Should I Remove a Book from the Collection While a Challenge Is Pending?

Q: I am a librarian in a K-5 public school. I received notice today from my supervisor, the director of curriculum, that a book in my library has been formally challenged by a parent. When he called to let me know, he asked if I would remove the book from circulation until the board-approved review process is complete. This sounded a little fishy to me. What do you think?

The answer to your question is dependent on what your board-approved policy for the reconsideration process says.

Ideally, your policy includes language that states what happens to the book while a complaint is pending. And ideally the language in that policy supports the First Amendment rights of the students by stating that the book should remain in the collection and available for circulation while a complaint is being considered.

Take a look at your policy and see what it says. If it does indeed state that the book should remain in the collection during the complaint, then the supervisor’s request would violate that policy. Ask to meet with your supervisor about the challenge, and at that meeting state, “I know we both want to make sure we follow the district’s board-approved policy. If I remove the book while the complaint is being considered, we’ll be in violation of the policy.”

It’s possible your supervisor simply hasn’t reviewed the policy recently to realize the request to remove the book would violate it. Operate on that assumption.

If the supervisor insists you remove the book regardless of what the policy says, then you either must comply or face possible charges of insubordination. We’ve discussed the potential implications of this and what your options are in another What IF question.

If you do not have a board-approved policy, or if your policy does not state that the book should remain in the collection while a complaint is being considered, then there is nothing to prevent the book from being pulled while the complaint is pending. However, you can still point out that to remove the book while a challenge is pending goes against the standards of the profession as outlined by the American Library Association and others.* It may or may not make a difference on this complaint.

In the meantime, find out what the procedure is at your district for revising the policy. Perhaps you can serve on a committee to review the policy, or communicate with someone who is or will be on the committee about this oversight and request that language be added to the policy to guarantee materials remain accessible to students while a challenge is pending. And remember, the revised policy must then be approved by the school board.

*The American Library Association has an excellent “Selection and Reconsideration Policy Toolkit”  that includes a statement that about materials remaining available during the reconsideration process under its “Guiding Principles.” The toolkit as a whole has excellent information that may be helpful when work on revising your district policy takes place.

June, 2005