Q: My district does not have a materials selection policy. Therefore, there are no official selection criteria, nor is there a process for reconsideration of challenged materials. What steps can I take to remedy this situation?
We’re so glad you are being proactive on this critical issue. There are several things you can and should do.
(1) Find out what, if any, legal requirements your state may have regarding such policies. (In Wisconsin, for example, all school districts are required by law to have a selection policy that includes a reconsideration process.) It will be helpful in your conversations with administrators to know whether the district must have such a policy to be in compliance with state law.
(2) Familiarize yourself with the components of a policy. The American Library Association’s Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit is available online. This document models every component of an effective selection and reconsideration policy and can be used as a starting point for your own district’s policy creation.
(3) Develop talking points for meetings with administrators and others. Regardless of whether there is a law requiring a policy, you know that a policy is in the best interests of the school, the district, and the community. As you think about what you will say, position yourself as interested in helping facilitate this process, working with your administrator(s), teachers, parents and others to develop a professional policy that will a) articulate the library’s role in supporting the school’s educational goals and meeting the needs and interests of the school community by establishing clear selection guidelines and criteria, b) establish clear procedures and accountability for the selection of materials, and for what to do if a concern about materials arises, and c) ensure that any and all concerns about materials receive due process and are responded to in a thoughtful, fair, and equitable manner.
(4) Find allies within the district. Talk to other school librarians (if there are any) and see if you can advocate for a policy collectively. Depending on the size of your district, there might be a key district-level administrator who needs to be on board, and perhaps will be the one to ultimately advocate for getting the ball rolling at the district level. Make sure your own immediate administrator is aware of the issue and what you are working to accomplish.
(5) Request a meeting with key players who have the authority to get the process moving. In addition to your talking points, know what you would like the next step to be. Ideally, you want to walk out of that meeting with the go-ahead to form a committee to create a policy that will eventually be reviewed and approved by the school board. You will want the working committee to include library media specialist(s), representative teachers, parents, and a student. If your district is not in compliance with a state law by not having a policy, don’t be threatening, but make your concern about lack of compliance, and lack of a policy, clear.
In some states, including Wisconsin, some districts are working with a third-party organization on developing policies for board approval. That doesn’t mean you can’t impact the process; ask the same key players noted above how you can make sure the process for creating and adopting selection and reconsideration policies and related procedures can still involve knowledgeable staff, and can be customized to reflect your district’s needs.
Creating a policy is a big task, but the conversations that take place throughout the process are invaluable. And so is the resulting policy, which is not only the best defense if a challenge should arise, but, just as important, it will assure everyone that the library media collection is being developed professionally with thought and care for supporting the educational goals of your district and the board-approved curriculum of each specific school. In the end, the district will have a document that provides clarification of the library media program’s role, communication to all (from administrators and staff to parents and the larger community) of the program’s goals, continuity of vision in collection development, equity in responding to concerns, and accountability regarding roles and responsibilities.
Sound like a big project? Yes, it is. But just think what it’ll be like to have your current responsibility without going to the effort of making this happen. By the way, you might find that you won’t be in charge of this effort. Other players with similar interests or more authority will probably emerge. Your role will be that of the building level (and perhaps the district level) professional staff member with access to information about such policies. You’ll be the information provider, which is your current role now, isn’t it? You’ll be doing your job, won’t you? In addition, you’ll be creating avenues for future communication, collaboration and cooperation.
October, 2008 revised 2018, 2020