News Release -- April 1st, 1996
V-chip rating system extended to books
CLA endorses 'V-barcode' plan
The Canadian Library Association today announced its
intention to comply with the wishes of millions of
Canadians who had signed a petition decrying the increasing
presence of "vivid imagery of sex and violence" in books
targetted at children.
"Once my daughter started reading books in the 'Goose Bumps'
series", says one concerned parent, "reading became like an
addiction to her." Even though the books were so violent and
scary the girl had nightmares. "Soon she started reading beyond
her grade level and was getting into books with 'adult themes'."
The problem, say most busy parents, is that kids can visit
the local library and borrow anything they choose, regardless
of their family's values.
The new book rating system, modelled after television's highly
successful V-chip, has been dubbed the V-barcode, because each
book will have a machine-readable "barcode" on the spine that
encodes a rating of the book's contents on several scales:
sex, violence, coarse language, drug use, religion, and
"This isn't about censorship", says Keith Spicer, who recently
joined the CLA as policy director after leaving the CRTC, "this
is about choice, ... about empowering parents to make choices."
Under the new system, parents will select their family's
"tolerance levels" on each scale. These are encoded as a barcode
on their child's library card. When a child wants to borrow a
book, the librarian simply passes the library card and book over
a scanner (just like the ones used in the supermarket) and
a screen instantly displays whether authorization should
be granted. "It's a marvel of technology", bubbles Spicer,
"it's just like the child's parent is there, saying to the child
-- 'No, we don't borrow that kind of book in this family.'".
The CLA dismisses complaints the system will be burdensome.
"We already have barcodes on most books, so the cost of the new
system will be incidental", said a CLA spokesperson.
Library patrons can expect to pay an additional $5 per year
over their normal borrowing fees.
"The V-barcode is just a small part of the overall solution
for dealing with violence in books," says Spicer. "The best
way of dealing with bad books is to have more good books,
and we hope that once children stop borrowing the bad books
publishers will start printing books of better quality."
There are still a few wrinkles to be worked out, however.
Some skeptical parents think children might start hanging
out in libraries -- where they can still read books they
aren't allowed to borrow. Still, to many parents, the new
system gives a parent more control over what their child reads
than is the case without this technology. "It's a social
experiment worth trying", says one parent, "It will be
interesting to see what guidelines will be drawn up and
who will be doing the drawing. It will force people to
reflect on ethics and reading, which is something we could
afford to be more reflective about."
Enthusiasts of the V-barcode would like to see its use expanded.
"We'd like to see the V-barcode system adopted in bookstores",
says Keith Spicer, "We've already got a pilot project going
with the Cole's Bookstore chain and the Bank of Montreal where
the parental tolerance levels are encoded into the mag-stripe
on the child's bank card." A book purchase can be declined
at the checkout if it exceeds the family's tolerance levels.
"Cash purchases," says Spicer, "are still a problem."