There’s a process for scrutinizing books

God bless librarians.

They love books. They read them. And they defend them — with reason and precision.

It’s easy to scream “Censorship!” when a controversial book is pulled out of circulation.

But that’s a knee-jerk response to a decision that’s usually an overreaction in itself.

Witness the recent order to remove the book “Thirteen Reasons Why” from District 51 library bookshelves. It’s an award-winning novel that’s been popular with young adults since it was first published in 2007.

But it deals with a difficult topic — teenage suicide. The book was written as a suicide prevention awareness novel, but it inspired a popular television series on Netflix of the same name that had many parents and health-care professional questioning whether it glamorizes suicide.

That’s a concern anywhere, but especially here where seven district students have killed themselves since the beginning of the year. School District 51 sent a letter to parents last month after two students attending Fruita Monument High School and Palisade High School died by suicide, expressing concern about the series, urging caution and providing talking points for parents to discuss with children if they chose to watch.

Those actions were entirely justified. The district then went the extra step of temporarily removing the book from bookshelves. That’s when librarians asserted themselves by reminding administrators there’s a proven process in place to deal with these issues — one that prevents accusations of censorship.

The process starts with accepting official written complaints that establish the grounds for the protest against a particular title.

But there haven’t been any complaints against the book. In fact, librarians cited the book’s value as a conversation-starter. It has helped some teachers and students talk about suicide.

The book and the series are not one in the same, either, librarians noted. Concerns about the series have colored some parents’ perceptions about a book they haven’t read. But librarians have and they think the book deserves to be judged on its own merits.

All of this feedback from librarians came through district channels back to administrators. They weren’t protesting in the streets and stirring up trouble. They were trying to help the district navigate a touchy situation and succeeded.

District officials told librarians they decided to gather feedback from local mental-health experts on how to best support students with topics of suicide and depression instead of removing the book.

It’s hard to blame the administration for reacting out of “an overabundance of caution,” but kudos to librarians for helping the district avoid the slippery slope of censorship.


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