By Mia Hanuska

Should books have content ratings? Unlike movies or video games, which have MPAA and ESRB rating systems respectively, books are left to the author and publisher’s discretion to rate. This lack of regulation results in a discrepancy between which books are published in which category. Libraries will typically sort books into four main topic categories: juvenile, young adult, general content, and mature content. The labels do not have specific age or subject ranges, often letting authors publish their mature content in the young adult section. Young adult, or YA,  books seem to be “aged up” to appeal to the larger audience of adults reading in the YA category. This leads to less YA books actually geared towards the 13 to 18 year olds the label is meant for, and more explicit and adult themes meant for grown-ups. Additionally, the content filters lack rules for the books—what counts as young adult versus general content? According to Libby, an app used to check out ebooks from local libraries, general content includes books not written for a single age group. This brings up another question: should all books be required to have a specific audience? 

Fortunately, readers worried about possible explicit content in their books have many options. Saratoga County Library librarian Ron Payne recommends readers check for the Lexile Code of a book—simply 2 letters followed by a 3 digit number determined by for readers up to 12th grade. Readers can search their books on the Lexile Find a Book website and find the reading level of the book. To add, readers can check out Common Sense Media, a website where consumers can find ratings and reviews for all forms of content. Their book reviews help with determining what type and level of content (explicit language, sex scenes, heavy gore, etc.) a book contains, also including a suggested age for the media. Ultimately, while readers can research what topics their books include, the question still stands: do books need content ratings, and what should those ratings include?