Reassuring Teachers Concerned about What I’m Ordering

Q:  Some teachers have complained to me that the DVD’s I recently ordered are “too liberal.” They haven’t asked for them to be removed, but I am not sure how to deal with this. I am especially worried that I have just ruined any chances of collaborating with those teachers in the future. How can I repair the working relationship?

It’s great you have been proactive in terms of both building the collection and building relationships. And it’s terrific that rather than responding defensively to their comments, your focus is on restoring their faith in collaboration.

We suggest you acknowledge their reservations about the materials, and your concern for future collaboration. And then make clear you welcome their suggestions for materials to add the collection. (And not just their suggestions, but suggestions from all the teachers, staff and students.) So, you might start by saying, “I sense you don’t appreciate some of the recent additions I’ve made to the library media collection, such as ____________.”

You can then go on, “I want to assure you that all of the materials were selected according to the policies and procedures outlined in the library’s collection development policy.” Often–and ideally– such policies include language about collecting materials that look at issues from a variety of perspectives. If this is part of what informed your selection decisions, let them know this. You can add–no doubt truthfully!–”Sometimes I don’t personally agree with or appreciate everything I select for the library, but I have to look beyond my own personal values and opinions to select materials that support the curriculum and the many needs and interests of the students.”

Then you can continue, “I’m worried you may be hesitant to collaborate in the future because of concern about the materials I might suggest to you. I hope this isn’t the case. I value our working relationship. And I value your input. I want you to know that I welcome your suggestions for materials to consider for purchase.”

(At this point, if you did not ask for suggestions from them before, acknowledge this as an oversight: “In fact, I should have solicited suggestions from you when I was working on filling in gaps in the collection.”)

If you don’t already have a form that teachers and staff can use to suggest materials for the collection, develop one. Any such form should make clear that all materials suggested will be evaluated according to the criteria and guidelines outlined in the selection policy, and purchasing decisions will then be made based on priority needs. (In other words, if all the resources in your science collection talk about Pluto as a planet, you might need to prioritize a few new resources on space and astronomy over a mediocre book–according to reviews–about the Civil War if you already have quite a few.)

Once the form is developed, make sure teachers and others know about it, and where to find it. I’m guessing you won’t get swamped with suggestions–but you are making it clear you value their input and subject expertise.

December 2011

Thank you to Tessa Michaelson Schmidt for contributing to this response.