Preparing in Advance for a Complaint

Q: Are there some standard practices I should follow in order to be prepared for a book complaint?

(April 2024 update: We’ve provided a follow-up response to this question that offers more information, including slide decks for public and school librarians going into greater detail on preparing for and responding to a complaint.)

It’s great you’re thinking ahead regarding how to be prepared. Some people never face formal challenges in their careers, but the truth is concerns and even complaints–about any number of things–are almost inevitable, whether or not they become formal challenges to materials.

One thing you can do is to practice how you would talk to someone conversationally about your goals as purpose of the library in which you work or your goals as a classroom teacher. You should always be prepared to talk to colleagues, administrators, parents and community members about this; it’s a great way to be proactive as an advocate for the work you do.

Every book you teach, or purchase for the collection, or have in the classroom, should support those goals or that purpose in some way–whether it is helping meet the many interests and needs of the diverse children you work with or supporting the study of a particular curriculum area. It can be helpful to step back and think about how you would explain this to someone in a conversation.

Also, make sure you know what the library or school district policy says with regard to book selection and reconsideration of materials. If a concern is expressed you’ll know the formal steps that need to be followed should a formal complaint be filed.

Finally, we’ve developed handouts with additional information on preparing in advance of a materials concern or complaint and steps to follow in case a formal complaint or challenge occurs. These can be downloaded and/or printed:

(We also have a Steps to Take When Materials Are Challenged web page.)

October, 2005; updated 2020