Dealing with censorship in your library
What is the difference between a challenge or banning?
• 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.
• Expression of Concern. An inquiry that has judgmental overtones.
• Oral Complaint. An oral challenge to the presence and/or
appropriateness of the material in question.
• Written Complaint. A formal, written complaint filed with the
institution (library, school, etc.), challenging the presence and/or
appropriateness of specific material.
• Public Attack. A publicly disseminated statement challenging the
value of the material, presented to the media and/or others outside
the institutional organization in order to gain public support for
further action.
• Censorship. 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.
ALA: American Library Association
ULA: Utah Library Association
IF: Intellectual Freedom
OIF: ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom
BBW: Banned Books Week (September 21−27, 2014)
LBR/FTR: Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read Statement
• Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
• The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman
Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for
age group
• Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited
for age group
• Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
• And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
• The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint,
sexually explicit
• Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age
• Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
• The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
• Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence
Of these ten books, six are oriented to children and young adults. And you might even have
some of them on your shelves!
According to the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the
Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the
target of ban attempts. Of the remaining 54, challenges may have happened
but they were never reported to the OIF.
Nine of the Top Ten on this list have been challenged:
• 1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
Reasons for their challenges run the gamut:
1. The material was considered to be "sexually explicit"
2. The material contained "offensive language"
3. The material was "unsuited to any age group“ – via OIF
A majority of challenges are motivated by a well-intentioned
impulse to protect or shield other library users from inappropriate
or dangerous materials. Of these users, children are most
commonly named as the group which must be protected.
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it
is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea
simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or
disagreeable.” - Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.,
in Texas v. Johnson
The Library Bill of Rights (ALA’s guiding policy document on information
access) states in its first two articles:
• I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the
interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the
community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded
because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to
their creation.
• II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all
points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be
proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
The ALA’s Freedom to Read Statement ends with these words:
“We do not state these propositions in the comfortable belief that
what people read is unimportant. We believe rather that what
people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous;
but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society.
Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.”
In an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, the ALA
“Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—
and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict
the access of their children—and only their children—to library
• Free Access to Library Materials for Minors
• Parents challenge library materials more often than any other
group, institution, or authority.
• These challenges disproportionately target the collections of
school libraries, and usually use the Three Reasons as rationale.
(Remember them?)
1. The material was considered to be "sexually explicit"
2. The material contained "offensive language"
3. The material was "unsuited to any age group“
• The LBR and the Freedom to Read Statement have been
interpreted and “fleshed out” in multiple policy papers and
statements that can be found on the ALA’s website
• Many of these are relevant or specific to school libraries
Your strongest argument that reflects these guidelines?
“This library strives to provide a well-balanced collection that is
appealing and relevant to all of its users, while the ultimate
responsibility for circulation choices belongs to parents.”
• A great start: the ULA IFC intellectual freedom manual,
including a great policy and practice checklist at
• The American Library Association’s huge (and overwhelming)
website, starting with the Library Bill of Rights and other
• Talk to other school librarians about their policies and
experiences. Ask a ton of questions!
• Material selection or collection development policies
• Services policy (meeting rooms, programs, etc.)
• Other IF-related policies: confidentiality policy (patron privacy),
law enforcement policies, etc.
• Have a reconsideration form in place which is in accordance
with your material selection policy. USE IT!
• Legal review! Consult with your institution’s attorney(s) about
implementation and training in policies.
• Train all staff members (including teachers, support staff, and
volunteers) on policies and procedures.
• How to handle oral and written complaints
• Reconsideration procedures
• Media policies and other logisitics
• Include board members/trustees/administrators in training
process, especially concerning the principles of intellectual
freedom (Lib. Bill of Rights, Freedom to Read statement,
parent’s responsibilities, etc.)
Treat patron with respect
Be calm, courteous, friendly, and professional
LISTEN to their concerns
De-escalate while remaining firm about IF principles
Avoid library jargon
Explain library’s role vs. parent’s role in selection
Usually, handling an initial complaint skillfully will finish a fullblown challenge before it begins.
• Maintain media discipline (one spokesperson, etc.)
• Follow all reconsideration procedures
• Provide all materials in writing and set expectations for a
• Involve others in the message: board members, friends of the
library, teachers, community leaders
• Some great tips:
• Report a challenge right away! It’s confidential and you can
provide as little info (Title of material and your state) or as
much info as you would like
• The OIF and OLA (Office for Library Advocacy) can provide
additional assistance in the event of a challenge. Their websites
are crucial in planning for, and surviving, a challenge:
• Usually, challenges never proceed to a full-blown
reconsideration hearing because they’re resolved by earlier
steps in the challenge resolution process.
• If you are involved in a hearing, make sure that it’s wellpublicized and that the public hears the library’s IF message
• Rally community leaders who will speak about the freedom to
• Stay serious, stay courteous, stay professional
The reconsideration committee should follow these steps:
• Read, view or listen to the challenged material in its entirety
• Review the selection process and the criteria for selection
• Check reviews and recommended lists to determine
recommendations by the experts and critics
• Meet to discuss the challenge
• Make a recommendation to the administrator on removal,
retention, or replacement
• Use your experiences as a narrative to guide further discussions
of IF issues
• Share your tips and stories with others
• Build a strong network of community support to aid you in
future challenge attempts
• Get involved with state and national advocacy groups. Like our
• Maintain professionalism when discussing the outcome
• Stay positive!
• Always, come back to the primary mission of your library:
providing a well-selected collection for your patrons, and
defending their freedom to use it!
• The ALA’s American Association of School Librarians:
• Our webpage:
• The ALA’s Banned Books website:
• The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom:
• The ALA Challenge Reporting forms:
Thank you!