Challenges to Library Materials

“Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” —Article 3, Library Bill of Rights

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

For assistance with challenges to library materials, services, or programs, please contact Kristin Pekoll at the Office for Intellectual Freedom, 800-545-2433, ext. 4221, or via email:

Definitions to Clarify Terminology Associated with Challenges

In 1986, in response to inquiries from librarians facing book or material challenges for the first time, the Intellectual Freedom Committee developed the following list of definitions to clarify terminology associated with challenges:

  • Expression of Concern. An inquiry that has judgmental overtones.
  • Oral Complaint. An oral challenge to the presence and/or appropriateness of the material in question.
  • Written Complaint. A formal, written complaint filed with the institution (library, school, etc.), challenging the presence and/or appropriateness of specific material.
  • Public Attack. A publicly disseminated statement challenging the value of the material, presented to the media and/or others outside the institutional organization in order to gain public support for further action.
  • Censorship. A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.

For more information and resources on challenges to library materials, please see challenge supportessential preparation, and reporting a challenge.

The Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged books list is compiled with expert analysis by the Office for Intellectual Freedom staff. “Challenges” are documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries.  Removal would restrict access to this information by other library users. This list is not scientifically compiled.  Rather, it is a snapshot of the reports we receive every day. In some cases we get numerous details about the challenger, the nature of the complaint, the backstory, and the current status of the book.  And in some cases we get very little. Sometimes we receive information during the challenge event, sometimes many years later. These factors affect the total number of challenged books for any given year and how we inform the public.

Our goal is not to focus on the numbers, but to educate the community that censorship is still a very serious problem. Even with all of our efforts to follow up and provide support, surveys indicate that up to 85% of book challenges receive no media attention and remain unreported.