A formal reconsideration request is a written document that identifies the specific resource that is of concern and the reasons for reconsidering its inclusion in the library's collection. In order to provide a standard method for receiving patron input, every library should have a written process for handling formal complaints as part of its collection development policy. If the library receives a completed reconsideration form, the person or group designated in library policy to evaluate 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 timeline.
- 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 document for the library director or the school administrator that includes 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. It is helpful to determine how frequently 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 resource challenge and the process that will be followed to ensure adherence to the board-approved policy. 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. 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 review process must be transparent and objective and should include the following general steps.
- Review 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 initiator of the challenge of the decision. Address the letter to the individual; do not use an impersonal form letter. Explain how they may appeal the decision if desired, and inform them that appealing the decision will require publicly disclosing the complaint on the agenda of the entity that handles appeals, and in other documents.
- Update workers 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 or educational institution's legal counsel.
- When the final decision about the questioned resource has been made, communicate the resolution to library workers, 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.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION on the reconsideration process in public, school and academic libraries is available online in the ALA's "Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries."
Garnar, Martin, and Trina Magi. Intellectual Freedom Manual. Tenth Edition. Chicago: ALA Editions. 2021
Purchase the Intellectual Freedom Manual, Tenth Edition at the ALA store.