After a great deal of thought, the Georgetown Branch of the Allen County Public Library made the decision to stop using copyright/branded puppets and stuffed animals in their play area or during storytimes. They offered the following note to their customers:
In order to promote more creative play, all of the toys, puzzles, and coloring sheets in our children’s area will not feature branded characters from movie and TV shows.
Of course, we will continue to purchase books and movies for our library collection with all sorts of popular characters, as we always have. We can also print a particular coloring sheet for your child upon request.
Sara Patalita, the Children’s Librarian at this branch, was a driving force behind this decision. She graciously agreed to answer some questions about what was behind this decision.
1. What made you decide to go commercial free?
Our branch has a great selection of toys, games, and puzzles available to families to play with. As I purchase new material, I’ve tried to be aware of the early literacy benefits of each. My discomfort started with the coloring sheets we were offering — there were so many branded characters. Since we were selecting the images, I felt like the library was almost marketing them.
2. Was this a hard decision for you to reach?
Not after I started doing some research. I wanted to keep an emphasis on fun, creative play, without feeling like we were selling something, even if it was just an image.
My first instinct was to get rid of most of the branded movie/TV characters, but somehow the characters from public television felt more safe. But as I started investigating, I realized these characters were also used to market to children. I feel it is my job as a librarian to make the library a safe environment for kids, and that removing marketing influences helps us protect them.
3. What has been the response from other staff at your branch?
Lisa Armato, the branch manager, was fully behind the idea. We reached out to staff to explain the reasoning behind the decision and asked for any other ideas they might have. Many staff were enthusiastic about the concept. I think some staff did miss the things we used to offer because the characters seemed like old friends. But we still have lots of DVDs with the shows, and our media tie-in book collection is as heavily used as always.
4. What has been the response from your customers?
I don’t think most patrons have noticed the change. There were questions about specific toys that were replaced, but we have received several new toys that are perhaps even more fun. And honestly, some of those branded toys had seen better days, and should have been phased out anyway.
5. Have you noticed any difference in the way the children play? Do you think this encourages kids to play more imaginatively?
In answer to both of those questions, I haven’t noticed a marked difference. I have always loved seeing and hearing the imaginative play the kids create.
I do. I’m proud of our decision. I would like to see more libraries adopt commercial free children’s spaces. As my children become engaged with various TV shows, movies, and Web sites, I know it can be a tough balance. But I want children to be viewed primarily as consumers of information, not potential (paying) customers.
If this topic interests you, please plan to attend Junk Food, Beer and Books: Providing Intellectual Freedom in a Commercialized World presented by the ALSC Intellectual Freedom committee, at the ALA Annual Conference on Sunday morning, June 30 from 10:30 to 11:30. Susan Linn, author of The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World and Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood, will discuss the importance of providing commercial-free time and space for children through programming choices and thoughtful sponsorships.