How Can I Avoid Selecting “Wrong” or Controversial Books?

Q: I’m worried about selecting the “wrong” book for my school library–one that someone might find controversial and result in a challenge. How can I avoid doing this?

We know that challenges are scary to contemplate. But try not to dwell on what might happen “if” . . .

Rather than thinking about selection in terms of “right” or “wrong” choices, understand that the choices you’ll make will reflect what’s already outlined in your school’s official, board-approved selection policy. That policy WON’T say “avoid anything that might be challenged” or “purchase only those books that you personally find acceptable.”

Avoiding books that might be challenged is not your job. Be thankful! Because it would be an impossible job to fulfill. It’s not that challenges are lurking around every corner; rather it’s simply that ANY book might offend someone–no matter how inoffensive or innocuous it seems to you.

The selection policy is the key as you seek to support the school curriculum with materials for all students and courses. THAT is your job, and your goal. If you think about selection in terms of choosing only the “right” materials or avoiding the “wrong” materials, you’ll lose sight of that goal. Not only will you be failing to support the policy but you’ll make yourself miserable with worry in the process, because you’ll have set yourself an impossible task.

By choosing books and other media for the library based upon the selection policy, you’re following the guidelines your school district has established and your school board has approved. The board-approved policy will not cite which specific books to purchase, of course, but it will outline the library’s collection development goals, and perhaps the criteria for selection. You’ll make choices that meet those goals and criteria.

Challenges can happen no matter what. But if you ever are in the position of having to explain or defend why the library has a specific book or other item, you will be in a much stronger position when you can point to the ways it reflects what is outlined in your policy.

That means you shouldn’t let ads or sales reps promoting specific books or packages influence your professional resolve about what to select, or deter you from following your policy.

The same is true for donations to the library. You’ll find that not every single book or other item someone wants to give to the library meets the critiera or guidelines outlined in the policy. It’s helpful if the policy includes specific guidelines for gift materials.

So stay focused on thinking about your work as a school librarian in positive rather than negative terms: You aren’t trying to avoid challenges. You ARE working to build a collection that meets the many and diverse needs of the students and staff at your school, using your policy as your guide.

November, 2005