Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association
Why Do I Need a Policy?
Every school system should have a comprehensive policy on the selection of instructional materials. It should relate to and include all materials; for example, textbooks, library books and materials, and all supplementary resources. The reason should be obvious: haphazard patterns of acquisition will result in waste because some—perhaps many—materials will overlap in content, or will be unrelated to changing patterns of instruction.
A comprehensive policy on the selection of instructional materials also will enable school professionals to rationally explain the school program to the community. And, most important in a crisis, when there are complaints about social studies texts, human development materials in the media center, or required reading in the English class, the use of the “objectionable” item can be explained more easily.
A good policy on the selection of instructional materials will be relevant to your particular system and include basic sections on objectives, responsibility, criteria, procedures for selection, reconsideration of materials, and policies on controversial materials.
Basic Components of a Selection Policy
Your policy should state succinctly what your system is trying to accomplish in its educational program, and, in somewhat more detail, the objectives of selection.
Your overarching goal may be very broad. For example:
For the School District
• Instructional materials are selected by the school district to implement, enrich, and support the educational program for the student. Materials must serve both the breadth of the curriculum and the needs and interests of individual students. The district is obligated to provide for a wide range of abilities and to respect the diversity of many differing points of view. To this end, principles must be placed above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of materials of the highest quality and appropriateness.
For the Library Media Center
• The main objective of our selection procedure is to provide students with a wide range of educational materials on all levels of difficulty and in a variety of formats, with diversity of appeal, allowing for the presentation of many different points of view.
• The objective of the media center is to make available to faculty and students a collection of materials that will enrich and support the curriculum and meet the needs of the students and faculty served.
More specific goals should be established by professionals for each learning level.
The objectives for selection should reflect the specific goals of the instructional program. For textbooks, the goals may vary from subject to subject. For example, in the sciences, one principal goal might be accuracy (e.g., the latest scientific knowledge), and in history, balance in the presentation of conflicting points of view. For materials in the library media center, the goals may include meeting individual learning needs, abilities, and learning styles; providing background materials to supplement classroom instruction; providing a broad range of materials on controversial issues to help students develop critical analytical skills; etc.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR SELECTION
Your policy should name by professional position those persons responsible for selecting textbooks and other instructional materials.
In most states, the locally elected or appointed school board, by law, has broad powers and responsibilities in the selection of instructional materials. This authority should be delegated by policy to appropriate professionals for day-to-day exercise.
While selection of materials involves many people, including administrators, supervisors, teachers, library media specialists, students, and even community residents, the responsibility for coordinating and recommending the selection and purchase of library media materials should rest with the certificated library media personnel. Responsibility for coordinating the selection and purchase of textbooks and other classroom materials may rest with appropriate department chairpersons or with textbook or media evaluation committees.
Write into your policy under “Responsibility for Selection” (or similar title) exactly who is responsible for selection of materials; for example, department heads, curriculum specialists, directors of curriculum and instruction, librarians, or media specialists.
Sample Statement of Responsibility for the School District
The elected Board of Education shall delegate to the Superintendent of Schools the authority and responsibility for selection of all print and non-print materials. Responsibilities for actual selection shall rest with appropriate professionally trained personnel who shall discharge this obligation consistent with the Board’s adopted selection criteria and procedures. Selection procedures shall involve representatives of the professional staff directly affected by the selections, and persons qualified by preparation to aid in wise selection.
For the subject matter covered, your policy will include criteria, and the application of criteria, relevant to your objectives: excellence (artistic, literary, etc.), appropriateness to level of user, superiority in treatment of controversial issues, and ability to stimulate further intellectual and social development. Consider authenticity, appropriateness, interest, content, and circumstances of use.
You probably will want to include technical criteria in your policy; for example, clarity of sound in audio materials and cinematography in films.
