Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Little Golden Books and the Censorship of Goodness

[Originally published in 2013. Edited and republished in 2022]

This is more a discussion than a review, inspired by two new Little Golden Books sent to me. Before we start - this is just my opinion and what works in my library. Just because you do something different, it does not mean you are a Bad Librarian (or me either for that matter).

So, the two books I have here today are Little Golden Books. Rico the Brave Sock Monkey is a classic mash-up of Corduroy and Toy Story, complete with vintage illustrations. Robots, Robots, Everywhere has a Seussish vibe along with Staake's bold designs. They're both cute and fun stories, with lovely illustrations and strong content. But how many libraries add Little Golden Books to their collections?

I'm betting more in our area, since we are near Racine, original home of the Little Golden Books, but not many. They're not a good format for library collections, being skinny, small and having no spine information. And this leads us to another discussion, and my main one today. I've been thinking about this for a while as I read blog posts and listen to librarians about being commercial-free, making children's areas that don't have branded toys, and collection development. Do you buy Barbie books, Thomas the Tank Engine books, or tv tie-ins, many of which are Little Golden Books? Do you have them and plan to weed them, especially after some of the posts about commercial and brand-free library collections?

I agree with these ideas in theory and have implemented some of them. Most of my toys and circulating toys are brand-less and encourage dramatic and interactive play without a pre-written story to stick in the kids' heads. I think this is important. Collection development though is a different matter and here I'm going to get, possibly, a little controversial. Do I, personally, think kids should be reading tv tie-ins, Barbie books, etc.? Frankly, no. I didn't watch tv at all as a child and movies very rarely. I wasn't allowed to play with Barbies (and wasn't much into dolls anyways). I hate the commercialization of childhood and I enjoy a good diatribe on Disney Princesses as much as any other dedicated peruser of Hearthsong.

But, and this is a big BUT, do I have the right and the authority to make that decision for the caregivers and kids at the library? If I have a mom and her daughter come ask me for Barbie books, should I say "you shouldn't be reading those, they will commercialize your child, are badly written, and do not encourage early literacy"? However tactfully you put it, in my opinion, this is a kind of snobbish, reverse censorship. Yes, I try to have a balanced collection, I try to buy the best books that have both child appeal and literary quality, I try to educate people on the benefits of reading together, of books that promote early literacy skills, of limiting screen time, but I am also a public librarian. I'm here to provide what my community wants and needs - not what I think they SHOULD want and need.

So, in an effort to perform this delicate balancing act, in 2011 I added a collection we called Tub Books. I got the idea for this from Batavia Public Library in IL who had paperback picture books in tubs. I bought the tubs for $2 at Walmart and in 2013 I started adding paperback easy readers that were tv tie-ins. They get a label and barcode slapped on them and that's it. When they start falling apart, I fix them with cheap tape, if at all, I rarely charge for damage, and cap the fee for lost titles at a few dollars. 

The original collection included the following series and characters:
  • Barbie
  • Berenstain Bears
  • Clifford
  • Disney/Pixar
  • Dora
  • Lego
  • Little Golden Books
  • Superheroes
  • Thomas the Tank Engine
  • TV tie-ins (Star Wars, Strawberry Shortcake, Spongebob, Olivia, etc.)
The current collection includes:
  • Tubs labeled Classics and Popular
    • Individual books are labeled by their show and, theoretically, move between tubs depending on whether they're current or not. They include
      • Berenstain bears, Barbie, Clifford, Peppa, Thomas the train, Bluey, Paw Patrol, Minecraft, Pokemon, etc.
  • Disney
  • Little Golden Books
  • Star Wars
  • Superheroes
There are also a lot of older tv tie-ins with the label "TV" because I am NOT relabeling tub books.

