“I’m looking for clean books?” “Do you have any clean books?”
Whether you are a fan of the term “clean book” or not (personally I am not), if you’re a teen librarian, you’ve probably heard something like the quotes above before. Most likely from parents, guardians, or caregivers. You’ve also probably cringed inside at the question, as it isn’t always the most straightforward reference question to answer.
If you check the dictionary, there are many definitions of the word clean. When it comes to clean books, every adult has there own opinion as to what clean means. They can mean the absence of any of, but not limited to, the following content:
- Foul language (i.e., stupid)
- Curse words (i.e., b*tch)
- Underage Drinking
- Drinking of any kind
- Drug use
- Implied sex
- Other forms of sexual content
If you haven’t read the book, it’s hard to know if any of the content they don’t want is in it. Even if you’ve read the book, you may have forgotten that one curse word on pg 97 or chaste kiss on pg 143. For once it was a “dirty” slogan on a t-shirt.
So how do you handle when patrons are looking for clean books.? For starters, be prepared for a long reference interview, have patience, listen, and be kind.
Ask the patron, “What does a clean book mean to you?” If needed, explain how it means different things to different people. Having their definition may not help you find the book right away, but it will help in eliminating books and what books you may want to consider.
If you do remember that one chaste kiss on page 143, don’t be afraid to inform them of that one kiss but share that the rest of the book is “clean”, if they are aware of it beforehand, some may allow their teens to read it.
You can direct them to Common Sense Media or ask them to wait while you check it yourself. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t remember if a book meets their request, and you want to double-check. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have every book, but if it is on the website, it gives a breakdown of content adults tend to worry about their teen reading.
Remember that just because they want a clean book does not mean they want Christian Fiction. People of various religions want books they consider clean, and while some may be fine with their teen reading a book with a focus on a faith that isn’t there, some don’t want that.
Inform the patron that clean books may lean younger than books aimed at their child’s age group. There is nothing wrong with saying something like, “Unfortunately books geared towards High Schoolers tend to contain varying levels of that content.”
Create a Clean Books List. If you can hand them a list, it will give you a jumping-off point. You can put on the list what content does or does not exist. (i.e. Warning contains underage drinking or i.e. This book does not contain sexual content and foul language) You could even create a database for your own use. The database can include books you’ve read or been informed by others as being clean.
To help in your dilemma, here’s a list of authors whose books are relatively clean, according to my reading those I found from librarians on TSU’s Facebook page. However, some may lean towards a younger audience.
- Joan Bauer
- Ally Carter
- Gordon Korman
- Rick Riordan
- Kasie West
At the end of the day don’t stress. Yes, we all want to serve our patrons the best way we can but sometimes we just can’t, as it’s impossible to know every book in detail.