Specific criteria should be spelled out to guide all professionals involved in selection in deciding on specific items:
Staff members involved in selection of resource materials shall use the following criteria as a guide:
- educational significance
- contribution the subject matter makes to the curriculum and to the interests of the students
- favorable reviews found in standard selection sources
- favorable recommendations based on preview and examination of materials by professional personnel
- reputation and significance of the author, producer, and publisher
- validity, currency, and appropriateness of material
- contribution the material makes to breadth of representative viewpoints on controversial issues
- high degree of potential user appeal
- high artistic quality and/or literary style
- quality and variety of format
- value commensurate with cost and/or need
- timeliness or permanence
The following recommended lists shall be consulted in the selection of materials, but is not limited to their listings:
Bibliographies (latest editions available, including supplements), such as
- Children’s Catalog
- Middle and Junior High Core Collection
- Senior High Core Collection
- Nonbook Materials Core Collection
- Subject Guide to Children’s Books in Print
- ALSC Notable Children’s Books
- YALSA Best Books for Young Adults
- Notable Social Studies Trade Books K–12
- Outstanding Science Trade Books K–12
Current reviewing media
- AASA Science Books and Films Online
- Book Links
- Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
- Horn Book
- Kirkus Reviews
- Library Journal
- School Library Journal
The following criteria will be used as they apply:
- Learning resources shall support and be consistent with the general educational goals of the state and district and the aims and objectives of individual schools and specific courses.
- Learning resources shall meet high standards of quality in factual content and presentation.
- Learning resources shall be appropriate for the subject area and for the age, emotional development, ability level, learning styles, and social development of the students for whom the materials are selected.
- Physical format and appearance of learning resources shall be suitable for their intended use.
- Learning resources shall be designed to help students gain an awareness of our pluralistic society.
- Learning resources shall be designed to motivate students and staff to examine their own duties, responsibilities, rights, and privileges as participating citizens in our society, and to make informed judgments in their daily lives.
- Learning resources shall be selected for their strengths rather than rejected for their weaknesses.
- The selection of learning resources on controversial issues will be directed toward maintaining a diverse collection representing various views.
- Learning resources shall clarify historical and contemporary forces by presenting and analyzing intergroup tension and conflict objectively, placing emphasis on recognizing and understanding social and economic problems.
The following kinds of material should be selected for the media center:
- Materials integral to the instructional program.
- Materials appropriate for the reading level and understanding of students in the school.
- Materials reflecting the interests and needs of the students and faculty served by the media center.
- Materials warranting inclusion in the collection because of their literary and/or artistic value and merit.
- Materials presenting information with the greatest degree of accuracy and clarity possible.
- Materials representing a fair and unbiased presentation of information. In controversial areas, the media specialist, in cooperation with the faculty, should select materials representing as many shades of opinion as possible, in order that varying viewpoints are available to students.
Your procedures should describe all steps from initial screening to final selection. They also should include provisions for coordinating among departments and professionals working at different learning levels, etc.; for handling recommendations from other faculty and students and for reviewing existing materials (for possible replacement, etc.).
Include at least a partial list of selection aids (e.g., reviewing sources). You also may want to list sources that should not be used.
This will be a large part of your selection policy. It is important to list the types of materials you collect, why you need them, and how you obtain them. Include here your policies on reevaluation (weeding), replacing and repairing materials, etc.
Sample Procedure Statements
- In selecting learning resources, professional personnel will evaluate available resources and curriculum needs and will consult reputable, professionally prepared aids to selection, and other appropriate sources. The actual resource will be examined whenever possible.
- Recommendations for purchase involve administrators, teachers, students, district personnel, and community persons, as appropriate.
- Gift materials shall be judged by the selection criteria and shall be accepted or rejected by those criteria.
- Selection is an ongoing process that should include how to remove materials no longer appropriate and how to replace lost and worn materials still of educational value.
- Requests, suggestions, and reactions for the purchase of instructional materials shall be gathered from staff to the greatest extent possible and from students when appropriate.
- Reviews of proposed acquisitions will be sought in the literature of reputable professional orgaÂ¬nizations and other reviewing sources recognized for their objectivity and wide experience.
- Materials will be examined by professional staff to the extent necessary or practicable to apply criteria. Preview copies are available for on-site examination by the public upon written request to the District Director of Instruction.
