Informal Complaints

Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries

Individuals who are concerned about the appropriateness of library resources may make informal complaints in public and to library staff members. In schools, the complainant may voice the objection to the school librarian, a teacher, or the principal. In some cases, the individuals simply want their objections heard and have their concerns acknowledged; while in other situations, the person making the complainant asks public, academic, or school staff to restrict or remove the library resource. One important part of the informal complaint process is listening respectfully to the complainant’s concerns. Although listening to a person’s complaint is sometimes as far as an oral complaint goes, it is necessary for every library to have a process for handling informal patron concerns. A formal complaint process often follows a verbal discussion with a library staff member, library director, teacher, or school principal and acknowledges the right of the individual to express a concern and have their objections formally reviewed.


Example: Public Library Procedures for Handling Informal Complaints

The process begins with a librarian discussing the complaint with the patron who brings it to the service desk. During that interaction, the librarian will explain that the library has materials for everyone and everything goes through a selection process or is purchased because of patron requests. The librarian should offer to assist the patron to find alternate materials that would better meet the needs and interests of the patron and/or their family members. If the patron chooses to go forward with the challenge, the complainant should be provided with a request for formal reconsideration form.


Example: School Library Procedures for Handling Informal Complaints

Persons with a complaint about library print or digital resources should state their concerns to the school librarian or principal. The librarian or principal will listen attentively to the concerns and attempt to resolve the issue informally. As part of the discussion, the school employee will explain the library’s selection policy, selection criteria, diversity of the collection with resources from many points of view, and the selection process. Additionally, each parent/guardian has the right to determine the appropriateness of library resources for their children and should accord the same right to other families.

If the complaint is not resolved informally, the librarian or principal will explain the formal reconsideration process and provide the individual with a copy of the school district’s library selection policy with reconsideration procedures and a request for reconsideration of library resources form. If there is concern about multiple items, a separate form must be completed for each item. All complaints to staff members shall be reported to the building principal, whether received by telephone, letter, or in personal conversation. No library resources should be removed or restricted from use as a result of the informal complaint.

If the completed and signed formal request for reconsideration form has not been received by the principal within two weeks, the matter shall be considered closed.


Example: Academic Library Procedures for Handling Informal Complaints

A patron who wishes to request the reconsideration of library material for any reason may meet with the library director. If the patron is not satisfied after speaking with the library director, they may begin the process of filing a formal complaint.


Home | Introduction
Why Do I Need a Policy? | Politics and Timing of Policy Creation | Selection Policies for Non-Public Institutions

Basic Components of a Selection Policy
Library Mission | Support for Intellectual Freedom | Objectives | Responsibility for Selection | Selection Criteria | Acquisitions Procedures | Special Collections | Selecting Controversial Materials | Gifts and Donations | Collection Maintenance and Weeding | Policy Revision | Reconsideration

Reconsideration Procedure
Guiding Principles | Statement of Policy | Informal Complaints | Request for Formal Reconsideration | Sample Reconsideration Form | Sample Letter to Complainant | Reconsideration Committees

Intellectual Freedom Core Documents | Challenge Support and Reporting Censorship | Bibliography of Additional Selection and Reconsideration Policy Resources

Updated January 2018 by ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom