting to use Young Adult materials will be assisted in retrieving materials by staff.

Before I continue, I want to point out that many libraries have “kid zones,” which I fully support. I love the idea of a safe place in the library for teens to read or study without their parents having to worry about the pervs and weirdos that sometimes pop up in public places.

However, in this particular case, it’s not a special room for teens – it’s the teen section. Meaning that those 12 years old and younger, or 18 years old and older, must request a specific book from that section to have a librarian retrieve it. And those who simply want to browse – which personally is how I most often find books – must do so with either a parent or librarian escort.

I find the idea of presenting my ID, then being accompanied by a librarian to the young adult shelves to browse while she waits, extremely embarrassing. The title of this article is intentionally suggestive – in the attempt to keep molesters and kidnappers away from our teens, we’re all treated like potential perverts. Not to mention the fact that this is a big inconvenience for the librarians themselves, who have to leave their work to escort us adult YA readers.

A “teens-only” room is one thing, but young adult literature is another. Adults enjoying novels with teenage protagonists is nothing new (Catcher in the Rye comes to mind), but with the success of young adult series like Harry Potter in recent years, YA is more popular with people of all ages now than ever. And most YA novels are written by adults. I find it completely ridiculous to think that a children’s book author can’t even find his own book on the library shelves without an escort.

Good intentions aside, I believe this is the start of censorship, and violates what the American Library Association stands for. The ALA website states:

“Libraries help ensure that Americans can access the information they need – regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers…ALA actively advocates in defense of the rights of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

I hear a lot about banned books and protests over which books should be on school reading lists.
Book censorship attempts to shield teens from what some deem to be controversial material, and denies them the opportunity to experience a lot of great literature in the process.

I know the library isn’t “banning” books. Adults can still freely check out young adult books from libraries like the one in Orlando. But limiting anyone’s ability to browse at their leisure sparks censorship, and at a library, that frightens me. The bottom line is that libraries are not required to provide teenagers with an adult-free zone, but they are required to give everyone the ability to access books and seek information, “regardless of age.”

And the solution is simple – give teens a “teen only” space that doesn’t include the entire young adult section, like a small sitting area. Many libraries already have something like this in place. I don’t believe providing any type of limited access space should come at the cost of denying people the right to browse books without having to wait for a librarian to abandon her duties and watch.

Libraries are the best place for teenagers – or anyone – to have free access to information. Therefore, restricting their access to an entire section of books once they hit their 19th birthday, in my opinion, is hypocritical and in violation of what the ALA so clearly advocates.

Community Connection

If you’re interested in more literature controversy, check out how one school banned the dictionary.

Discover Matador