30 April 2010

Choose Privacy Week--and don't forget the kids!

The American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom has declared May 2-8 to be Choose Privacy Week. The focus of the week is to inform Americans about their rights to privacy in a digital age. Social networks Facebook and Google have recently been in the news because of privacy concerns, so this is certainly a good time to establish such a week and to make Americans aware of current and on going privacy issues.

It is also a good time to remember a demographic whose privacy is often a target for mass, while no doubt well-meaning, privacy rights infringement. I am referring, of course, to young readers. This recent article from School Library Journal's "Extra Helping" newsletter about a Florida mom who wants YA books to be labeled at her public library irritated me when I first read it, and continues to disturb me. Putting aside the issue of why some parents so greatly fear what their child might see between the pages of a book (makes me wonder if the same sort of vigilance is applied to the child's TV habits, wardrobe, and behaviour towards their peers,) there is the matter of parental monitoring of a child's reading habits. I'll be honest--I'm pretty liberal in this regard. I'll let my child read anything she wants. I cry tears of joy when I see her chose a book instead of the laptop or her DS. I take her to church to learn about our family's values. I give her a book so she'll learn to think for herself.

Children and teens have as much of a right to choose what they want to read for pleasure--or information--as any adult does. Labels on books cut away at that right. They are a simplistic code for "good" and "bad" that simply does not apply to everyone. Why should a young reader be scared away from a labeled book? Let the child decide if they are bothered by a book's content the way grown-ups do--start reading it. You can be sure that if the child doesn't like or understand the book, they'll put it down. But a label on a book's spine is a big ole target for shame and covert behaviour. If a child wants to read a book with a label, but think they might get in trouble, they have two options: don't pick up the book (therefore self-censoring themselves,) or borrow the book and read it secretly. No one should have to read in secret!

And don't get me started on the subject of parents who want access to their kids' borrowing records, to see what they are reading.

I realize that I have sort of wandered from the point in this post. But I would like adults to remember that while they consider ways to protect their privacy in a 24/7 digital age (and children should be learning these lessons too, by the way,) they need to also be aware of the privacy rights of the younger readers in our society. And the most important right for a free and learned society is this: the right to read anything without being judged.

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