What happens when some person or group questions your policies or asks you to remove items in your collection? It is essential to have policies that show your library is committed to the principles of intellectual freedom, as stated in the Library Bill of Rights. For examples of policies from a variety of libraries, go to Acqweb's Directory of Collection Development Policies on the Web. In addition, a number of books contain examples of good policies. (Some of these titles are listed in the bibliography at the end of this course.)
The American Library Association has a great deal of helpful information on handling complaints and challenges to your library's resources. On their web site, in "Issues and Advocacy" under the link for "Intellectual Freedom/Censorship" you will find helpful information for handling challenges. find "Challenge Support" linked from the text. One of the documents you will find there, Dealing with Challenges to Books and Other Library Materials, offers advice on how libraries can be prepared for challenges and how to deal with them.
Some of the ways to be prepared for a challenge are:
The library should have a written collection development policy that is approved by the library's governing authority - either the library board or the school board. The library should also have a policy that covers such things as registration for library cards and services it offers, such as programs.
The library should have specific procedures for handling complaints. For example, complaints should be submitted in writing and the person making the complaint must be identified. (The ALA web site has a sample form that can be used for complaints.) All library staff should be acquainted with the policies and trained in the procedures to follow when a complaint is made. Remember that anyone has a right to express a concern and the person receiving the complaint should listen respectfully. Also, be sure to explain the library's policies and the procedures for submitting a formal complaint.
If you are in charge of your library, you should notify your administration and/or library board or school board of the complaint. You may want to contact the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Idaho Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee to enlist their support. You may also want to enlist the support of local organizations. In fact, if local civic, religious, educational, and political organizations and the local media understand your selection and service policies, they may be more supportive when a challenge does occur. Refer to the Library Bill of Rights, as it addresses the issues of intellectual freedom and censorship.
Do everything possible to retain library materials that meet the standards established in the collection development policy. Do not restrict or remove any materials until a decision has been made by the appropriate authority.
While many of the steps listed above indicate action that needs to be taken by the library director, quite often library staff members working with the public will be the first to hear complaints. It may not be your responsibility to follow through with the response, but your understanding of the library's selection and service policies and procedures will help make certain that the complaint is addressed in a professional and timely manner. If you are not sure about the policies and procedures of your library, check with your library director or library board or school principal or school board to find out what they are.
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