How Long Does a Banned Book Stay Banned?

Q: When a book is removed from the collection during the reconsideration process, how long do banned resources remain banished?

Your question addresses two separate situations: 1) What happens to the material during the reconsideration process? and 2) If the reconsideration process results in removal, how long is the material censored or banned? We’ll address each separately.

1) The Reconsideration Process

The professional standard that we hope is reflected in the policy of the library where you work is that challenged materials remain in the collection and accessible to library users during the reconsideration process. An item would censored only if the outcome of reconsideration process dictates this (in other words, if the process determines the material does not belong in its current location, or in the library at all.)

Most policies have (and should have) an appeal process. So if the outcome of the initial reconsideration process is to censor the material in some way (e.g., restricting access, moving it to another collection, or removing it from the library altogether–banning), someone—the librarian, another staff member, a parent or community member, even one or more students—will often appeal that decision.

If the body reviewing the appeal—often the school board–reverses the initial decision, then the material will be reinstated to the collection. But if the original decision to censor or ban is upheld, then the material would remain censored or banned.

Someone who disagrees with an appeal decision to continue to censor or ban an item that was in the library, and who feels their rights or the rights of children or teens in general have been violated may choose to take the case to court. The court decision—which, of course, may require its own series of appeals—would dictate whether or not the material is reinstated into the collection or remains censored or banned.

2) How long does material that is removed, censored or banned from a library remain censored or banned from that library? 

Ideally, your policy will offer guidance.

Some districts may have a statement in their policy that outlines how much time must pass (e.g., two years) before material that has been censored or banned can be reinstated, or considered for reinstatement. The language in the policy will determine whether the item can be reinstated by the librarian without further review if it is deemed necessary or useful to the collection based the collection development guidelines outlined in the selection policy, or whether, after the set period of time, another review by the body that made the decision to censor or ban the item—-usually the school board–is required.

If there is no language in your district’s policy stating when material can be considered for reinstatement, then the situation is much more difficult to assess. However, it is essential to understand the environment in which the original decision was made and the rationale for making that decision, and to consider what has and hasn’t changed since that time. Among the things to think about are whether the original complaint came from a parent who still has a child at the school, and whether the composition of the school board changed.

It’s possible new school board members may be more inclined to support the professional judgment of district employees and the rights of students. It’s also possible that there will be board-approved changes in the selection policy that might reflect favorably on the material’s reinstatement. For example, if the policy did not include an affirmation of the Library Bill of Rights, but has been revised to now include such language. Such a decision says a lot about the philosophy—or changing philosophy—of the school board.

Ultimately, it’s going to take time. How much time is dependent on the specifics of each situation.

November 2007