How to Handle a Book Challenge

How to Handle a Book Challenge
What is a librarian to do when the dreaded book challenge happens?

What a day! Today I had a teacher question two books that on her students checked out and received an anonymous packet of materials against Harry Potter. And it was Monday!

What is a librarian to do when a parent, teacher, student, administrator questions materials on hand? First don’t panic. It is very easy to become defensive when someone questions materials you have selected for your library. Remember that it is rarely a personal attack. The people who question the suitability of books are usually well meaning and concerned. They are concerned about the welfare of children, youth, and even adults.

So, what should you do? If you are taken by surprise by the person, just listen. Don't interrupt with a million reasons why this is the best book ever written. Listening respectfully to a person often diffuses much of the tension. It is also the right thing to do. The person who comes with concerns is just as much a member of your community as the most staunch supporter of the Library Bill of Rights.

After you listen, then what? Respond, and offer to provide or refer the person to review sources regarding the book in question. Last school year I had a parent question why I was reading Harry Potter to the fourth grade class of our school. She acknowledged never having read the book, but had "heard" negative things. I was able to immediately refer her to a website, which provided reviews dealing with her concerns. I also found further reviews and sent them to her. Through responding to her misgivings I was able to calm them.

It's not always so easy though. Sometimes you have to prepare and respond. That is where the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom can support you. This branch of the American Library Association has ready access to reviews and resources to answer questions about raised about a specific title.

A request for reconsideration form is also a necessity. When the person making the complaint isn't satisfied with reviews or reassurances then they have the right to make a formal complaint. Allow the person to take the request for reconsideration form and complete it. No action regarding a book should be taken until the request for reconsideration form is completed and returned. Books are to be left on the shelf, in circulation.

You should also have in place a formal Collection Development Policy, which addresses controversial materials. The Supreme Court has ruled that no one, librarian, principal, mayor, etc., has the right to supercede an approved request for reconsideration policy.

A challenge of your materials can be scary, nerve wracking, and infuriating. Remember that parents have the right to direct what their own children read. They do not have the automatic right to determine what your or my children read. This is the essence of the First Amendment. It is an awesome, fearsome thing, this freedom to choose what we read.

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