|News Release -- April
V-chip rating system extended to books
CLA endorses 'V-barcode' plan
The Canadian Library Association today
intention to comply with the wishes of millions
Canadians who had signed a petition decrying
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
of their family's values.
The new book rating system, modelled after
successful V-chip, has been dubbed the V-barcode,
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,
"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
"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
a screen instantly displays whether authorization
be granted. "It's a marvel of technology",
"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
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
There are still a few wrinkles to be worked
Some skeptical parents think children might
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
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
"Cash purchases," says Spicer,
"are still a problem."