How Do You Prepare for Challenges to Books and Other Resources?

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Maria Cahill starts off the new year at School Library Connection with the results of her One-Question Survey asking about material challenges.

We encourage you to use these surveys to help you reflect on your own practices. Subscribers can view our archive of past surveys here. And don’t forget to take our latest One-Question Survey, open until 8/24/16, by clicking here.


“Intellectual freedom is a core value of the library profession, and a basic right in our democratic society” (American Library Association (ALA), n.d.). In response to the latest One Question Survey, slightly more than 200 school librarians provided information about their practices in relation to intellectual freedom. As the chart demonstrates, the large majority of school librarians who select materials based on local policies have had no material challenges. The chart also illustrates that slightly more than 11% of school librarians engage in self-censorship by consciously selecting materials to avoid challenges, and approximately one-fifth have had a material challenge.

Interestingly, self-censorship is much more prevalent at the elementary level and in  schools that have multiple grade configurations such as P-12, middle and high, etc. than at middle or high school levels.

In total the survey participants identified 96* material challenges. Of those, materials remained in the collection unrestricted in 54 cases, while in 30 cases, materials were removed or access was limited. In many cases, the formal challenge process was not followed through to its conclusion. Worth noting are the 24 cases in which access to the material was restricted without the challenge process being completed.

Helen R. Adams (2011) has argued that a school librarian is the most valuable force in protecting minors’ First Amendment rights, yet in order for that full advantage to be realized, it is imperative that school librarians adhere to written selection and material reconsideration policies. Naturally, some school librarians fear the public relations consequences of book challenges, and not all school librarians are in positions to stand firm against the decisions of administrators. However, the importance of the school librarian is diminished when access is restricted without full review, and written policies are meaningless if they are not enacted.

On a more upbeat note, respondents to the survey reported four instances in which a school or district administrator directed the school librarian to remove material, but the librarian chose not to follow through—kudos to those librarians who upheld the Library Bill of Rights (ALA, 1939; 1996)!

As always, School Library Connection challenges school librarians to reflect deeply on their own practices. We encourage all school librarians to consider the extent to which they serve to protect students’ rights to access information and ideas. For those school librarians choosing to develop their professional tool chests in this domain, we recommend the following starting points:

Adams, Helen. Intellectual Freedom Workshop. School Library Connection. Libraries Unlimited, 2015.

Carnesi, Sabrina. “Challenging Opportunities: Dealing with Book Challenges.” Library Media Connection 33, no. 2 (2014).

Eldred, Christine. “The Choices that Count.” School Library Monthly 31, no. 1 (2014).

“Access to Resources and Services in the School Library Media Program: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.” American Library Association, 2014.

“Advocating Intellectual Freedom.” American Library Association, 2014.


Adams, Helen R. “Fewer School Librarians: The Effect on Students’ Intellectual Freedom.” School Library Monthly 27, no. 6 (2011).

Intellectual Freedom. American Library Association.

Library Bill of Rights. American Library Association, 1996.


* Five librarians could not remember the exact number of challenges but provided estimates and resolutions; another librarian did not estimate the number of challenges, but identified the resolutions to them.

Log in to SLC to see the full table of outcomes reported


Cahill_MariaMaria Cahill, MLIS, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky in both the School of Information Science and the Department of Education. She received her master’s degree from the University of South Carolina and her doctorate in education from the University of Tennessee. She is author of numerous papers in such journals as Knowledge Quest, School Libraries Worldwide, and School Library Research and has served in numerous professional leadership positions, including on the Educators of School Librarians Section of the American Association of School Librarians and the American Library Association’s Literacy and Outreach Services Committee.

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