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Are your library’s books accurate about ag?

My sons and I visit the local library several times a month. The children’s section of the main branch always has a display of books following a certain theme. One month’s theme was agriculture. 

Many of the selections were geared toward elementary-age kids, but one caught my eye as it was obviously for older youth. After skimming the pages, I decided to check it out for myself.

The book, one of a four-part series, focused on free-range farming. As I started reading, I picked up my pen to make notes.

Some things in the book were accurate, such as the statement about organizations creating their own criteria, audits, and labels. Some things in the book were confusing. The terms pasture raised, free range, and organic seemed to be used interchangeably, even though they are not the same.  

Some things were just wrong, such as the declaration that farmers have been getting free crop insurance instead of direct payments since 2014. I know we pay the equivalent of half my salary to buy our crop insurance every year – that’s not free to me. 

I finished the book with pages of notes on my concerns related to the agriculture accuracy of this book. Mind you, this has nothing to do with how we farm, how my friends farm, or preference for one type of farming over another. My concerns have to do with if the book accurately described agriculture practices.  

It does both farmers and consumers a disservice when inaccurate information is published. I wasn’t raised on a farm. Take away my agriculture experience and as a parent reading this with my son, I’d be concerned about our food choices.  

On our next visit, I talked with the librarian about my concerns and learned how books are selected for the shelves. They use national book lists to narrow down titles, then they see if any books with the same or similar topic are in circulation. When ordering through their system, librarians get a one-sentence description of the book. When our librarian showed me the description, I had to admit I would have bought that book, too.

Now that I’ve raised concerns about the book, what will happen? I was surprised to learn my only option is to go before the library board and request the book be considered for the banned book list. That sounds extreme, but what happens if it stays on the shelves and someone without an agriculture background reads it?  

I haven’t made my mind up on going before the library board, but I have talked to our county’s Farm Bureau women’s committee chair. I knew our county board bought a copy of the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture “Book of the Year” for each elementary school. I wasn’t sure if we also donated one to the pubic library. We didn’t, but the board has since approved this, so now each year the public library will receive at least one agriculturally accurate book.

It doesn’t do much good to have that book on the shelves if students don’t read it. I’ve talked with the librarian at my son’s elementary school. She does lessons for the students, and I’d love to see an accurate agriculture book used in one of her lessons. I learned that the school librarians have meetings at the county and state levels, so there are numerous opportunities for farmers to connect with these influencers.  

I also plan to share the Foundation of Agriculture recommended publications list with our children’s curator. This database includes over 500 agriculturally accurate books for people of all ages. These would be great to read during the library’s weekly story time or to include in the summer reading program.  

Browsing the shelves turned an ordinary library visit into a chance to engage with an audience I’d never considered and opportunities beyond just getting a book on display.

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