Could I Lose my Job Because of a Challenge?

Q: I’m studying to become a school librarian. In one of my classes, we’ve been learning about materials selection, challenges, and the Library Bill of Rights. Is it possible that I could lose my job someday over a challenge? Can you remember any school librarian losing his/her job over these situations?

While it is rare for a school or public librarian to lose her or his job over a book challenge, it has happened.

There have also been librarians who have chosen to quit their jobs during or after a difficult challenge situation. And perhaps some librarians have been given the “option” of quitting.

It’s important to understand these situations are far from typical. In most cases, the board-approved policies and procedures in place to address a complaint work, and a resolution is achieved without such drastic outcomes for the librarian involved. Becoming familiar with the district’s (or public library’s) policy should be one of the first things you do in a job. Find out when it was last revised and approved by the board, too!

Of course, another key component to what happens during a challenge is having an administrator who understands and supports the selection policy, and who is committed to following the policy if a complaint is raised. This may feel like something over which you have little control, but in fact you can do a lot in advance of any challenge to promote the critical role that you and the school library play.

Become pro-active. Build strong relationships from the beginning–with your administrators and others at the school. Step up to become a professional player in the central effort of the school. Become someone upon whom the administration can depend for sound professional input, not only regarding the library, but regarding the school’s goals in general. All of this will lead to ways you can further promote the library’s role in achieving those goals, and to ways you can reiterate the importance of following the selection policy, including the steps it outlines for handling a complaint if one arises. Periodic formal review of the policy to make sure there aren’t any gaps–in meeting the needs of the school, and in addressing complaints–is also a good idea.

Don’t become visible to your administration and other school colleagues only at the time of of a book challenge. Be a familiar, indispensible professional colleague throughout the year. Whenever possible, for example, make time to eat lunch with the teachers and other staff so you are seen as a player on the educational team. Above all, avoid being invisible.

And good luck in your career!

November, 2005

November, 2005