Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Preparedness is Key to Handling Materials Challenges

I recently had a parent complain at length about a book in the children’s collection. It was the first complaint I have had in close to 20 years. But I was ready, because I knew what to say and how to say it. 

It’s not news that book challenges are on the rise, along with hate crimes. Even in my liberal Maryland suburb of DC, we have seen antisemitic graffiti in schools, a Moms for Liberty chapter formed, Pride flags vandalized, along with protests against LGBTQ+ inclusive books in the elementary schools. To stop attendees and staff at library-hosted Drag storytimes from being filmed, my library system moved to prohibit all photography by the public in the libraries. Not a single one of us is safe from efforts to limit the rights of our patrons and students to see themselves in our materials, to choose those materials freely, and to learn about the world around them, the good and the bad.  

It is absolutely vital that every staff member be well versed in what to do when the challenges come. Find your collection policy and your library’s rules of conduct. Practice until it all rolls off your tongue the same way “open shut them” or explaining how to use the photocopier does. Know what the process for reconsideration of materials is. Be a broken record in stating that individual families have the right to make their own choices for their children.

All challenges don’t result in bans, but you don’t know how far someone will go. Some just want to make a complaint, to voice their concerns and then let it go. But others want to impose their views on everyone, to redefine freedom and democracy. Public libraries are about choice: choice to attend a program, choice of materials to check out, choice of what to not check out. And our job is to offer and assist in making those choices and fight against those who want to take it away.  

Need help with any of this? Check out these recent free webinars created by the ALSC Intellectual Freedom and Managing Children’s Services committees: Understanding and Embracing Collection Development Policies and Procedures and Training Frontline Staff to Deal with Book Challenges Effectively ALA’s Fight Censorship page is a clearinghouse of resources to consult before something happens. 

This post addresses the core competencies of  I. Commitment to Client Group; IV. Collection Knowledge and Management; VI. Administrative and Management Skills. 

Judy Ehrenstein is a children’s librarian with Montgomery County (MD) Public Libraries and a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC. 

One comment

  1. Bob Lucore

    Nice, helpful piece, Judy!

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