Formal Written Requests for Reconsideration

If the library receives a completed reconsideration form, the person or group designated in library policy to handle challenges should take the following steps:

  • Respond quickly to the individual, acknowledging that the formal reconsideration request has been received, restating the steps in the process, and reviewing the time line.

  • Review the complaint carefully. Was the form completed by an individual with personal concerns or a person representing a group? Look at the reason(s) for the challenge. Has the individual read the entire resource or only specified parts? What action is the person requesting? Does the person seek to have the resource removed from the collection, restricted (e.g., requiring minors to provide written permission from a parent or guardian), reclassified and moved to a different location (e.g., young-adult to adult section or middle school to high school library), or another action such as labeling the book to alert potential readers (e.g., “sexually explicit” or “mature”)?

  • Prepare a one-page document overviewing for the library director or the school’s principal/superintendent the book’s title, summary of the plot or content, selection criteria met by the resource, list of positive reviews, awards received, and a brief summary of the reconsideration process.1 For your knowledge, it is helpful to determine how often the resource has been checked out and how many libraries in the local area, the school district, or the state own the resource.

  • Meet with the library director or the school’s principal to discuss the challenge and how to proceed. Review the reconsideration process with him to ensure that the board-approved policy is followed. If an administrator is tempted to acquiesce to a demand to remove a library resource without due process, explain the legal and ethical issues involved. Circumventing policy may put a school district or library in legal jeopardy of a lawsuit if a library resource is removed without following the official reconsideration process.2 Such action also sends the message that the policy does not matter, and it is easy to remove a resource from a library—a message that can easily spread. The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association directs library professionals to “uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.”

  • Follow your library’s reconsideration procedure exactly, even if it seems outdated, redundant, or incorrect. The procedure can be updated later. The review process must be transparent and objective, and should include the following general steps. (Review the boxes that follow this list of steps for more detail about how challenges are typically handled in public, school, and academic libraries.)
  • Read or reread the book or listen to or view the work in question.
  • Determine if the resource meets the selection criteria in the library’s collection development policy.
  • Decide whether or not the resource will be retained.
  • Send a written letter informing the person of the decision. Address the letter to the individual; do not use an impersonal form letter. Explain how she may appeal the decision if desired, and inform her that appealing the decision will require disclosing the complaint on the agenda of the entity that handles appeals, and in other documents.
  • Update staff in your library or school about the reconsideration process, but be aware of the potential for open records requests. Keep personal opinions and emotional responses out of all official communications. Paper and electronic documents can be obtained and viewed by anyone who submits a request through the proper channels. If you have questions, check with the library’s legal counsel.

  • When the final decision about the questioned resource has been made, keep a record of the event, and report the result to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom using its Challenge Reporting form. OIF will keep confidential the details of the challenge, using the information only for statistical purposes.

  • After the challenge is completed, reflect on what was accomplished. For example, if the resource was retained in the collection, users still have access to the information or fiction book. Did you learn something that can be applied to the next challenge? Did you garner new allies? Should lines of communication with civic, religious, educational, or political bodies of the community, and local media be strengthened? Can this experience be used as the basis for library advocacy to the entire community? Also, analyze the reconsideration process for weaknesses and omissions and create a list of possible changes that would improve the process. Meet with the library director or the principal to discuss whether the timing is right for revising the policy.

Magi, Trina J., Martin Garnar, and American Library Association. 2015. Intellectual Freedom Manual. Ninth Edition. Chicago: ALA Editions, An imprint of the American Library Association.

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Updated 2017