A.L.A. Study of Book-Club Alterations Prompts Shifts in Policy

By Anne Bridgman — March 07, 1984 8 min read
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Scholastic Inc., the nation’s largest producer of paperback books sold to students through school “book clubs,” has said it will change its practice of altering some of the texts for student audiences.

Company officials indicated they would change the practice following the release this winter of a report by the American Library Association charging that three different firms that offer book-club paperbacks to elementary- and secondary-school students remove or change language in some of the books, with their authors’ permission. The books involved are primarily contemporary works of the genre known as “fiction for young adults.”

Scholastic also has agreed to discontinue its practice of suggesting on the cover of such edited books that they have been honored by the ala, which charges in the report that the honor does not apply to the edited books.

After receiving complaints from ala members, the library association last year notified Scholastic and two other companies that they were forbidden to use the ala’s “Best Books for Young Adults” designation on books that had been changed or on promotional material advertising the books, on the grounds that the altered books differ from the titles that received the original honor from the association.

An ala spokesman said last week that Jean Feiwel, editorial director and divisional vice president at Scholastic, told the ala that Scholastic will no longer expurgate material.

In addition, the spokesman said, Scholastic agreed to remove the “Best Books” designation from those books already published that have had material expurgated. The publisher will also print a notice on the title page indicating that changes have been made to the edition with the author’s consent, the ala spokesman said.

Books for Schools Altered

“Scholastic is phasing out expurgation in its tab [Teen-Age] book club,” Ms. Feiwel said last week. Most of the reported changes that have been made to books have involved those in the tab line.

According to an investigation conducted by the Young Adult Services Division of the American Library Association, Scholastic Inc., Xerox Education Publications, and Troll Associates have altered the texts of some of their book selections--sometimes without notifying readers of the changes--to avoid controversy among teachers, librarians, parents, and administrators.

The American Federation of Teachers has also expressed opposition to the practice of expurgation without permission or notice. In a resolution passed at the federation’s 1983 convention, teachers who used book clubs were urged to write letters to the publishers stating their objections to the practice.

Neither the ala nor representatives of the publishing firms could provide data on the volume of school-book-club sales. But education and publishing officials speculated that the three clubs account for a very large percentage of all book sales to the nation’s schoolchildren.

School-book club orders are usually placed by individual English teachers, an ala spokesman said. They choose the club, distribute fliers to their students that describe the available books, and collect the students’ money for the books they select. The students, in most cases, own the books.

In some schools, however, the books may become part of a classroom library or the school library, and bonus copies earned by the teacher for processing orders may also end up on the library’s shelves. In addition, librarians--both school and public--also purchase book-club books, which are also marketed as regular “trade” paperbacks, for their patrons.

“School and public librarians who purchase the trade paperback [on] the assumption it is the same as the original work are being put in [a position of] violati[ng] their institution’s materials-selection policy,” the ala report maintains.

In “School Book Club Expurgation Practices,” an article in the winter 1984 edition of the ala publication Top of the News that describes the investigation, Gayle Keresey, chairman of yasd’s intellectual-freedom committee, writes that some of the books had phrases or words removed or changed; in oth-ers, whole pages, paragraphs, and chapters had been rewritten. Expurgation is defined by the ala as “any deletion, excision, alteration, or obliteration of any part of books.” It is considered a form of censorship, a spokesman said, and thus a violation of the association’s “Library Bill of Rights,” which provides guide-lines for librarians on book selection and First Amendment issues.

The expurgations, the researchers found, usually consisted of removing four-letter words, including “damn” and “hell"; changing “Oh, God” to “Oh, Lord"; removing mention of parts of the anatomy, such as “breast” or “thigh"; removing sexually oriented phrases; and deleting violence. The books marketed by the clubs include fiction, movie adaptations, and classics, said Ms. Keresey, who is a media coordinator at East Arcadia School in Riegelwood, N.C.

For example, in Jean Marzollo’s Halfway Down Paddy Lane, which Scholastic renamed Out of Time, into Love, alterations included changing “Jesus and Mary” as an exclamation to “no"; substituting “creeps” for “bastards"; and removing whole passages to replace them with “more innocuous passages,” according to the ala report.

Scholastic editors have decided to re-issue the book this fall with a new cover and its original title restored, according to Ms. Keresey.

