March 17, 2018

Pat Scales | Movers & Shakers 2002

Beyond “Safe” Books

Giving each child a book that can make a dfifference

As a middle school librarian and defender of students’ right to read for the past 30 years, Pat Scales is in the business of bringing books and kids together. Though she knows not every book is suitable for every child, she is convinced there’s a book–maybe a life-changing one–for every child, and she is determined to help each child find that book.

Some family advocacy groups regard Scales as an enemy, because they don’t understand that she actually wants parents to be involved with their children’s reading. It’s a passion she came by naturally, from her father, who would read a book and then pass it on to her. A shared book doesn’t just offer kids a splendid opportunity to understand themselves and explain their confusions and problems to their parents, it also gives parents a chance to understand their children and arm them with their moral values, wisdom, and “night vision.”

That’s why Scales started a widely imitated program called “Communicating Through Literature” in which parents read and discussed the same books their kids were reading. She chose the books by simply asking students, “What book do you most wish your parents would read, and why?” She found that when parents read the books, they not only became more accepting of books that have been censored for their ideas and language, they thanked her for helping them reconnect with their kids.


Current position: Director of Library and Information Services, South Carolina Governor’ s School for the Arts and Humanities

Degree: MLIS, George Peabody College for Teachers of Vanderbilt University, 1970

Active In: Intellectual Freedom Committee, Freedom To Read Foundation, AASL, and ALSC

Honors: 1983 recipient AASL/SIRS Intellectual Freedom Award; Grolier Award

Author: Teaching Banned Books: 12 Guides for Young Readers, ALA, 2001

Perhaps it’s because Scales likes and understands adolescents that she trusts them and respects their right to read and seek information. She celebrates Banned Books Week by having students read aloud from their favorite banned book, and she goes into the government classes to talk with students about the First Amendment.

When ALA needs an expert witness in a book challenge, or someone to appear on television to defend the Library Bill of Rights, they often call on Scales. She thinks that’s because her Southern drawl makes her seem ladylike and unthreatening. Others say it’s because she makes a strong case, since it’s clear that she genuinely cares about kids and genuinely believes that “if students aren’t allowed to see, then they can’t grow.”

Because the freedom to read and to search freely the Internet for information are under concerted attack by organized groups, filing identically phrased court cases, Scales teaches her methods to other librarians, in lectures, articles, and now in her new book, Teaching Banned Books. She warns librarians against the self-censorship of choosing only ‘safe’ books and tells them the solution is not to restrict students’ access to ideas but to encourage them to think and talk about those ideas.

Scales has received many honors in her career but finds her greatest rewards in connecting with kids, motivating them to read, and helping them understand themselves and their world through literature. “The emotions of being 13 are the same for all times,” she says. “It is still hard being 13, and we still need somebody to understand those feelings.”