Am I Required to Prohibit a Child from Checking Out a Book if Parent Requests It?

Q: What if a parent requests that their child not be permitted to check out a particular book and then the child brings that book to the desk to check out? Do I let them check the book out?

Your question is an important one, and one that does not necessarily have a simple answer.

There are two areas that we want to cover in our response: what you need to know regarding any responsibilities, expectations or procedures your school district expects you to uphold, and what you will want to communicate with parents or guardians who make such a request.

Responsibilities and Expectations

First and foremost, before you ever find yourself in this situation you must find out if the library has a circulation policy, or the school or district has any policy, that allows parents or legal guardians to make such a request regarding library materials (as opposed to curriculum materials; this situation is is not the same as requesting an alternative book for a required reading assignment). Your district should have policies and procedures in place to guide your response and actions, and these should align to what is possible. For example, your checkout system may allow restrictions on individual titles, but fulfilling requests that a child not be able to check out a book with any ____ (e.g, swearing, sexual content) is very different, because it’s likely impossible to reliably fulfill such a request since books are not necessarily codified in this way–nor do we think they should be.

If you don’t have a policy, find out now about any expectations your administrator or the district might have regarding how you should respond to such a request and and the need to codify these expectations in policies and procedures so that the district’s response to such requests will be consistent across the district.

If there are other school library media specialists in your district, work with them and the district-wide library media coordinator (if it isn’t you) to ask questions and address the issues above with administrators so that everyone is clear on what to do.

Communication with Parents/Guardians

The other thing to think about NOW is how you will respond to parents or guardians making such a request.

Yes, you will want to inform them of the policies or procedures your school district has in place regarding such requests, and be clear on what you can and/or cannot do.

Likewise, if you district has no policy or guidelines for you to follow and you need to inquire, explain that you have never had such a request and that you need to find what can be accommodated. Assure them you will get back to them with more information. You will then want to talk to your administrator and others as outlined above. If obtaining an answer takes awhile, keep the individual making the request informed of the fact that it is being addressed.

However, your conversation with a parent or guardian making such a request should neither begin nor end with merely informing them about what is and isn’t allowed or  possible, or what you need to find out. You are being given an opportunity to share information about the school library media center and children and reading, and you should take advantage of it.

You might start by expressing your appreciation for their involvement in their child’s education and reading. You can go on to explain that you strive to have a wide variety of books and other materials from which students can choose, and you hope that students visiting the library will find many things that will appeal to and excite them.

You might also add that your experience is that children most often make choices that reflect the family values that have been communicated to them by parents or other adults with whom they live. Say that you hope they will take the time to talk to their child, if they haven’t already, about the many books the library has to offer and any specific desires they have regarding choices their child makes.

If you do have a policy or procedure allowing the parent or guardian to restrict checkout and the individual still wishes to do so, make sure to ask that they talk to their child about what they have requested the school library restrict s/he check out and why.

It is also important to reaffirm that while staff will do their best to honor the request, there are no guarantees. Even if this is not expressed in any policy, it’s a reality you will want to make clear. You can do so without being severe—use it as another way to affirm the importance and value of their communication with their child, and their involvement in their child’s education.

And because there are no guarantees about what the parent or guardian will or won’t communicate to the child, or what the child will do regardless, you also need to think through ahead of time how you will handle a child coming to check out a book that has been restricted in order to minimize the potential for embarrassment for that student.

Finally, we also hope that ANY book or other material in the library is available for ANY student to read while she or he is in the library. While this may feel like a small consolation in a situation such as this, it is a way you can affirm professional ideals that have been otherwise compromised by a circulation restriction.


October, 2007; updated January 2023