What impact have the tub books had?
  • Most of the tub books circulate anywhere from 15 to 30 times each every year, which has definitely had a positive impact on our circulation.
  • Positive reactions from patrons - now when they ask "do you have Dora books, Barbie books, etc." I can say "yes" and the patrons know that the library has what they want, that I listened to their requests and they feel ownership in the library.
  • Parents who used to text on their phones while their kids hung out in the play area now sit down and read together. The play area also has all the board books and until a few months ago had the concept books as well, but the "real" picture books were not circulating well there. Many of these parents, as I can tell when I listen to them read, are not strong readers. I think the "real" books were daunting to them. But a familiar character, that both they and the child know, feels safe and easier to approach.
  • Reader's advisory - I've used the Tub Books as jumping off points, both approaching patrons and being approached. I've introduced Barbie and Disney Princess fans to Fancy Nancy and Ella Bella Ballerina, Disney/Pixar and Thomas fans to the nonfiction trucks and machines section, etc.
  • Most people check out a mixture of Tub Books and "real books", so it's increased circulation in other areas as well.
  • It's not all sunshine and flowers - Tub Books can be messy, since kids frequently pull the tubs off to rummage through them, the books often look tattered and generally icky, and they have a tendency to fall into cracks and behind things. I made the decision that I'd rather have an ephemeral collection that was frequently updated than expensive prebound copies that would last past their interest date and I spend probably an hour at least every couple of weeks taping up rips and stapling the books back together. I also had to work with the circulation staff to know that Tub Books were going to look like crap and not to send them back to repair. (I no longer repair tub books at all and the circulation staff never did really figure out that they were supposed to look like that, but the processor I work with now knows to just toss them or give them back to me.)
Ultimately, this has been a positive thing for our library and if you think it's something that would positively impact your community and that fits into the mission of your library, I encourage you to think about the needs and wants of your patrons and give it a try.

The original collection

After rearranging shelves and replacing the tubs with book bins from Target, this collection continues to be part of our play area. Going forward, I am combining the easy readers and 8x8s, using the new classification system, and RFID tagging the books but it will be a while before things are naturally changed over since it's definitely not a collection that's worth recataloging/relabeling.


Marge Loch-Wouters said...

I agree with you 100%. Great collections meet the needs of the community. Our patrons support us through their taxes - we are buying on behalf of everyone's needs. Popular low quality lit is just as important as great lit. We need both Thanks for speaking out eloquently and sharing your great solution!

Ami said...

Hmm, we may have to try something like this...I get a lot of movie-tie-ins to review (which I never do, but they send them anyway). I usually just toss them in the prize box, because like you said - no spine, fall apart too easily, etc. When I get some donated in HC, I'll add them to the collection, but I hate spending my book budget on something that won't be popular next month. The tub idea may be a great compromise! Thanks!

Jennifer said...

Make sure you have one of those giant staplers - really useful for stapling them back together! I need to add a photograph too, so you can see the tubs in action!

MissHeidi said...

I have created some "character" or "theme" boxes at my branch. They have two purposes: free up shelf space and bring like items together. Most of the boxes are for our "first readers", but if there are picture books with the same characters, I add them to the appropriate box. So far I have only switched out two boxes (one was Dr Seuss b/c someone checked them all out and I didn't want any empty boxes). Right now we have Biscuit, Fancy Nancy, Food, Elephant and Piggie, Animals, Berenstain Bears, Fly Guy, and Things that Go (cars, trucks, etc.).

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

One of the biggest shocks I faced when I first became a school librarian was the chorus I heard when I would read Little Red Riding Hood or The Little Mermaid books: "I saw that MOVIE!" What?? Kids see the movies before anyone reads them the books? What is going on in my world?

I hated the requests for Barbie books and Dora books and superhero books, but I finally gave in to popular opinion. I created tubs, too, for better or worse, and they were extremely successful. My library assistant loved them, too; books were certainly easy to shelve.

Curious Li said...

So another reason I like to have character books is actually *for* the kids like me who didnt have tv or cable as a kid. You can still be familiar with the characters your peers are talking about.

Test said...

This sounds great, and looks like it was a workable solution to the problem. I bought tons of Little Golden Books for my own perrsonal children at the thrift store, and have always been a bit fan, but they are hard for a library to have on the shelves. You'll love this-- my children didn't watch Disney MOVIES, so I let them read the Disney BOOKS about the movies so they be culturally literate and discuss them with friends. Applied the same technique to video games and video game magazines, when they were still published. You are a GREAT librarian!