Scholastic editors interviewed during the investigation justified their expurgation practices by explaining that they wanted to be responsive to parents’ and educators’ needs for noncontroversial supplementary reading materials. Offering edited books as club selections, they said, allows Scholastic to provide books to the largest number of students.

The company has been expurgating materials since the early 1960’s, Ms. Keresey said.

Editors with the company, which has four book clubs--Seesaw, Lucky, Arrow, and tab--and two trade divisions--Apple and Vagabond--told the ala researchers that their job was “to keep the teacher happy,” Ms. Keresey said. “They explained that they were selling to the classroom market,” not to librarians.

The editors estimated that about 2 percent of the school-club books were changed, but the researchers reported finding “more comprehensive” changes.

The editors said they “identify words and paragraphs that might cause problems in the book-club market,” Ms. Keresey writes in her report. “The staff discusses the changes with the hardcover publisher, who consults with the author. The changes are negotiated prior to purchase of the book by Scholastic.” The editors explained to Ms. Keresey that the reason they did not note the expurgation on the books’ jackets or title pages was because students object to the idea that books have been edited.

‘Edited Edition’

Xerox Education Publications, which, at the time of the ala study, marketed young-adult book-club titles through Read Book Club, was also found to expurgate materials. Xerox, however, notes in each book and in promotional material that it is an “abridged” and/or “edited school book-club edition,” the ala report notes.

The author is also consulted prior to the changes, a company spokesman said last week. “We do not make any change to a book without so noting on the book and on all promotional materials,” said William Reed, senior product manager of Xerox’s paperback book clubs.

Mr. Reed also said Xerox “respects books that have been honored by ala and would not change them.” The Read Book Club, which marketed books for 15 years, is no longer in operation because of inadequate sales, he added.

In some “rare” cases, the spokesman noted, textual changes are made to make a book appropriate for a lower reading level. “If we want to offer a book in one of our lower-level clubs,” of which Xerox has five, he said, “modifications have to be made to the book” to simplify the language. Such changes were made to Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, he said.

When changes are made, Mr. Reed said, the book is not marketed as a yasd Best Book selection.

Smallest Firm

Troll Associates, the smallest of the three companies, was also found to market books in which material had been expurgated. Vic Cavallaro, who was vice president at the time of the ala investigation, told Ms. Keresey that the company purchases books from paperback reprint houses and produces original titles. “If the book would present a problem,” Ms. Keresey quotes Mr. Cavallaro as saying, “usually Troll does not purchase the title.”

Troll does not initiate requests for changes in texts of reprints, according to the report. But “occasionally, less than once a year, a publisher approaches Troll about buying a title, usually a movie tie-in,” it notes.

In this case, Troll can request changes because the publisher plans to produce a book-club edition, the report notes. Such changes are negotiated between the publisher and the author, according to Mr. Cavallaro, and the copyright page of the edited books carries a “book-club selection” notation. These changes are made, he explained to Ms. Keresey, because the company receives letters of complaint and requests from teachers for the screening of books.

“We do not routinely censor books,” said Marie Hayo, a customer-service representative designated by Troll to respond to the ala report. “We agree that the child should get the original edition. We heartily endorse and support the [ala’s] library bill of rights.”

Authors’ Permission

Besides changing books’ contents to avoid controversy, some book-club editors justified their practice of expurgation by explaining that they obtain permission from the authors before making any changes, Ms. Keresey notes.

As part of the study, the ala re-searchers surveyed 27 authors of young-adult books--15 of whom had sold titles to Scholastic, 12 to Xerox, and five to Troll. Of those surveyed, nine reported that book-club editors had requested changes in the text or the title before agreeing to publish the book. The changes, the authors reported, were usually to omit offensive language and references to sex or the human anatomy. Other requests concerned references to violence and the Devil.

“A lot of times they didn’t really have a choice,” Ms. Keresey said the authors told her. “They were asked [by the book-club companies], ‘Do you want the money?”’ she said. Some authors, like Judy Blume and Norma Klein, refused to allow changes to be made, while others, especially new writers, said they felt pressured to make the changes, she said.

The other two companies named in the ala study have not indicated, as Scholastic Inc. has, that they would discontinue their practice of altering materials for the book-club market, Ms. Keresey said last week. “They’re still doing it as far as we know.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1984 edition of Education Week as A.L.A. Study of Book-Club Alterations Prompts Shifts in Policy


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