MPAA ratings study in Ohio

Michael Vollmar-Grone (
Fri, 10 Dec 1999 09:59:15 -0800 (PST)

The MPAA ratings issues being discussed are timely and important. I've
been an AV Librarian for nearly nine years. Recently, I submitted my
Master’s research project to Kent State University entitled “X AND THE
AV LIBRARIAN: A Study of the Relationship Between the Acquisition of
Feature Films by Ohio Public Libraries and the Influence of the Motion
Picture Association of America (MPAA) Rating System.”

I offer my research results with the hopes that our ongoing discussion
will continue to be stimulated. Basically what I found was that most
Ohio libraries seem to be influenced by the MPAA rating of a film. The
summary and conclusions follow.

To summarize the literature, under scientific scrutiny the MPAA rating
system has been found to have shortcomings. Critics who favor
censorship as well as those who would abolish the MPAA rating system
have found it sorely lacking, but many people use it regularly for
guidance. According to recent polls, more than 75 percent of parents use
ratings to guide their children’s feature film viewing.

The MPAA has strong political and financial backing as evidenced by the
recent development of the TV rating system, which was spearheaded by
MPAA President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Valenti. While that
system incorporated refinements such as those proposed by social science
researchers, the American Library Association position remains clear: no
ratings and no labeling. Despite ALA opposition, more than half of
American public libraries admitted that the MPAA rating system had an
effect on the selection of videos and even more admitted to effects on
access to their video collections.

A decade ago, a study found that more than one half of Ohio public
librarians admitted that film ratings did influence their purchasing
decisions regarding feature films.

This study bears out that admission. Although 55 percent of films
released have an R rating, that group is significantly less likely to be
available from an Ohio public library. While the odds of finding an
X/NC-17 film in a library is minuscule, those films are added to library
collections at about the same rate as the number released.
Surprisingly, Not Rated films faired only slightly better than R rated
films. G, PG, and PG-13 are the films most likely to be acquired by
Ohio public libraries.

Therefore, less than 20 percent of feature films acquired by Ohio
public libraries are intended, via the MPAA rating system, for those
older than 13 years and less than 3.5 percent for those older than 17.
The State of Ohio Department of Development “Ohio County Profiles, June
1997” indicates that more than 70 percent of Ohio’s population is older
than 14, and more than 60 percent is 20 years or older.

When looking at Ohio public libraries, the median ranges between 5.0
and 43.5 for the rated categories. Given that the study included
one-half of the public libraries in Ohio, the rate of offering quality
feature films is disappointing, barely 33 per cent. Virtually all Ohio
public libraries offer videos. Can the remaining two-thirds be
indicative that library video collections are primarily nonfiction
titles? Why are feature films so under represented? These are
questions for future studies.

The argument can be made that adults also may watch those films designed
for younger audiences. And, in fact, some of the films do appeal to
many age groups. However, public libraries do not have a tradition of
exclusively targeting the least common denominator. If credence is to
be bestowed upon the MPAA age designations, then most of Ohio’s public
libraries are not meeting the feature film interests of their

Copies can be downloaded from
for the text version (sorry no colorful pie charts, graphs, and tables)
of 57 KB
for the MSWord 97-2000 version of 215 KB.

Michael Vollmar-Grone