Interview with VOYA Press Author Margaret Auguste

VOYA Press Presents: A VOYA Guide to Intellectual Freedom for Teens

An Interview with Author Margaret Auguste

VP: What is your book about?

MA: This book will discuss the impact that censorship has on young adults and what librarians, as advocates for intellectual freedom, can do to educate others about censorship through relevant activities, programs, and useful tools.

VP: What is your interest/expertise in this topic?

MA: My interest in censorship has developed primarily from my experiences as a middle school librarian where I interact with young adults on an ongoing basis to introduce them to literature that meets their wide range of interests, reading abilities, and educational needs.  I see first-hand how opening their eyes to all types of literature, as opposed to restricting their access, teaches them to develop critical opinions, introduces them to new ways of life, and encourages them to discuss the problems they read about that are relevant to the teenage experience.

My interest also comes from the many conversations I have had with parents, who want to encourage their children to read but who also have many questions and some concerns about the books that their teens enjoy.  They crave more information about the books librarians and teachers recommend and select for their children, and yet feel that expressing their concerns will label them as censors. These discussions mirror the conversations that I have had with librarians and teachers who feel that respect for their professional expertise and personal regard for teens is in question when books that they have carefully selected are challenged.

I thought that a book that could objectively explore these issues was necessary to bring all these groups together to find common ground based on respect for each other’s opinions and respect for the laws that protect everyone’s right to read freely.

VP: What are the best features about your book that sets it apart from other titles on this topic?

MA: What sets my book apart from others is that I explore how cultural issues, personal values, social issues, and societal concern influences the decisions that parents and community members make when they challenge books that they feel could be potentially harmful to their children.  I also explore how the experience of censorship affects authors, teachers, and librarians, personally, economically, and professionally.  My hope is that this non-confrontational approach can assist librarians to lead everyone to a common understanding of what censorship is and enable them to develop compassion for each other’s position in a way that respects their differing opinions, while also respecting the First Amendment rights of both adults and young people.

The best approach librarians can use to decrease book challenges is to prevent the need for censorship, with a focus on education and outreach to parents, teachers, young adults, and community members before problems arise.  This book also encourages librarians to take an open and honest look at how our own values, fears, and concerns impact the books we select and can help us to understand the fears and concerns of others.

My final chapter is unique in that it highlights the often unknown and unheralded heroic actions of librarians, across the country and throughout the world, who for decades, have fought for the rights of everyone to access information freely. The research I completed for this book was the first time that I was made aware of many of their stories, which troubled me as well as encouraged me to ensure that everyone be aware of their uplifting stories.

VP: How did you develop/research your topic?

MA: I researched many historical and current court cases and book challenges to provide an overall look at how censorship occurs and how understanding the law can help make censorship more easily understood. I also explored the research that librarians have completed on censorship because their unique perspective is the most relevant to other librarians.

I visited many contemporary young adult literary blogs where authors, librarians, parents, and young adults debate and discuss, in real time, their honest opinions about young adult books and what these books mean to them and their communities.  I think that using this approach allowed me to explore the most current and relevant ideas, questions, and concerns that occur on a daily basis.

Finally, I drew from my own experience as a parent and librarian and interviewed authors and other librarians to find out what their primary concerns, issues, and needs were regarding the role of censorship in their professional and personal lives.

VP: Have you thought about your next topic?

MA: I have thought about it.  As a former family therapist, I recognize the impact on teen library users of young adult literature that explores the teen experience with depression, eating disorders, and other mental health issues.  These novels are so appealing and helpful to young adults who undergo these issues or know of others who experience these problems.  I think it would be helpful to librarians to have a simple guide to what these mental health issues are and how they relate specifically to teens, as well as having a list of books both non-fiction and fiction that explore these issues with depth and empathy.

VOYA’s Guide to Intellectual Freedom for Teens. VOYA Press, 2012. 187p. $40. 978-1-61751-007-6.

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