The role of school libraries and librarians in the education and development of children is a subject of debate among parents and special interest groups across the United States. The EveryLibrary Institute and Book Riot conducted a survey of parents during December 2023 to understand their perceptions on topics like book bans, access to school libraries, and the involvement of parents in their children's reading choices.
Key findings indicate a strong belief among parents in the importance of school librarians, with a vast majority asserting that every school should have one. Despite this, there are considerable concerns about unrestricted access to books. Most parents feel that access to certain books should be age-restricted or require parental permission. A majority also believe in proactive parental involvement, like being notified when their child checks out a book, or having the option to opt their children out of using the school library altogether. An even larger majority favor book rating systems in school libraries.
However, this protective approach is balanced by a high level of trust in school librarians. 8 in 10 parents trust these professionals to select appropriate books and trust them to recommend books that are suitable for their child's age and content needs. This trust extends to the safety of the school library environment, with nearly every respondent feeling that their child is safe using the library.
The survey shows an often contradictory landscape of opinions by parents and caregivers about how their children interact with the school library. Parents overwhelmingly recognize the importance of school librarians and value the safety and educational role of school libraries. However, they also express considerable concerns about unrestricted access to certain books, with many advocating for age-appropriate restrictions and greater parental oversight.
95% of parents believe that every school should have a school librarian. However, 60% of parents believe that school libraries should restrict access to books by age or require parental permission to check out a book. 57% believe that parents should receive notifications when a child checks out a book. Over half (53%) think that parents should be able to opt their children out of using the school library. Only 38% want parents to sign a permission slip in order to let their child access the school library.
At the same time, 93% report that they feel that their child is safe using the school library. 80% of parents report trusting school librarians to select appropriate books and materials for the school library. 82% say that they trust school librarians to recommend age and content-appropriate books and materials to students. Three-quarters (76%) think parents should be able to decide if their own child is able to access information about challenging topics such as sex ed and racism. Fully 85% believe that there are some books that are inappropriate for all children. However, 81% of parents report that they do not know how school librarians choose which books to collect. Likewise, only 41% say that they have met their school's librarian.
Over half (56%) of parents report that book banning is an issue when they vote, with 84% of respondents self-reporting being registered to vote.
Comfort with Topics
When asked, "Has your child ever checked out a book from their school library that made you feel uncomfortable?" 86% say no. When asked if their child was made uncomfortable by a book, 87% also said no. Only 32% "would request that a book be banned from their school library if it makes me or my child feel uncomfortable."
86% believe children’s book characters should be diverse and reflect many experiences. 87% believe that teenagers should have access to a wide range of books in their school library, including on complex and controversial subjects and themes. Fewer than 10% self-report that a book has been banned from their own child's school.
On the question of book bans in schools and school libraries, 63% agree that bans infringe on their rights as parents. 54% believe that book bans harm children. A minority (42%) "believe that banning books is an appropriate way to prevent children from learning about certain topics."
70% agree that they are responsible for what their child reads. 67% report that they use parental blocks or filters on their child's devices and apps. 60% believe that children have the right as students to decide their own reading materials.
Only 16% believe that school librarians should be arrested for giving children access to certain books.
Book Rating Systems
When asked about book rating systems, 80% agree that "school libraries should have content rating systems based on their appropriateness for different age groups or contents, similar to the rating systems used for movies, TV shows, or video games." Half of the parents who responded (50%) agree that "school libraries should only contain books appropriate for every age group in the school (i.e., the youngest and most sensitive readers)." Two-thirds (67%) think that the school website should have a list of every book in the school library.
This survey is the third in a series of Parents’ Perception of School Libraries and Librarians Survey (Dec 2023) findings at https://www.everylibraryinstitute.org/parent_perception_school_libraries_2023. This survey is the third in a series of three focusing on parents and libraries. See “Parents’ Perceptions of Public Libraries” (Sept 2023) and “Parents’ Perceptions of Librarians” (Nov 2023) for additional insights on this dynamic topic.
You can Download a PDF of the charts and tables from this report.
Please cite this report as:
Parent Perceptions of School Libraries Survey
EveryLibrary Institute NFP and Book Riot