- Textbooks will be selected after examination by a representative committee of teachers, principals, curriculum specialists, directors of instruction, and others who have professional expertise in objective evaluation of materials.
- Materials for the District Film Center will be selected by preview committees, curriculum specialists, and through use of professional review sources.
- Building media center materials selection will be coordinated by the building media specialist, or the principal, where there is no professional staff, and involve teachers and curriculum specialists.
- Area Advisory Councils may be used to review materials recommended by professional selection committees.
- Materials for media centers are selected by the professional media staff with due regard to suggestions from the faculty, parents, and students. Final selection is made by the media specialists of the school in which the center is housed. Professionally recognized reviewing periodicals, standard catalogs, and other selection aids are used by the media specialists and the faculty to guide them in their selection.
Some miscellaneous items to consider in your policy are gifts, sponsored materials, expensive materials, ephemeral materials, jobbers and salespersons, locked case, special requests, etc.; free and inexpensive materials; professional materials; and procedure for handling lost materials. Do you charge fines, maintain special collections not available to all patrons (e.g., a collection of materials for teachers only), handle special requests? These “special concerns” can be detailed in this section of your policy. Make sure to include your procedures for integrating gifts and sponsored materials. Usually, it is stated that criteria for inclusion of gifts and sponsored materials are the same as for purchased materials.
POLICIES ON CONTROVERSIAL MATERIALS
Here, or in another place in your policy, you should include a statement on intellectual freedom and why it is important to maintain. You may wish to include the text of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” and the Library Bill of Rights .
Sample Statement on Intellectual Freedom
The school board subscribes in principle to the statements of policy on library philosophy as expressed in the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, a copy of which is appended to and made a part of this policy.
Occasional objections to instructional materials will be made despite the quality of the selection process; therefore, the procedure for handling reconsideration of challenged materials in response to questions concerning their appropriateness should be stated. This procedure should establish the framework for registering a complaint that provides for a hearing with appropriate action while defending the principles of freedom of information, the students’ right to access of materials, and the professional responsibility and integrity of the school faculty. The principles of intellectual freedom are inherent in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and are expressed in the Library Bill of Rights, adopted by the Council of the American Library Association. If instructional materials are questioned, the principles of intellectual freedom should be defended rather than the materials.
List here the specific steps that will be taken when you are asked to reconsider materials in your collection. These steps should include
- asking the complainant to fill out a written complaint form. (See Sample Request for Reconsideration of Library Resources).
- assigning a reconsideration committee to examine the materials in question.
- requesting that the committee report their findings to the school board.
The procedure for handling complaints should describe every step, from the initial response to the complaint through the highest appeal.
Procedures for Handling Complaints
No duly selected materials whose appropriateness is challenged shall be removed from the school except upon the recommendation of a reconsideration committee, with the concurrence of the Superintendent or, upon the Superintendent’s recommendation, the concurrence of the Board of Education, or upon formal action of the Board of Education when a recommendation of a reconsideration committee is appealed to it.
Procedures to be observed
- All complaints to staff members shall be reported to the building principal involved, whether received by telephone, letter, or in personal conversation.
- The principal shall contact the complainant to discuss the complaint and attempt to resolve it informally by explaining the philosophy and goals of the school district and/or the library media center.
- If the complaint is not resolved informally, the complainant shall be supplied with a packet of materials consisting of the District’s instructional goals and objectives, materials selection policy statement, and the procedure for handling objections. This packet also will include a standard printed form, which shall be completed and returned before consideration will be given to the complaint.
- If the formal request for reconsideration has not been received by the principal within two weeks, it shall be considered closed. If the request is returned, the reasons for selection of the specific work shall be reestablished by the appropriate staff.
- In accordance with statement of philosophy, no questioned materials shall be removed from the school pending a final decision. Pending the outcome of the request for reconsideration, however, access to questioned materials can be denied to the child (or children) of the parents making the complaint, if they so desire.
- Upon receipt of a completed objection form, the principal in the building involved will convene a committee of five to consider the complaint. This committee shall consist of the curriculum director and these people from the school involved: the principal, the library media center director, a teacher, and a PTA representative.
