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NYC School Librarian Guidebook: Challenged Materials

A blueprint to the policies, standards, and procedures that enable library personnel to develop, organize, and manage exemplary school library programs.

Addressing Challenges in the Library

No matter how careful you have been in your selection of material, at some point one of your library’s resources may be challenged as inappropriate by students, parents or staff.

Prepare yourself and your school to deal with intellectual freedom issues before a challenge occurs. Promote the idea of intellectual freedom as given in ALA’s Library Bill of Rights:

You should also be familiar with the ALA Freedom to Read Statement:

Facilitate a conversation about intellectual freedom among the teachers at your school. Get consensus on the rights of parents in determining their own children’s access to materials but not other children’s access to read, view, or listen to materials from the school library. The principal should review the selection and challenged materials policy with the teaching staff at least annually.

Make sure that your collection development criteria match the curriculum, age level of your students and the religious and cultural atmosphere of your community.

Prepare your school with policies and procedures to navigate the challenge process in a fair and reasonable manner. The New York City Office of Library Services has provided three documents to serve as a Challenged Materials Policy Template. See below the following documents New York City Collection Development Policy, Patron’s Request for Reconsideration of a Work, and Materials Evaluation Committee Report Form.

If a challenge occurs, be sure to inform the principal and the Office of Library Services. Most importantly, follow the procedure outlined in your Collection Development Policy. Start the process and step back and let it work. Reasonable consideration of challenged material through careful adherence to a challenged material procedure will result in a decision that will be best for your school community.

Despite the care taken to select valuable materials for student/teacher use and the qualifications of persons who select the materials, objections will occasionally be made. The principles of the freedom to read and the professional responsibility of the staff must be defended. OLS recommends that schools adopt the following collection development procedures

If a complaint is made, the librarian /library teacher or principal will follow the following procedures:

  1. Have a conversation with the complainant to listen carefully to his or her objections. Be courteous, help the complainant determine all facts related to the issue, state the rationale for making the material available through the library, but make no commitments for any actions.
  2. If the complainant is not satisfied, invite him to file his objections in writing and offer him a copy of “Patron’s Request for Reconsideration of a Work” (see APPENDIX A) to be submitted to the principal for consideration by a Materials Evaluation Committee. The principal will ensure that all appropriate staff members are informed about the possibility of a challenge.
  3. Upon receipt of a written request for reconsideration, the principal shall inform the Office of Library Services, who will designate a Materials Evaluation Committee composed of the following representatives selected from the Region, but not the school with the challenge:
    1. A representative from the central Office of Library Services (chair)
    2. A representative from building level administration
    3. A librarian or library teacher
    4. Two classroom teachers familiar with the subject matter of the material involved
    5. Two parents
    6. A student, where appropriate
  4. No material shall be removed from use until the Materials Evaluation Committee has made a final decision.
  5. Within two weeks the Materials Evaluation Committee shall:
    1. Examine the referred materials
    2. Check general acceptance of the materials by reading reviews
    3. Weigh values and faults against each other and form opinions based on the materials as a whole
    4. Meet to discuss the material and to prepare a report (See APPENDIX B)
    5. File a copy of the report in the school and central administrative offices
    6. Send a copy of the report to the complainant
  6. The findings of the committee will be implemented
  7. The decision may be appealed to the Executive Director of Literacy and AIS

Resources for Challenged Materials

Challenged Materials Guidelines

In preparing your challenged materials guidelines, keep in mind the curriculum, age level of your students and the religious and cultural atmosphere of your community.  Promote the idea of intellectual freedom as given in ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, but remember that school is a restricted environment.

However careful or circumspect you may be, expect to be challenged on materials by staff, students and parents.  With students, some objections may come from misunderstandings or misreadings and may be resolved with individual or classroom discussion, providing a teachable moment.  Be prepared with written guidelines and have a formal procedure to deal with any objections.  The principal and administrators must be informed of any objections received. 

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.

 The principal should review the selection and objection rules with the teaching staff at least annually. No parent has the right to determine reading, viewing, or listening matter for students other than his or her own children.

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