Steps to Take When Materials Are Challenged

When an intellectual freedom issue arises, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Each situation a librarian or educator may find themselves in possesses a variety of factors that influence the appropriate protocol. The suggested steps below are guidelines for maintaining clarity and control in a situation when materials are challenged. These recommendations come from the American Library Association (ALA), the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and the CCBC.

Note: More and more libraries and schools are facing concerns that come to them as a the result of a public complaint rather than someone coming directly to staff. The steps below were created before this began happening on a regular basis in mid to late 2020.  We’ve updated some steps as a result. We also want to state that no library or school should proceed with reconsidering materials if their institution’s requirements for requesting reconsideration of library or classroom materials have not been followed and met.  Read our What IF Forum q-and-a The Most Important Thing in Responding to a Materials Concern or Challenge for more on this.

Immediate Steps to Take

  • Review your institution’s selection policy, including the selection criteria and the reconsideration process
  • Assess what steps have been taken in the process and what steps are to be taken next
  • Review the complaint
  • Discuss the situation with your administrator/director: Speak matter-of-factly about the importance of following your institution’s reconsideration policy and related procedures.
    • Review roles and responsibilities (e.g,. Who communicates with complainant? Who contacts the review committee or others charged with making a decision? Who will publicly speak for the library or school district if needed and who is communicating this to staff?)
  • Review your profession’s policy statements
  • Gather resources (such as copies of reviews, information on awards and best-of-the-year list distinctions for the title. If you are a Wisconsin teacher or librarian, the CCBC Intellectual Freedom Information Services can assist you with this)
  • Read or re-read the title in question
  • Document everything that happens.

Additional Steps to Take

Note: These steps may vary, depending on what your policy says and what has happened so far.

  • Maintain the material in the collection for the time being unless your policy indicates otherwise
  • Be prepared to explain how and why library materials are chosen and how the resource aligns with your selection policy
  • Contact the Reconsideration Committee
  • Communicate with the Board of Education or Library Board of Trustees

Challenge Support

The following organizations are prepared to provide information and support during a challenge.

For Wisconsin Librarians and Teachers

For Librarians and Teachers nationally

Helpful Links

See additional resources on our Education and Advocacy page