Thursday, August 20, 2009

Movie Ratings for Books?

And I thought I was done. But then Ms. Maziarka posted on WISSUP about a Kewaskum Librarian rejecting ALA guidelines.

The usual for the WISSUP blog: quotes out of context, only tangentially related to each other or to the issues raised by the WBC4SL, somehow portrayed as support for the WBC4SL position, as long as you don't think too carefully. In this WISSUP post, both of the quotes from the ALA are taken out of context to an extent that alters their meaning. The ALA acknowledges that removing ratings that are part of original materials would be inappropriate, and is careful to distinguish between viewpoint-neutral labels from attempted censorship:
Labels on library materials may be viewpoint-neutral directional aids designed to save the time of users, or they may be attempts to prejudice or discourage users or restrict their access to materials. When labeling is an attempt to prejudice attitudes, it is a censor’s tool. The American Library Association opposes labeling as a means of predisposing people’s attitudes toward library materials.
If Mazaiarka is correctly representing the position of the Kewaskum librarian, we can conclude that neither Maziarka nor the librarian bothered to read the ALA interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights they are quoting.

What really jumped out at me, though, was her proclamation of support for a PABBIS position that rating information should be "objective and quantitative." Odd language from someone who says there are dirty books in the library, but won't say WHICH books are dirty, and won't specify a set of standards to be used to decide the question.

OK. So there are rating systems for some movies and music. While one can argue about those ratings, we all have at least some idea what they mean, since they are applied by formal institutions that can actually spell out the criteria they use.

But what has any of that to do with books? The WBC4SL petition was about books, not movies or music in the library. While there are age-appropriateness ratings from various reviewers that anybody can look up online, there is no standardized system in use for rating books. By what criteria, then, by what specific standards, do we get a warning label on Baby Be-Bop or Heather Has Two Mommies, as Maziarka has demanded?

What Maziarka fails to realize, or just won't admit, is that most public libraries already have a rating system in place that is similar to the rating system for movies. Libraries typically divide books into Children's (Juvenile), Young Adult, and General (that is, no special classification, often mistakenly called "adult"). This equates to a four-way classification system. Children's books are generally G-rated. Young Adult books roughly equate to PG-13. Most books in a library are UR for unrated. The fourth category, X-rated, is implicit in the criteria used for book acquisition: very few public libraries have ANY X-rated material. The only movie rating that is missing for books is R, which is merged into the library equivalent of UR.

What, then, does Maziarka want? The library ALREADY HAS a system in place similar to that used for rating movies.

Maziarka may be lying to herself as much as to to the community. She SAYS she wants a book rating system similar that used for movies and music lyrics, but the library already has such a system, and it isn't good enough for her. That's because she's more interested in politics than in protecting children. She's not interested in objective criteria or quantifiable measures, because she doesn't want to be pinned down. She wants a label that says only "Maziarka Objects," and expects the rest of the world to have enough ESP to implement that without her having to explain it.


  1. Please don't go away. You add much needed intelligence, rebuttal and good writing to the debate.

  2. Thank you for your kind words. I'll continue as time permits.

  3. PABBIS - Parents Against Bad Books In Schools.

    We could start an association called PUBIS: it would irritate those people and stand for Parents for Uncensored Books In Schools...

  4. Non-Censor, Over on Wissup you mentioned a Supreme Court law suit regarding SSM and the equal protection clause that is about to begin. Can you give me some information? I'd like to read up on it.

  5. To Beesbess:
    Links to two news articles appear below. The suit is still in early stages, so I don't think the structure of the arguments can be looked at yet. Observers on both sides of the issue consider this suit to be a very high-risk gamble. They suspect the US Supreme Court will rule 5-4, but nobody's confident which way. Gay activists have strongly felt that this suit is premature.

    ***IF*** the court rules that the Equal Protecton clause of the 14th Amendment implies that there can be no gender discrimination in marriage, then all states would be forced to allow same-sex marriage and all federal laws refusing to recognize same-sex marrirages (for federal benefits) would be overturned. If the court rules in the opposite direction, it would remain up to each state to determine the genders of those who marry, and federal limitations on marriage benefits would remain as legally ambiguous as they currently are.,0,3972489.story