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.
September 15, 2005 - R-rated Movies
When I was five or six years old, my dad took me to see "Gone with the Wind," a revival at the big downtown movie theater. Years later, I realized it was packed with all kinds of steamy stuff.
But here's what I remembered from my early exposure: there was a big fire.
I believe that regarding many complex issues, children see and understand only what they are ready for. That includes movies. It even includes R-rated movies.
The library doesn't own a tremendous number of such movies (and no X-rated ones, if you were wondering). We do have some unrated foreign films.
There are lots of misconceptions about movie ratings.
First, movie ratings are labels, created by the movie industry itself, to suggest what movie producers believe is the intended audience. These ratings do NOT have the force of law. Movie theaters and video stores enforce them (sort of) also voluntarily.
Second, ratings are not authoritative. Anonymous people make superficial judgments. We don't know who they are. Ratings are determined through a count of naughty words, or kind and type of sex scenes, or variety of violent acts.
But the final rating has nothing to do with the content, with what the movie is about. Sex, violence, and language can be gratuitous. Or it can be germane to the dramatic action of the movie.
The ratings don't cover any of that. They don't say anything about the quality of the film, either.
So, in our libraries, we have not restricted the checkout of R-rated movies.
Over the past 15 years, I have gotten four phone calls from parents upset that their children (typically in or near their teens) could check out such a movie.
I always ask them the same thing: "DID your child check out the movie?" "Did your child WATCH the movie?"
In two occasions, the parents said, "Certainly not!"
On the other two occasions, one child did check it out and watch it. He knew he wasn't supposed to, and he'd seen the film before. But his mom caught him with the library copy.
Most recently, another young man checked it out, but his mom intercepted it minutes later.
Frankly, I just don't see an epidemic of children watching an hour of complex and nuanced emotional content to catch the 30 second flash of nudity. Generally speaking, people are interested in movies that are actually targeted to their age group.
Incidentally, most children don't have to go to the library to get R-rated films. My family has several of them at home, as I suspect most homes do. Others have cable or satellite.
Of course, many minors do have lots of unsupervised moments in our society. Both parents work, or there may be only one parent in the picture. Or none.
The question then becomes, whose values are being enforced, and who does the enforcing?
I believe that the discussion about which movies are OK to watch at home, alone, should stay between parent and child. Not between library staff and child.
Parents have the right to set limits for their children -- but only for their own children.
I understand that some children violate their parents' trust. But I don't think that misbehavior is always the fault, or the responsibility, of the public library.
However, public institutions must also listen to the people they serve. Our policies are reviewed and adopted by our citizen Board of Trustees.
Do you think the library should enforce Hollywood ratings for your children? Or do you believe what your children do and view is your job, not the government's?
Either way, I'd like to know. If you respond, let me know if you have children, and how old they are.
I can be emailed at email@example.com. Or call 303-688-7656.
And keep it clean.