Dealing with Challenges to Graphic Novels

This is part of a larger project, Graphic Novels: Suggestions for Librarians (PDF), created by the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and the American Library Association. For additional help in dealing with challenges, see Support for Dealing with or Reporting Challenges to Library Materials.

In theory, dealing with challenges to graphic novels is no different than dealing with challenges to print material. In practice, however, it is important to keep in mind that many people consider an image to be far more powerful in its impact than any written description of that image. That said, the following tips will help you prepare to cope with challenges to graphic novels.1

Be Prepared

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Make sure all library staff and board members understand the library's policies and procedures for dealing with challenges. Provide customer service and other human relations training that will help staff deal effectively with sensitive matters. "Dealing with Concerns about Library Resources" (Intellectual Freedom Manual, 7th ed., 2005) is an excellent guide to handling complaints effectively.

Key Messages about Libraries

When responding to a challenge, focus on four key points:

Listening to and Dealing Effectively with Complaints

Talking with the Media

A challenge may attract media attention. How effectively you work with the media may well determine how big the story becomes and will help to shape public opinion.

Sample Questions and Answers

The following questions provide sample language for answering questions from parents, the media, and others. You will want to personalize your remarks for your library and community. Remember, keep it simple. Keep it human.

Why do libraries have to buy graphic novels?

The library has a responsibility to serve its community-your neighbors-including those you may not agree with or who may not agree with you. Libraries purchase materials, such as graphic novels, because they have a mission statement that requires them to serve a broad range of community needs and wants. The material you find in your library was selected by librarians, who are taught as part of their professional education to determine the needs of their communities and to select materials based on library policies.

Shouldn't I be able to control what my kids are exposed to?

You can control what your children are exposed to by going with them to visit the library or supervising what they bring home. If there are materials you don't approve of, talk with your children about why you would rather they not read or view them. Most libraries provide suggested reading lists for various ages. And librarians are always glad to advise children and parents on selecting materials we think they would enjoy and find helpful. Ultimately, we believe parents know what's best for their children, and each parent is responsible for supervising his or her child.

Can a child check out graphic novels, even those intended for adults?

The conviction that young persons are entitled to enjoy the same freedom to read as adults is not a belief that children should be given adult-themed materials. We believe in freedom of choice for all people but we also believe in common sense, and common sense will tell you that it is extremely unusual for a young child to check out adult material.

Well, I can't be at the library every time my child is there. Does this mean my child is on her own?

No. The best library resource are the librarians. They provide assistance and guidance, such as suggested reading lists, to help young people make appropriate choices. Our goal is to provide the best possible service for all of our users, and we are very proud of what we offer. If you haven't been to our library recently, we encourage you to come and see for yourself!

What should I do if I find a graphic novel I don't approve of in the library?

We want to know your concerns. If you have a concern, simply speak to a librarian. We take such concerns very seriously. First, we listen. We also have a formal review process in which we ask you to fill out a special form designed to help us understand your concerns more thoroughly. Anyone who makes a written complaint will receive a response in writing.

1Tips were excerpted and modified from those found in "Coping with Challenges: Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials" and "Libraries and the Internet Toolkit." These guidelines are available, along with other related material, on the ALA OIF Web site.

The American Library Association (ALA), founded in 1879, is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 64,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Association's basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials. The goal of the office is to educate librarians and the general public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom in libraries.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) was founded in 1986 to protect the First Amendment rights of the comic book field. Since the Fund's establishment, the organization has defended dozens of retailers and artists in Free Expression cases, while promoting pro-active education to libraries, booksellers, and educators concerning challenges to comic books and graphic novels.

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), founded in 1974, is an alliance of 50 national non-profit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups. United by a conviction that freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression must be defended, we work to educate our own members and the public at large about the dangers of censorship and how to oppose them.

Related Files

Graphic Novels: Suggestions for Librarians (PDF File)