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The Romance/Chick Lit Section: A YA vs. MG Dilemma

I just finished my first year as a middle/high school librarian. Prior to last year, I was a middle school (6-8) librarian for five years, and before that, I was elementary for five years. I have learned a TON in this last year, not only about high school libraries, but also about living in a new country and being far, far outside my comfort zone of Fort Worth, Texas. It has been fabulous so far, and I have lots of plans for Year #2.

One of the plans I am considering is a split of my Romance/Chick Lit section. I’ve struggled with this section a lot since I created it a few months ago. I had this same section at my middle school library without any major issues or challenges. But in my new middle/high library, I suddenly have some issues.

Let me start by saying I haven’t had any parent objections to my Romance/Chick Lit section at my current library. Not yet, anyway. But I am worried about the more mature YA romance titles I have purchased as well as those purchased before my tenure. Books like Kenneally’s Hundred Oaks series, Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry series, and McGarry’s Pushing the Limits series are all books I personally love. And they are all fine for many of my high school students. But how can I keep the younger students from unwittingly checking out a book clearly intended for a much older reader?

My current system works okay, but it could definitely use some improvement. Right now, I mark the mature books as KS4+ on the spine. This means Key Stage 4 or Key Stage 5, which in British schools (as mine is) means Grades 9-12. I have a note in Destiny that flags these books as only for KS4+, and if a middle school student brings me the book, I either say they need to pick something else (for 6th and 7th graders) or I advise them of the mature content (for 8th graders, depending on the student). This system was in place before I came to my current library, and I see no reason to change it at this time.

I am thinking that this year though, maybe I should split out the middle grade from the YA romances. There is a huge difference in the tone of these books. The more middle grade titles would be “Chick Lit.” These books would be the ones that focus heavily on friendships, gossip, fashion, etc. They will likely have a romance, but it would be fairly clean. The “Romance” section (or, possibly, the “KS4+ Romance” section) would be for the more mature, high school titles. These would focus mainly on the romance and are more likely to contain sexual content. I would try to keep the “Romance” titles to a minimum (there are only so many with very mature content anyway).

Some difficulties I am facing in making this split:

  • Won’t 6th and 7th grade readers want books from the “Romance” section, too? Do I ban them from this section completely? Maybe put black curtains around the section and post a bouncer in front?
  • By creating a mature Romance section, am I drawing unnecessary attention to the “taboo” factor of the books in the Romance section? Am I essentially creating a “clean” romance section and a “naughty” romance section? The kids will certainly be all over that!
  • Keeping the Romance/Chick Lit section intact draws less attention to the mature books. They would still have the KS4+ sticker on the spine, and I would still block checkout for the younger students. It is consistent with what I do in all the other genre sections.
  • Is it really necessary to have two romance sections? Quite a few of my Paranormal books are KS4+, but I have no plans to split them out.
  • What’s to stop younger students from reading the KS4+ books in the library? What’s to stop them now? Nothing.

I know I am not the only librarian conflicted on this issue. Some argue that school libraries should only have books appropriate for all the readers in the school. I disagree with that for my library–I will not deny my high school readers the books they want. I will not force them to only read books appropriate for sixth graders. The more mature romances are fine for them, and they are quite popular with the girls. It would be unfair of me to eliminate these books altogether. If you are a school librarian serving a wide range of age levels, what do you do? How do you provide the more mature books your high schoolers want without risking the innocent eyes (and potentially, the parental wrath) of the younger students?

Related Post: Should MS librarians “mark” their YA books?

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  • This is really interesting to me — especially how a school library and one not in the US handles these types of issues. In a public library in the US, the teen section serves 6th-12th graders and we don't label anything as "for older readers" and while we'll help parents or teens who ask for assistance locate books at a certain reading level or content level, we don't prevent anyone from checking out any type of material. Having to make those sorts of delineations seems complicated (like, separating out mature contemporary books but not paranormal ones).

    • Yes, the international school bit makes it a little different from the US. In some ways, it is more liberal (nudity in art, for example, is embraced, not shunned). In other ways, it is more conservative. Being at an expensive private school, I know that in any book challenge with a parent, the school will side with the parent.

  • I teach 7th and 8th grade, and in my classroom library I pulled a section and called it Teen for the books like Ready Player One, Everyday, and John Green stuff. I use the logo from Teen video games as the marker. I don't discourage anyone from checking them out, but if I think the material is more than a kid is bargaining for, I'll have a conversation. I think you should leave your system in place and not make two romance sections. You are being conscientious already.

    • Yes, I am leaning toward not changing it. If I do split the section into Romance and Chick Lit (it is pretty large), I'm thinking I'd do it without regard to mature content.


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