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Intellectual Freedom - Facing a Challenge

How to Prepare
How to Respond
Library Board Members: What Can You Do?
IF Challenge Tracking Form

    Challenge Support from ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom



    Facing a Challenge - How to Prepare

    Having a plan in place prior to an Intellectual Freedom challenge can help avert a crisis situation. A component of such a plan is a detailed collection development policy containing the following elements:

    • A mission statement which describes the population served and the purpose of the collection.
    • A clearly outlined statement of the selection criteria used by the library for all library materials.
    • These criteria may include the following:
      • Collect positive reviews of books from reviewing journals
      • Use recommendations for selection from professionals or specialists in their fields of expertise
      • Include materials which cover a broad subject range as well as support the curriculum and/or interests of your clientele
      • Ensure that materials contribute to the breadth of representative viewpoints
      • Collect materials with a high degree of potential user appeal
      • Select materials in view of timeliness or permanence in the collection
      • Ensure that your collections are current and represent valid viewpoints
      • Select materials considered educationally significant at various instructional levels
      • Purchase materials in a variety of formats, considering appropriateness, quality, and variety
      • Be certain that any item's value is commensurate with cost and/or need
      • Purchase materials that demonstrate integrity in their discussion(s)
      • Consider reputation of author, producer, or publisher in purchasing

    In addition to a solid collection development policy, other policies and procedures can be established which can be of assistance in preparation for challenges:

    • Determine who among the library staff selects materials
    • Designate persons to serve on a reconsideration committee (Such a committee will examine formal patron complaints regarding any library materials).
    • Establish policy(ies) regarding maintenance of collection
      • A policy regarding removal or replacement (i.e. weeding) of materials from the collection might include the following criteria:
        • Materials in poor physical condition
        • Items containing outmoded or obsolete subject content
        • Material which is no longer pertinent to the curriculum
        • Items which are superseded by more current information
    • Develop a policy regarding treatment of gift materials
    • Clearly state criteria for acceptance of gifts e.g., Material meets criteria of general collection development policy
    • Designate from whom gifts will be accepted
    • Establish a policy regarding designation of donated materials added to the collection (e.g. book plate, etc.)
    • Develop general guidelines to be used for any new or existing policies
      • Have all policies approved by board or other governing body
      • Review all policies annually
      • Ensure that all policies are followed

    When developing procedures to accompany policies, be sure that the procedures which implement the policies can be easily changed!

    Even with advanced planning, crises can still arise very quickly. Having an "emergency plan" in place will help in dealing with such situations quickly. Such plans might include:

    • Developing a list of persons to notify in case of crisis:
      • Library Administrators
      • Library Board members
      • Other faculty and librarians
      • ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, etc.
      • Reconsideration committee
      • Attorney
      • Staff
      • Community Intellectual Freedom supporters
    • Designate a staff member as the spokesperson for any formal communication to the media or general public
    • Gather copies of the title(s)/materials in question for examination
    • Gather reviews, notices of awards, bibliographies, etc. pertaining to material(s) in question

    Libraries can prepare for challenges to materials in a number of other ways:

    • Network with as many groups as possible who may be sympathetic to intellectual freedom issues.
      • Local politicians
      • Local business people
      • Local educators
      • Local chapter(s) of the ACLU
    • Hold in-house training sessions regarding Intellectual Freedom issues
    • Act as an advocate



    How to Respond to Intellectual Freedom Challenges

    Reconsideration The formal process of allowing library users a means of complaint regarding library materials; this process ensures users that each such complaint will be examined on its own merit. Developing policies and procedures to be implemented when a complaint is received allows the library to formally respond, while also ensuring that the complaint is heard. Such policies and procedures may include the following:

    1. Determine whose complaints will be considered
    2. Apply the policy to all complaints, while considering only formal written complaints
    3. Each item named in a complaint is read/viewed/heard in its entirety by appropriate staff
    4. Make it a point of policy to conduct only one formal, complete review per title
    5. Establish a standing committee charged with broad representation (e.g. librarians, teachers, etc.)
    6. Allow either party to appeal a decision
    7. Include American Library Association documents, such as the Library Bill of Rights and Free Access to Libraries for Minors, in any Intellectual Freedom discussions
    8. Keep challenged material in circulation

    Confidentiality Confidentiality issues often accompany Intellectual Freedom issues. For example, as library materials are called into question, individuals sometimes want to know what materials other individuals have checked out from the library; this includes parents and their children. Any individual's privacy regarding what materials s/he checks out at a library is protected by law. If such an occasion occurs, the following "checklist" can be used:

    1. Affirm state and federal law, which requires a court order to divulge information regarding what any individual checks/checked out from the library (see Confidentiality of Library Records State of IN)
    2. Have an attorney review court orders your library receives
    3. Be careful of casual requests for information about other library users



    Library Board Members: What Can You Do?

    As library board members, you are a crucial component of support for intellectual freedom issues. By demonstrating your support, you help establish a solid foundation for allowing your library to maintain its integrity of collections and services. Here are some practical ways in which you can help your library:

    • Become informed about library activities, current trends, and hot issues by reading library publications such as Focus (official publication of the Indiana Library Federation) and American Libraries (publication of the American Library Association).
    • Learn about the American Library Association and the Indiana Library Federation; consult the ALA Handbook of Organization.
    • Ask your library directors for information regarding libraries and library organizations
    • Act as an advocate for intellectual freedom issues in the community
    • Participate in library conferences and workshops (e.g. Indiana Library Federation annual conference, ILF Leadership Series workshops, etc.).
    • Read the Library Bill of Rights and the accompanying Interpretations


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