- The committee shall meet to discuss the materials, following the guidelines set forth in Instructions to Reconsideration Committee, and shall prepare a report on the material containing its recommendations on disposition of the matter.
- The principal shall notify complainant of the decision and send a formal report and recommendation to the Superintendent. In answering the complainant, the principal shall explain the book selection system, give the guidelines used for selection, and cite authorities used in reaching decisions. If the committee decides to keep the work that caused the complaint, the complainant shall be given an explanation. If the complaint is valid, the principal will acknowledge it and make recommended changes.
- If the complainant is still not satisfied, he or she may ask the Superintendent to present an appeal to the Board of Education, which shall make a final determination of the issue. The Board of Education may seek assistance from outside orgaÂ¬nizations such as the American Library Association, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, etc., in making its determination.
Sample Letter to Complainant
We appreciate your concern over the use of ______________________ in our school district. The district has developed procedures for selecting materials, but realizes that not everyone will agree with every selection made.
To help you understand the selection process, we are sending copies of the district’s
- Instructional goals and objectives
- Materials Selection Policy statement
- Procedure for Handling Objections
If you are still concerned after you review this material, please complete the Request for Reconsideration of Material form and return it to me. You may be assured of prompt attention to your request. If I have not heard from you within two weeks, we will assume you no longer wish to file a formal complaint.
Instructions to Reconsideration Committee
Bear in mind the principles of the freedom to learn and to read and base your decision on these broad principles rather than on defense of individual materials. Freedom of inquiry is vital to education in a democracy.
Study thoroughly all materials referred to you and read available reviews. The general acceptance of the materials should be checked by consulting standard evaluation aids and local holdings in other schools.
Passages or parts should not be pulled out of context. The values and faults should be weighed against each other and the opinions based on the materials as a whole.
Your report, presenting both majority and minority opinions, will be presented by the principal to the complainant at the conclusion of your discussion of the questioned material.
Sample Request for Reconsideration of Library Resources
[This is where you identify who in your own structure has authorized use of this form—Director, Board of Trustees, Board of Education, etc.—and to whom to return the form. See the example below.]
The school board of Mainstream County, U.S.A., has delegated the responsibility for selection and evaluation of library/educational resources to the school library media specialist/curriculum committee, and has established reconsideration procedures to address concerns about those resources. Completion of this form is the first step in those procedures. If you wish to request reconsideration of school or library resources, please return the completed form to the Coordinator of Library Media Resources, Mainstream School Dist., 1 Mainstream Plaza, Anytown, U.S.A.
Name ___________________________ Date ___________________________
Address _________________________ City ___________________________
State ___________________________ Zip ___________________________
Do you represent self? ____ OrgaÂ¬nization? ____
1. Resource on which you are commenting:
____ Book ____ Textbook ____ Video ____ Display ____ Magazine ____ Library Program
____ Audio Recording ____ Newspaper ____ Electronic Information/Network (please specify):
____ Other ___________________________________________________________________
2. What brought this resource to your attention?
3. Have you examined the entire resource?
4. What concerns you about the resource? (use other side or additional pages if necessary)
5. Are there resource(s) you suggest to provide additional information and/or other
viewpoints on this topic?
Revised by the American Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee, June 27, 1995.
Sample Selection Policy
School District #1
Part 1: Selection of Learning Resources
- Statement of Policy
The policy of the Board of Trustees of School District #1 is to provide a wide range of learning resources at varying levels of difficulty, with diversity of appeal and the presentation of different points of view to meet the needs of students and teachers.
- Objectives of Selection
For the purposes of this statement of policy, the term “learning resources” will refer to any person(s) or any material (whether acquired or locally produced) with instructional content or function that is used for formal or informal teaching/learning purposes. Learning resources include textbooks, other books, charts, maps and globes, models and realia, pictures, games, data files, websites, motion pictures and DVDs, periodicals and monographs, slides, sound recordings, printed music, and transparencies. Community people, agencies and orgaÂ¬nizations are vital “learning resources,” as well as national and international agencies, museums, libraries and other educational institutions that offer programs via the Internet or satellite.
