All posts by Mary Wilkins-Jordan

A Wider Look at Frequently Challenged Materials (Banned Book Week Series #4)

We stand for the freedom to read!

As librarians, we spend all day sharing information with our patrons. Therefore, it can be beneficial during this Banned Book Week to look back at some of the most challenged materials over a broader span of time than discussed in our previous post in this series about the materials challenged in 2015. I like to be very deliberate in seeking these books out to read, so I understand why there may be concerns, and so I am better prepared to discuss the content of a book in a challenge situation.

This is a list of the  100 most challenged books from 2000-2009, as complied by the ALA. Of course, a list like this can not be entirely accurate: many challenges go unreported, or may not rise to the level of a full challenge but still provide concerns for patrons. But it does give us some ideas about the types of materials that get challenged, and we can see some trends in consistently challenged books.

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan

And here is the ALA’s list of the 100 most challenged books from 1990-1999.  I am copying in the top 20 from each list; and when you click on the links you can see all 100. You will see several books that are consistently on the list, and several authors who write in areas of sensitive material and appear regularly on these lists.

  1. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
  2. Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite
  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  4. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  6. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  7. Forever, by Judy Blume
  8. Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
  9. Heather Has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman
  10. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  11. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
  12. My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  13. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
  14. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  15. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
  16. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
  17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  18. Sex, by Madonna
  19. Earth’s Children (series), by Jean M. Auel
  20. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson

Some of these books are not popular anymore, or too dated to be of interest to today’s school-aged readers. But some carry on as significant enough to continue reading. And many of the books in both lists appear there after some national publicity of challenges – which may have caused other challenges in other places to occur.

A troubling trend in book challenges, beyond just their existence, is the increased number of challenges over materials about diverse content  from the ALA, or books written by authors of color. Read through that second link, which is a blog post by Malinda Lo – one of the creators of the blog Diversity in YA. She looks at a lot of perspectives on publication of authors of color and books with diverse content, complete with charts to make her points visual. Although the authors have ceased contributing new content, looking back through their archives gives some interesting insights into this issue. Censorship, or book banning, is not always an overt process; and we will explore that topic further in the fifth post in our series this week.

As with everything we do in libraries, there is a lot to consider and a lot to balance. We serve the needs of our communities with their diverse interests and needs; and we also serve the library profession. A strong collection development policy, with a lot of discussion in the library among staff and with the community about rationale for different collection items, will be the best way to ensure communication happens when conflict occurs. You can not stop conflict, but you can plan for it and be ready to address it in a professional way.

CMLE wants to read with you!


Let’s read together!


As a library system, filled with library people, we like to read books. So let’s get together and read books and chat about them!

We have set up two monthly book groups on Goodreads, where we have a forum to discuss our books. If there is interest in holding in-person book group sessions at host locations, that would also be great; but we want it to be accessible to everyone, so we will always have an online discussion where we can all share in the reading. (If you want to have an in-person monthly meeting, either at CMLE Headquarters, or in another location – email Mary !)

We will have two copies of the paper book to share, if you want to borrow one for a few days. Email Angie to get on the borrowing list!

The first group will be have a professional theme; here we will read books that may be helpful to you at work. They may be specifically library-oriented, or may be books that would be relevant to the work we do in our libraries. We have a preliminary list of books that might be interesting to our members; and we encourage you to suggest books that we all might enjoy!

For our October book in this group, we will be reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondō. “Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again.” Can this help you at work?? We will have to read the book to find out how!

Below is a fairly long video (42 minutes) Kondo gave at Google. She, and her translator, work through her entire system of sorting and keeping objects in the house.

And here is a short video, with just music in the background, where Kondo helps a woman organize her bookshelf:

They may be aspirational, but the results look good!


Our other book group will be a fiction book group, with readings we do for fun. There may be a theme of “librarian as main character” through the books we read, but that will not be a requirement. As library people, we all hear too much of the comment “it must be so fun to sit around and read books at work all day;” and it’s amazingly frustrating!! But of course, most of us really do like to read books! So we can have this time to enjoy a book together each month.

In October, we will be reading “Curiosity Thrilled the Cat” by Sofie Kelly. “When librarian Kathleen Paulson moved to Mayville Heights, Minnesota, she had no idea that two strays would nuzzle their way into her life. Owen is a tabby with a catnip addiction and Hercules is a stocky tuxedo cat who shares Kathleen’s fondness for Barry Manilow. But beyond all the fur and purrs, there’s something more to these felines.”

This book does not come with videos, but we have a couple of other ones for you to enjoy:

  • Who wouldn’t want a job as Kitten Librarian?? (not technically a library; but still a great idea!)
  • And these important helpers in the Huron Library in London, Ontario are clearly making an important contribution!
  • Stacks the Library Cat has a pretty significant fan club at the New Castle library in Pennsylvania

Both of these books are available in paper, eBook, and audio formats; so pick a format that works for you! Content is the important part; flexibility of format is just a bonus.


Preparing for a Challenge (Banned Book Week series #3)

Freedom to read is a core of our profession!

When a patron comes to your library, upset about a book or some of your materials – are you prepared with an answer? It can be hard for you to respond quickly unless you have a policy and are comfortable with the procedure for working with patrons who challenge your materials. Fortunately, in our profession, we have several resources available to help you to respond well to patrons!

As a profession, one of our core values is Intellectual Freedom. “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.  ALA Policy Manual, B.9.16 (Old Number 54.16) ( ALA Code of Ethics, Article II)” We believe in providing information to the community, and letting them make choices about their consumption of it. In our Code of Ethics from the American Library Association, this same sentence is Statement Two. Our profession believes in protecting people’s right to choose material, not to restrict it.

