If you work in a library for long, you’re almost guaranteed to have some kind of conversation with a patron about a material they were less than thrilled with. If the patron is upset about the item, you need to have a collection development policy you can refer to so that you can discuss how materials are selected. When the patron wants to take their complaint about an item further, a policy for handling challenged materials is necessary.
Certain ALA guidelines can help to craft some of the wording for your documents, like the Library Bill of Rights, the Freedom to Read, and the Freedom to View. When you are working on writing your challenged materials policy, you will need to work with your governing board, especially since they will probably have a part in the process. Two important parts of this procedure need to be addressed: having a form for challenges and what the process will be for that patron request when it is received.
Having a form for patrons to fill out after they have had their initial discussion with a staff person is important because it gathers all the information you will want while working through your process. A sample Request for Reconsideration can be found on the Office of Intellectual Freedom’s Banned and Challenged Books site. Another example can be found on the website for St. Charles City-County Library, Mo.
You also need to decide who is going to be responsible for responding to the patron’s request once it is put forth. At Pikes Peak Library District, we start with a librarian discussing the complaint with the patron who brings it to the service desk. During that interaction, we try to explain that the library has materials for everyone and everything goes through our selection process or is purchased because of patron requests. If the patron wants to go forward with their challenge, they are provided with our request for reconsideration form. After that, two librarians review the material, search for critical information and awards, and put together a report for the associate director. The associate director then responds to the patron with the decision on what will happen with the material. If unhappy with the response, the patron can then take their request to the director and the board of trustees who make the final decision. Many libraries have similar procedures in place that are detailed on their websites, like Seattle Public Library, Denver Public Library, and the Free Library of Philadelphia. If you’re in the market for a Challenged Materials Policy, take a look at these and develop what works best for your staff.
I commonly hear people who work with me say something like, “It’s a library. If you can’t find something to offend you, you’re not looking hard enough.” While I don’t think it’s our goal to go out and offend people, as library workers, I do think that we try to have balance in our collections and to provide information for all parts of our populations. When you provide a variety of opinions to everyone, you’re bound to have some objections. Be prepared with a policy for any possible challenges.