A. The primary objective of learning resources is to support, enrich, and help implement the educational program of the school through the interaction of professional personnel and other members of the school community. It is the duty of professional staff to provide students with a wide range of materials at varying levels of difficulty, with diversity of appeal, and the presentation of different points of view.
B. To this end, the Board of Trustees of School District #1 affirms that it is the responsibility of its professional staff:
1. To provide materials that will enrich and support the curriculum, taking into consideration the varied interests, abilities, learning styles, and maturity levels of the students served;
2. To provide materials that will stimulate growth in factual knowledge, literary appreciation, aesthetic values, and societal standards;
3. To provide materials on various sides of controversial issues so that young citizens may have an opportunity to develop under guidance the practice of critical analysis and to make informed judgments in their daily lives;
4. To provide materials representative of the many religious, ethnic, and cultural groups and that contribute to our national heritage and the world community;
5. To place principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of materials of the highest quality in order to assure a comprehensive collection appropriate to the school community.
- Responsibility for Selection of Learning Resources
A. The Board of Trustees delegates the responsibility for the selection of learning resources to the professional staff employed by the school system, and declares that selections made shall be held to have been made by the Board of Trustees of School District #1.
B. While selection of learning resources involves many people (administrators, teachers, students, community persons, resource center personnel) the responsibility for coordinating the selection of school learning resources and making the recommendation for purchase rests with the principal and professional personnel.
- Criteria for Selection of Learning Resources
A. The following criteria will be used as they apply:
1. Learning resources shall support and be consistent with the general educational goals of the state and the district and the aims and objectives of individual schools and specific courses.
2. Learning resources shall be chosen to enrich and support the curriculum and the personal needs of users.
3. Learning resources shall meet high standards of quality in
• artistic quality and/or literary style
• educational significance
• factual content
• physical format
• technical quality
4. Learning resources shall be appropriate for the subject area and for the age, emotional development, ability level, learning styles, and social development of the students for whom the materials are selected.
5. Learning resources shall be designed to provide a background of information that will motivate students and staff to examine their own attitudes and behavior; to comprehend their duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges as participating citizens in our society; and to make informed judgments in their daily lives.
6. Learning resources shall provide information on opposing sides of controversial issues so that users may develop under guidance the practice of critical analysis.
B. The selection of learning resources on controversial issues will be directed toward maintaining a balanced collection representing various views. Learning resources shall clarify historical and contemporary forces by presenting and analyzing intergroup tension and conflict objectively, placing emphasis on recognizing and understanding social and economic problems.
- Procedures for Selection of Learning Resources
A. In selecting learning resources, professional personnel will evaluate available resources and curriculum needs and will consult reputable, professionally prepared aids to selection and other appropriate sources. Among sources to be consulted are
1. Bibliographies (latest edition available, including supplements), such as
• Children’s Catalog
• Middle and Junior High Core Collection
• Senior High Core Collection
• Nonbook Materials Core Collection
2. Current reviewing media:
• AASA Science Books and Films OnLine
• Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
• Horn Book
• Kirkus Reviews
• Book Links
• Library Journal
• School Library Journal
• Other sources will be consulted as appropriate. Whenever possible, the actual resource will be examined.
B. Recommendations for purchase involve administrators, teachers, students, district personnel, and community persons, as appropriate.
C. Gift materials shall be judged by the criteria outlined and shall be accepted or rejected by those criteria.
D. Selection is an ongoing process that should include the removal of materials no longer appropriate and the replacement of lost and worn materials still of educational value.
Part 2: Procedures for Dealing with Challenged Materials
- Statement of Policy
Any resident or employee of the school district may formally challenge learning resources used in the district’s educational program on the basis of appropriateness. This procedure is for the purpose of considering the opinions of those persons in the schools and the community who are not directly involved in the selection process.
