What To Do When You Are Confronted With A Challenge

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• Listen to the patron’s objections calmly and patiently. Be courteous. Do not argue. Sometimes a frustrated patron merely needs to vent or “blow off steam.” A reasonable listener can often diffuse the situation without committing the library to any specific action.

• If the patron is adamant about pursuing the complaint, explain the responsibility of librarians to serve people with diverse information needs and tastes which require varied viewpoints. Be prepared to supply a copy of the library’s material selection policy and explain the criteria for selection, as well as the library’s position on intellectual freedom. Give the person a copy of the Library Bill of Rights.

• If the patron persists, explain that there is a procedure for handling such complaints and that they will need to talk to the person designated to handle such questions. Bring the patron to the director or the person designated to handle challenges. That person should also hear the patron out and restate the library’s selection policy and position on intellectual rights before anything is put into writing.

• If discussion fails to resolve the challenge, initiate the library’s complaint or reconsideration procedure as outlined in the material selection policy. The objection should be clearly stated and documented in a detailed manner. Complaint procedures will differ from library to library but should always be pursued expeditiously and fairly. The patron must be given realistic expectations about what will follow.

• Notify the appropriate library authorities, which will differ according to the library’s type and governance structure. Depending up on the severity and urgency of the challenge, notify the Utah Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.

• The written complaint is examined according to the procedure adopted in the material selection policy. A well reasoned response is made and includes a justification and supporting documents. The results are communicated to the complainant, including any explanation of procedures that are required.

• If the party filing the complaint is not satisfied with the response, an appeal to the library board may follow. The appeal process should be outlined in the material selection policy.

• If pressure to remove the materials threatens to escalate, bring the matter to the public’s attention as soon as possible. Remember, it is the public’s right to know that is threatened. The staff and governing authority should be informed and their support encouraged. Alert the ULA Intellectual Freedom Committee. Activate any support groups or coalitions. Seek support of the local press or media. If warranted, seek legal advice.

• Keep a written record of what happens, including telephone calls received and what was said by whom and when. Favorable responses may be needed when building support. Critical responses may need to be answered.

Libraries play the role of fair brokers for the public’s right to have access to diverse points of view so that people can make up their own minds. Increasingly, pressure groups with ideological agendas are attempting to limit the information and opinions available to the public. Such attempts can come from groups anywhere on the political spectrum, left or right. In recent years, however, most of the groups that have challenged library materials could be described as “far right” and often describe themselves as “pro-family.” They have mostly targeted schools by trying to shape curriculums to fit their values and points of view. Libraries, however, have not been immune.

Think about strategies to preempt these attacks by addressing them in a positive way before they are used against the library. A proactive approach can make a big difference.

A number of excellent resources are available to guide you through a censorship challenge. See Appendices I and J for selected titles and web sites.


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