Age Banding in the UK
I meant to blog about age banding a few days ago when I first saw it mentioned at Publishers Weekly. In a nutshell, publishers and parents in the UK apparently have said, "hey, it would be so cool if all books had labels saying "this is for kids aged x."" Authors, librarians, and booksellers have responded with a loud "hell, no" (Well, to be fair, some authors are saying it's good.*)
Fuse posted about it today, with some more links on reactions to it. One of the many things the authors are saying are saying is "booksellers have the knowledge without age banding thank you very much." Fuse's comment to this is "Sure sure. Or, y'know, maybe you could ask someone with an actual degree in children's literature like a, gee I dunno, librarian? Come on, Phil. We need all the shout-outs we can get."
Going just a wee bit wanky, I'd amend Fuse's comment a bit. Oh, I agree that the librarians are great at matching books to readers, and it's sad that many of the comments arising from this issue are of the "librarians didn't let me read a book" variety.
But what makes librarian's great isn't a degree in children's literature. Cause I don't have that (tho sometimes I really like the idea of getting a PhD in children's literature. Know a good program?)
Like most librarians, what I have is a Masters of Library and Information Sciences, which included two relevant classes: Materials for Children and Materials for Young Adults. See, I think the thing with librarians isn't so much that they know children's lit ... it's that they are the matchmaker, matching the book and the child, and that is what is unique about librarians.
Or, rather, should be unique about librarians. Sometimes, I wonder.
I've posted before (here and at Tea Cozy) about how, to my sorrow, books seem to be "so last year" when libraries talk. It's all about, well, things that aren't books. So libraries outsource selection and cataloging. It's about programming. It's about becoming a community center. Books? Oh, they will disappear soon. People buy what they want at Amazon. How many libraries really support readers advisory?
Yet, people are crying out for readers advisory and to talk about books. Look at the popularity of GoodReads, Shelfari, LibraryThing. Any of those could have been -- should have been -- library ideas. Because people still want books, and want to talk about books, and want suggestions on what to read next. Most front line library staff know this, as do those of us librarians who went into librarianship because of books. The most popular programs I go to at library conferences and workshops are about books.
Do we need shout-outs, like Fuse said?
But we also need to "shout out" ourselves, about our unique ability to be book matchmakers; more so than bookstores, in that we have old books and new books, popular books and niche books, and so have a bigger selection of books for people to read. We need to keep up with what books are out there -- by reading reviews, both professional and informal; by reading books that are readers guides. We -- not an age on a book -- are the best help to someone who is looking for the right book for a child. And we need to let more people know that.
To show just how much we fail at letting people outside the library world know what we do, take a look at Ypulse's great book preconference (aka where I would go if I won the lottery tomorrow.) Yes, an amazing line up...but where are the YA librarians, talking about readers advisory and handselling books and booktalks and letting people know about how librarians figure into publishing? We have something to offer!
Back to the topic of age banding:
To start, no, the proposed UK system is not the same as what some publishers do here in the US (the smallish for ages 8 to 12 on the back of a book). The proposal is for the following categories: 5+, 7+, 9+, 11+ and 13+/teen.
Using an "age band" for a book is deceptive. It appears to be helpful -- to match the book to the reader. But it's as deceptive as talking about "boy books" and "girl books." Books are much more than a book for a particular age or gender. Readers have more subtle and complex needs than that. And yes, labelling books can create a backlash, with kids refusing to read because something is too babyish. I've also seen, again and again, parents and teachers view books as no more than a "checklist" item to prove a child's genius and maturity, so there will be some who say "I have an 7 year old but I want the 13 year old books because my child is gifted."
The truth is there is no one book that is a match for every 8 year old. And adults who want that simple match are fooling themselves; books are not school uniforms or clothes. Each 8 year old is different; and to get that book for that child, you either need to do a lot of reading yourselves or to find a professional who has done that reading to help match book to child.
* My interpretation of Rosoff's defense of age banding is she sees it as a way not to censor but rather to assist adults who know nothing about children's books who want to buy something for a child. I agree, that is a problem; but I disagree that the solution is to label books in the way proposed, and would argue that it would cause more problems than it solves.
Cross posted at Tea Cozy.