- Request for Informal Reconsideration
A. The school receiving a complaint regarding a learning resource shall try to resolve the issue informally.
1. The principal or other appropriate staff shall explain to the questioner the school’s selection procedure, criteria, and qualifications of those persons selecting the resource.
2. The principal or other appropriate staff shall explain the particular place the questioned resource occupies in the education program, its intended educational usefulness, and additional information regarding its use, or refer the party to someone who can identify and explain the use of the resource.
3. If the questioner wishes to file a formal challenge, a copy of the district Selection of Learning Resources policy and a Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources form shall be handed or mailed to the party concerned by the principal.
- Request for Formal Reconsideration
A. Preliminary Procedures
1. Each school will keep on hand and make available Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources forms. All formal objections to learning resources must be made on these forms.
2. The Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources form shall be signed by the questioner and filed with the principal or someone so designated by the principal.
3. The area assistant superintendent and the assistant superintendent of curriculum serÂ¬vices shall be informed of the formal complaint received.
4. The request for reconsideration shall be referred to a reconsideration committee at the school level for reevaluation of the resource.
5. Requests for reconsideration of materials in district collections shall be referred to the school resource center consultative committee for reevaluation of the resource. This committee may involve additional personnel as appropriate.
B. The Reconsideration Committee
1. Upon receipt of a request for formal reconsideration of a learning resource, the principal shall
a. Appoint a reconsideration committee including the following membership as appropriate:
• One member of the district staff chosen by the area assistant superintendent;
• One member of the school teaching staff chosen by the school staff;
• One member of the resource center professional staff chosen by the resource center professional staff;
• One member of the school consultative committee chosen by the school consultative committee;
• Two students chosen by the student body.
b. Name a convener of the reconsideration committee.
c. Arrange for a reconsideration committee meeting within 10 working days after the complaint is received.
2. The reconsideration committee may choose to consult district support staff and/or community persons with related professional knowledge.
3. The reconsideration committee shall review the challenged resource and judge whether it conforms to the principles of selection outlined in the district’s Selection of Learning Resources policy.
1. The reconsideration committee shall
a. Examine the challenged resource;
b. Determine professional acceptance by reading critical reviews of the resource;
c. Weigh values and faults and form opinions based on the material as a whole rather than on passages or sections taken out of context;
d. Discuss the challenged resource in the context of the educational program;
e. Discuss the challenged item with the individual questioner when appropriate;
f. Prepare a written report.
2. The written report shall be discussed with the individual questioner if requested.
3. The written report shall be retained by the school principal, with copies forwarded to the assistant superintendent of curriculum serÂ¬vices and the area assistant superintendent. A minority report also may be filed.
4. Written reports, once filed, are confidential and available for examination by trustees and appropriate officials only.
5. The decision of the reconsideration committee is binding for the individual school.
6. Notwithstanding any procedure outlined in this policy, the questioner shall have the right to appeal any decision of the reconsideration committee to the Board of Trustees as the final review panel.
D. Guiding Principles
1. Any resident or employee of the school district may raise objection to learning resources used in a school’s educational program, despite the fact that the individuals selecting such resources were duly qualified to make the selection, followed the proper procedure, and observed the criteria for selecting learning resources.
2. The principal should review the selection and objection rules with the teaching staff at least annually. The staff should be reminded that the right to object to learning resources is one granted by policies enacted by the Board of Trustees.
3. No parent has the right to determine reading, viewing, or listening matter for students other than his or her own children.
4. School District #1 supports the Library Bill of Rights, adopted by the American Library Association. (A copy of the Library Bill of Rights is attached to this policy.) When learning resources are challenged, the principles of the freedom to read/listen/view must be defended as well.
5. Access to challenged material shall not be restricted during the reconsideration process.
6. The major criterion for the final decision is the appropriateness of the material for its intended educational use.
7. A decision to sustain a challenge shall not necessarily be interpreted as a judgment of irresponsibility by the professionals involved in the original selection or use of the material.
Revised October 1999
- Coping with Challenges: Kids and Libraries
- Coping with Challenges: Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials
- Freedom to Read statement
- Library Bill of Rights
- Reporting a Challenge