Ray Carter | March 1, 2022

‘Age-appropriate’ standard set for school libraries

Ray Carter

Oklahoma school libraries would be required to purchase “age-appropriate” materials as determined by local communities, rather than relying on standards set by national organizations, under legislation that has received committee approval.

House Bill 3092, by state Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, states that school library media programs “shall be reflective of the community standards for the population the library media center serves when acquiring an age-appropriate collection of print materials, nonprint materials, multimedia resources, equipment, and supplies adequate in quality and quantity to meet the needs of students in all areas of the school library media program.”

“The addition is making sure that content is age-appropriate,” Hilbert said. “And what we mean by age-appropriate is not reading levels—of course, if a seventh grader is reading at an 11th-grade reading level, that’s great—but age-appropriate, referring to the content of the material.”

Hilbert noted many school districts point to American Library Association standards or directives from similar national organizations to guide their decisions on school-library purchases, and said he believed it is better to establish standards within Oklahoma law.

“I view this kind of like a decoupling bill to set our standards here in state statute,” Hilbert said.

Parents across Oklahoma, and nationwide, have recently objected to some materials provided to students in school libraries, noting some books are very graphic—including literal illustrations—regarding topics that can include rape and incest. Parents in the Bristow school district, which Hilbert represents, have been among those publicly voicing concern, even as one teacher in the Bristow district has touted books that promote transgenderism.

Hilbert said his legislation will help guide schools in determining what materials to purchase for a school library. He said one small school in his district budgets for the purchase of only 100 school library books each year. That means the school must reject far more books than it purchases, and Hilbert said the age-appropriate standard in HB 3092 could help with the screening process.

“With those finite resources, how do you prioritize those?” Hilbert said. “And those should be prioritized towards what the students need for their academic success and making sure that the content is appropriate for the students and for their ages.”

However, one lawmaker objected.

“I’m getting emails and everything from librarians in various districts saying that we’re already doing this, so why do we need this bill?” said state Rep. Mark Vancuren, an Owasso Republican who serves as vice-chair of the House Common Education Committee.

“I’d love to see those emails, mister vice-chairman, because I haven’t had anyone come to me saying that we shouldn’t pass this bill,” Hilbert said.

Another lawmaker suggested the legislation left school librarians as the main gatekeeper, but Hilbert disagreed.

“What I’m hearing you say is that school boards should have authority, community standards should be upheld, but ultimately it’s up to the professionals—the librarians—to uphold those standards and protect the interests of our kids,” said state Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa.

“I would say that they’re on the front lines,” Hilbert responded. “I would say the ultimate decision-maker is the local school board, because they’re the ones that are elected and they’re the ones that approve the local policies.”

HB 3092 passed the House Common Education Committee on a 10-1 vote. Vancuren was the only lawmaker to vote in opposition.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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