Banned Books Week: Handling book challenges at the library

ireadbannedbooks2Although South Dakota doesn’t appear to have faced any book challenges recently, the same source indicates 70 to 80 percent of challenges are never reported. As part of Banned Books Week, I think it’s important to know how the institutions in your community would deal with a challenge should it arise. Today, I’ll take a look at my local library, the Siouxland Libraries and tomorrow at the local school district.

The library’s “Collection Development Policy” takes a strong stand on the freedom to read. A section called “Legal Responsibilities” closes with the following paragraph:

Siouxland Libraries affirms the ALA Library Bill of Rights, the Freedom to Read, the Freedom to View, the Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records and Free Access to Libraries for Minors, and complies with South Dakota state law. The Library does not employ censorship in selection of materials, nor in access to materials. The Library believes that reading, listening to, and viewing library materials are individual, private matters. While one is free to select or reject materials for oneself, one may not restrict the freedom of others to read, view, or inquire. Further, parents have the primary responsibility to guide and direct the reading and viewing of their own minor children.

The two sentences I emphasized are exactly the position one would hope their public library would take. In addition, it attaches to the policy each of the five ALA documents referenced in the first sentence.

If someone feels an item — whether book, DVD or what have you — isn’t proper, they can request “reconsideration” of the material by submitting a “statement of concern.” The statement requires the individual to provide the following information about the material they want reconsidered:

A. To what in this material do you object (Please cite pages or other specific location):

B. What do you feel might be the result of use of this material?

C. Did you read (view, listen to, etc.) this material in its entirety? If not, what parts?

D. What do you believe is the theme or purpose of this material?

E. Please comment on this material as a whole. Feel free to suggest other materials on the subject for our consideration.

The beginning of the statement of concern form reiterates the library’s position on support of the right to read and right of access to library materials and advises that the library Board of Trustees has formally adopted the ALA documents mentioned in the collection policy. “In practice,” the form says, “this means that the library will resist efforts to remove or censor materials, to label ‘controversial’ materials, or to distribute lists of ‘objectionable’ materials or authors.”

Once the statement of concern is submitted, it is evaluated by the Library Director with input from the development staff of the collection that holds the material. The director will give a written response to the statement and, if the patron is not satisfied, the request may be considered by the Board of Trustees.

The library places responsibility where it belongs — with the individual. Thus, part of the attachment for the reconsideration request notes that the library is not “free to forbid your children to read anything, but you are as their parent.” At the same time, it reinforces that, with the exception of the parent-child relationship, no one person can dictate what another person can or can’t read.

While the policy does not state — or specifically limit — the options available to the director or the board, it is nice to see the library already has a procedure in place to handle complaints about materials. It is even more inspiring to see that the library is taking a firm stand on intellectual freedom.

Since we cannot forbid some people to use some materials and since different people have different literary tastes and information needs, it is easy to see that someone will eventually be offended by something in the library. In this case, if you are the offended party, please remember that your standards may not be the same as someone else’s, and what is offensive to you may be appealing or educational to your neighbor.

Notes to Siouxland Libraries reconsideration request form (bold in original)

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