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Collection Development and RA: Materials Challenges

What is a Materials Challenge?

Quoting directly from the American Library Association:

  • A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.
  • Censorship is a change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.
  • Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.

As challenges grow more frequent, it's important for library staff and trustees to know what to do well in advance of experiencing one themselves. If your library receives a formal challenge, please contact your consultant.

You can report challenges to the NYS Library here. You can report challenges to the ALA here.

Materials Challenge Must-Haves

Before you experience a materials challenge, the library should be prepared with the following items:

Collection Development Policy: Explains the who, what, and why of how the library maintains its collection - including the mission of the library and the purpose of its collection, the criteria for selection, how the library handles gifts and/or donations, the importance of weeding/deselection, and a materials reconsideration form for formal challenges.

Reconsideration Process: A written process reviewed by library staff that gives patrons the avenue to formally request that the library reconsider whether that item should be included in its collection.

Patron Behavior Policy: Many times, people making complaints just want to be heard. Library staff should listen and acknowledge the person's right to question library resources. If the patron becomes disruptive, then staff should be guided by the library's patron behavior policy.

Talking Points: Whether you're responding to a formal challenge or informal complaints, it's important that library staff and trustees be clear and consistent. These guiding principles from the American Library Association may help you with your messaging.


What is Censorship?

Further Reading

Sample Policies