Banned Books Week: Handling Challenges
Unfortunately, some community members might object to certain books being available. It is important to manage those objections with professionalism, respect, and dedication to the mission of serving your community. Here are some useful tips.
Specific written policies about collection development and challenge management are essential for libraries, educators, and theaters, and they’re also a good idea for retailers. Having a policy is just the first step — be sure to train all current and new staff in your policies and procedures and have periodic refresher sessions to ensure everyone on your team is on the same page. It may also be a good idea to post the policy somewhere where patrons can access it, either on a bulletin board or your institution’s website. Regularly update your policies as you gain experience, encounter new obstacles, or embrace new technology.
In addition to policies, some advance preparation can help prevent challenges to books, comics, and plays. Work with your staff to develop talking points for specific issues that you might encounter.
- For guidelines on establishing collection and review policies, visit ALA’s Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries. ALA also has a number of challenge support tools here.
- NCTE’s Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs presents criteria and procedures that ensure thoughtful teacher selection of novels and other materials.
- American Booksellers for Free Expression has created a number of tools to help retailers advocate for free expression here.
- Comic Book Legal Defense Fund recently released Selling Comics, a guide to comics retailing that also includes several chapters on the freedom to sell comics. CBLDF’s Retailer Rights Workshops provide hands on information. If you are interested in hosting or participating, contact CBLDF at firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember Your Community
Libraries and schools have a broad mandate to provide choice for all of the individuals in their community. That means that they provide access to ideas and information across the spectrum of political and social views. Retail stores and theaters can be more specialized in their mission, but they also serve a wide range of patrons. When confronting a complaint, it is important to emphasize this inclusive approach and remind people that they are free to make decisions for themselves and their minor children, but they can’t do so for others.
Serving the broader community doesn’t mean that staff at libraries and bookstores are substitute parents or guardians. Communicating with parents and providing expert knowledge to help them and their children make choices is a best practice, but parents need to understand that the final decision about their kids’ reading is their own.
Keep It Friendly
When someone comes to you with a complaint or challenge, be polite, professional, and friendly even if the individual making the complaint is upset or angry. We may disagree with the person making the challenge, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore or discount the concerns expressed. Here are a few best practices for these difficult situations:
- Greet each person with a smile. Communicate your openness to inquiries and concerns, and show that you take them seriously.
- Listen more than you talk. Take time to comprehend and acknowledge the individual’s concern. Stay calm and courteous.
- Avoid sharing personal opinions. Instead, be prepared to present facts, policy, and other background materials in writing.
- Give a clear, non-intimidating explanation of the procedure for registering a complaint or challenge, and provide information on when a decision can be expected.
You don’t need to go it alone! Contact the member organizations of the Banned Books Week Coalition, whose expert staff can help you manage the situation with proactive resources, one-on-one advice, letters of support, and more. Even if you’ve already resolved the situation, reporting the challenge will help advocates develop tools to assist other people in your situation.
- American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (http://www.ala.org/aboutala/offices/oif/)
- Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (http://cbldf.org)
- National Coalition Against Censorship (www.ncac.org)
- National Council of Teachers of English (http://www2.ncte.org/)
Strong policies, good training, and adherence to your procedures are vital to creating the best outcome in challenge situations. People challenging content are generally well-intentioned, and they have a right to be heard. Having policies that allow you to hear their complaints and consider them objectively helps maintain a respectful approach to ensuring your institution serves the needs of everyone in your community in the best way possible — but those policies aren’t much use if you don’t stick to them!
The members of the Banned Books Week Coalition are ready to help fight challenges in your community, but we need to hear about them first! The best way to fight censorship is to call it out when it occurs. Several members of the Coalition have ways to report censorship, and they work collectively to ensure your rights:
- Report censorship to the American Library Association using this form. ALA also has a number of challenge support tools here.
- Report censorship to the National Coalition Against Censorship by completing this form.
- Report censorship to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund by calling 1-888-88-CBLDF or 971-266-8212 or emailing email@example.com
- Report censorship to the National Council of Teachers of English using this form or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- Report censorship at colleges and universities to FIRE at www.thefire.org/resources/submit-a-case/
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