Complainant and Review Committee Information and Roles

Q: Do I send school policies and reviews of a book to a complainant, or just to the review committee? And how do I make sure the Review Committee understands its role?

Those are great questions.

We’ll start with who gets what information.

First, if an individual wants to proceed with a formal complaint after a discussion about their concern, make sure they are informed of the procedure for doing so.

Once a formal complaint has been received by whatever means the district policy or public library policy outlines —ideally there is a written Request for Reconsideration form to complete—it is important to remember that the complainant isn’t a member of the building level or internal district review committee. The same is true if you are at a public library: The complainant is not a board member.* Therefore, the complainant does not receive copies of memos to the building level committee—unless the policy requires that, or unless the complainant is a district or library employee who would already be receiving these memos.

The complaint should be notified if/when the concern is going before the board at a public meeting. If your procedures allow the complainant to attend the review committee meeting to observe or speak, make sure they have this meeting information. Keep in mind they are not a committee or board member, they are a guest, and should be seated with other guests and observers.

Regarding reviews and other professional assessment information about the book: you will share whatever material with the complainant that the policy outlines you should. They also may have already  obtained information from their own sources, and/or may ask the library for help in finding out additional information about the book. The library should help them as they  would any library patron with such a request.

Regarding the role of the review committee or whatever body is charged with making a decision about the request for reconsideration: Ideally, they have already received some background training or information about their role and responsibilities, but you or whoever on staff is responsible for communication with them should take the opportunity to go over their charge, which is to evaluate the material in question according to the guidelines and criteria outlined in the board-approved policies and procedures for materials selection. They must weigh the complainant’s concern in light of the selection policy and in light of the mission and role of the library as a whole. It is important that they understand that this, and not their personal opinion about the book, is what their decision should be based upon.

Make sure the committee or board is provided with a copy of the selection and reconsideration policies and procedures, a copy of the request for reconsideration, and a copy of all of the professional assessment information you’ve gathered.

At some point—either in the initial effort to resolve the concern informally, before a formal complaint is filed, or during the formal process, you may need to clarify—to the complainant, and/or the review committee or board—why librarians and educators make use of professional resources—those designed for librarians and educators selecting materials for libraries and classrooms—as opposed to those that are aimed at other audiences, whether it’s a general parenting resource or a religious or values-based one.

To summarize, follow your board-approved policies and procedures throughout the process, and make certain your administrator—or, in the case of a public library, board president—is aware of what is happening and knows exactly what has been communicated to the complainant, including any information provided, and what information is being provided to the review committee/board.

Throughout this process, you may want to keep notes for your own file as well, so you have a timeline of what is happening when.

October, 2005; updated 2020

*This is not to say a board member can’t be the one to complain; a complaint can come from anyone, including staff members, administrators, and board members. The board-approved process for responding to concerns must be followed regardless of who the complainant is. Look for language in your policies and procedures spelling out what should happen if the person bringing the complaint is someone who would typically review the complaint and vote on the outcome; the policy should make clear that the individual cannot do so if they are also the complainant.