British Libraries to Rate Books like Films to Encourage Reading, Librarians Will Assess 1,000 Books for Sex,violence, 'Optimism.' Rating to Be Put on Internet

By Alexander MacLeod, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 1999 | Go to article overview

British Libraries to Rate Books like Films to Encourage Reading, Librarians Will Assess 1,000 Books for Sex,violence, 'Optimism.' Rating to Be Put on Internet


Alexander MacLeod, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Britain already sets tough limits on how much sex and violence can be shown on television and at the movies. Now it is about to produce a grading system for books in public libraries.

Thirty-three librarians will spend the next 12 months assembling a national register of 1,000 books ranging from contemporary fiction to great works of literature such as William Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" and Charles Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities."

The librarians will assess each title for sexual, violent, and emotional content, as well as optimism and other factors. The tabulated results will be available on the Internet to potential library-book borrowers. The plan is dividing authors. Some welcome the idea, while others attack it as unnecessary or likely to mislead readers. Will Self, author of contemporary novels that he says "rate zero for optimism," thinks book borrowers "have a right to know what they are about to read." But fellow novelist Fay Weldon dismissed the plan as "laughable." It would result in "nobody reading anything that might take them by surprise," she told the London Times. The effort was hailed by Lisa Jardine, professor of literature at London's Queen Mary College, as "sensible and welcome." Rachel Van Riel, director of Britain's Society of Chief Librarians, which is coordinating the project, says the aim is to "make it possible for readers to decide how much sex and violence, or happiness or sadness, they want in anything they take from the shelves." She notes that librarians often give verbal advice to book borrowers and sees the Internet register as "a natural extension" of the same process. Sherry Jespersen, director of Britain's Library Association, says the register "will be a great service to readers, and the hope is that it will extend the range of people's reading." Ms. Jespersen says the idea for the project arose with a group of librarians who saw the advantages of using the Internet for this purpose. It is being paid for by a 300,000 ($487,000) grant from the National Lottery Fund. The register will eventually be expanded to include reviews of 5,000 books. BRITONS are no strangers to official or semiofficial entertainment guidelines for television, videos, and movies. TV channels observe a 9 p. …

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