Chilling Effects of Book Challenges (Banned Book Week Series #5)

As we wrap up our look at assorted Freedom to Read topics, let’s talk about the chilling effect that can happen to collection development in the face of book challenges.

This is the unspoken side of book challenges: the increased reluctance on the part of a librarian to push the boundaries of what may be deemed acceptable when buying books. That balance between assembling a good and balanced collection and avoiding potential challenges can be difficult to master. It can be very tempting to just avoid buying the latest challenged book, or to develop a collection of books that may be challenged, when a librarian wants to avoid controversy.

Everyone needs to think about the basics of their library’s collection development, and think consciously about overcoming a reluctance to work through a challenge process. Look back to our Banned Book Week Series entry #3, and work through some of the processes given to write up a good policy for your library to incorporate to respond to challenges in a professional way. Having that policy in place, and ready to be shared with Boards, patrons, and other concerned stakeholders, gives some security in engaging in a discussion on controversial materials.

School Library Journal published an article on a study of school librarians: SLJ: Self Censorship Survey. Although this article is now a few years old, there is no reason to believe things are different; and the information presented gives a new dimension to thinking about collection development of potentially controversial materials.

Data from SLJ Survey

As you build a collection, and include materials that may be controversial for any number of reasons, think carefully before excluding items on that basis. Although the potential conflict of a challenge is not pleasant for the librarian or patron, the discussion can be valuable and the process can help to educate everyone involved on Freedom to Read policies and ideas. These are the bedrock of our profession, so do not give them up lightly!