For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
August 29, 2001 - Audio Warning Labels
The first time I saw Alanis Morissette, she was playing the part of God in the movie, "Dogma." I liked her face. It had complexity and depth.
The first time I got around to listening to her music was when someone complained about her use of two 4-letter words in her 1995, Grammy-winning release, "Jagged Little Pill."
The patron lodging the complaint had a pretty compelling story. She had been driving along the highway, listening to a library CD with her young children, when she suddenly heard a word that made her lurch for the eject button.
I've been there.
You spin around to glance at your children. And you see one of three things.
1) They're clearly involved in something else. They didn't hear a thing. Yes!
2) They heard it. Their eyes are wide. They are looking at you with that attitude that says, "I just heard a bad word." The good news (I think): they already know that it's a bad word.
3) They are utterly absorbed in the music. They nod, quietly repeating the words to themselves. They are completely oblivious to you, your shock, and your clearly futile attempt to manage their environment.
When it comes to 3), you can't help but want to blame all of several parties: the artist singing the song, the publisher who pressed the CD, and, alas, the ever humble local library that provided it to you and your children.
I see the point. Even supposing that you believe the library has an obligation to buy the more popular offerings of our culture, couldn't we at least find a way to give a head's up to the parents? That's what our patron wanted us to do: put some kind of label on it.
On the one hand, we do "label" many of our holdings right now. It's called "Cataloging." We assign a location for all items. Most broadly, they are "adult" or "juvenile." It happens that "Jagged Little Pill" is in our adult collection. But that's not because of the two four letter words that appear in Morissette's music. Her audience just isn't children between the ages of 2 and 10 or 11.
It happens that music companies are supposed to do their own labeling. It began in the early 1980s, kicked off by a group that eventually called itself the Parents' Music Resource Center. Among the people connected with this effort was Tipper Gore, Al Gore's wife. Finally, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) agreed to enforce its own standards, much as the movie industry does.
But instead of ratings (G, PG, etc.) it adopted a warning or advisory label about "explicit lyrics" (alternatively, companies could print the lyrics on the outside of the item).
These days, the so-called Parental Advisory program has two pieces: first, stores post a sign that says, "The Parental Advisory is a notice to parents that recordings identified by this logo may contain strong language or depictions of violence, sex or substance abuse. Parental discretion is advised."
Second, recording companies have been encouraged to follow strict, but voluntary, guidelines about the use of the advisory label. I've tried to get a copy of those guidelines from the RIAA, thus far without success.
So what's the bottom line? Well, I guess I have four comments.
First, whatever the guidelines, Morissette doesn't have a warning label from the producer.
Second, I'm not sure the library can be expected to listen to the entirety of every piece of music we buy, in order to detect the use of certain words. You can see some of the problems: Which words? How many of them?
Third, after we attach all of our other labels to it, there's not a whole lot of room LEFT on a CD. Anything we add would, I fear, completely obscure what information is already present.
Fourth, I guess that means that parents have to figure that, like almost anything else in the adult area, adult language will sometimes be present. (And checking for the printed lyrics is one strategy.) Like so many other things, that means yet another talk with the kids. I realize that this is far from a perfect solution.
But I will say this: that Alanis Morissette can SING.