Your library needs a policy for this issue, and also to have some training for everyone on their role in challenges. A patron may come to anyone in the building to start a challenge, so everyone needs to know how to either proceed with it or who to pass the patron to for better assistance.

All types of libraries can receive challenges to their materials, so everyone needs to be ready to respond in the best way. The ALA has a set of strategies here, for any library to use in preparing a policy and starting some staff training. There are good tips on effective communication styles, both for the patron in person and when dealing with the media.

It is important to take seriously the concerns community members bring to your attention. Creating and following a procedure can help to assure patrons that you are respecting their rights to share their opinions and to voice their concerns.

As you begin to write your policy, or to do the regular edits necessary for policies, you may find this information helpful from the ALA. They discuss some justification for having a policy, then help you to walk through the basic format of a policy with information you may want to include. Every library is different in focus and in the community it serves; so all policies will need to have different language and information to make them fit your needs.  If you have a challenge hearing, some steps on the procedure are given to be sure you are thinking through this process before a need for it arises.

While each library is different, it can be helpful for you to look at the policies other libraries have created. These are often included with their Collection Development polices, as potentially controversial materials are not collected just to be controversial, but because they are adding to the overall collection. Here is an example from the Pikes Peak Library District. This site gives you some specific information on collection development, including sample policies, for school libraries. And here is a Prezi presentation on reconsideration of library materials policies for school libraries. Here is a policy from the University of South Carolina; scroll down to the “Intellectual Freedom” section for the challenged material sample.

Part of your process may include education for your community on the rationale for including controversial materials in your collection. This is some material from the National Council of English Teachers, discussing some reasoning for teaching challenged materials. There are also other links on this page to give you some information and ideas about providing materials that may be challenged.

Handling a materials challenge can be hard: you want to do the right thing for the patron, for your library, and for the profession. It is a lot to balance! But you do not have to do it alone. The resources from the ALA are here, and there are more on these sites linked above. And the CMLE is available to help member libraries as you create and revise policies, or to help with training for your staff to help everyone feel more comfortable with this topic – and ready to handle challenges well!

We Want You!


Blog with CMLE!


At CMLE, we want to provide our members with information on all kinds of issues that they may encounter in their library workplaces. And we want to be sure we have a wide variety of voices here to pass on information, experiences (good and bad!), suggestions, tips, and just general information that others could find helpful. Everyone has a story to share, experience to pass on, and ideas to contribute to make us all stronger!

We are actively soliciting for members to share their stories with us! We want to get all our CMLE members to share with each other here on our blog.

What could you write about?

  • a program that was fantastic, everything went smoothly, and you think other libraries could adopt
  • a program that was a disaster from start to finish, and you have a cautionary tale to terrify other libraries (Halloween is coming up, after all)
  • a program that fell somewhere between these two extremes
  • a database your users really like
  • a new technology you tried
  • some collection development or cataloging strategies you have developed over the years, that could make things easier/faster/more efficient for other people
  • a problem you are facing, where you could really use some advice from other people who have also been there
  • your library’s garden
  • your library’s pet
  • your library’s pet rock
  • quick tips to make scheduling easier
  • the cutest thing that happened last week
  • the scariest think that happened last week
  • the marketing plan you just wrote
  • your special, patented, never-fail strategy for ensuring your printers never jam! (okay – if you have this one, we DEFINITELY want it!)

Are we worried about perfection in writing up these stories? Nope!

Are we looking only for people who are amazing, perfect writers? No way!

Are we available to brainstorm with you, help with writing, and do the formatting and such to get your work posted and shared with CMLE? You bet!!

You can contribute a paragraph, a page, or longer! Not all information to be shared needs the same amount of discussion, so things are flexible here for you.

In addition to being open to almost anything you guys want to share and discuss, we are putting out a call for some specific topics. CMLE will be offering Monthly Topic themes, with blog posts and training focused all in an area that should be helpful to our members. We really want to hear from you and to share your stories, ideas, suggestions, and whatever else you have to share on our monthly topics. You can get your material ready any time, and we will hold onto it until the topical month comes up.

Our upcoming Monthly Topic schedule:

  • October: Hiring (including recruiting, writing job ads, interviewing, succession planning, and more)
  • November: Advocacy (including strategies for finding your stakeholders, templates for emailing legislators, practicing your elevator speech, and more)
  • December: Stress Management (including relaxation tips, work/life balance ideas, strategies for avoiding burnout, and more)
  • January: Grants (finding them, writing the application, managing programs, and more)

We will keep announcing topics before the month in question, so you can have time to think about your contributions.

Do you have an idea you might want to share? Call or email Mary or Angie, and we will work with you to get it created, scheduled, and shared!

2015 Frequently challenged books (Banned Book Week series #2)

Celebrate Banned Books Week

This is always a difficult count to make, because what gets challenged and/or banned may not get mentioned in the media or reported to the ALA for inclusion. Libraries may be embarrassed at getting a book challenge, or uncertain of a procedure they could follow to respond in a professional way. Ideally, this is a time to connect with community members, to talk about intellectual freedom, and supporting a parent’s right to individual choice – not choice for all. Tomorrow we will talk about strategies for writing your policy to handle challenges; today we will look at some of the most challenged material, to start thinking about conversations to have both within the library with our colleagues and also with the communities we serve.

From the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom:

Over this recent past decade, 5,099* challenges were reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

  • 1,577 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
  • 1,291 challenges due to “offensive language”;
  • 989 challenges due to materials deemed “unsuited to age group”;
  • 619 challenged due to “violence”‘ and
  • 361 challenges due to “homosexuality.”

Further, 274 materials were challenged due to “occult” or “Satanic” themes, an additional 291 were challenged due to their “religious viewpoint,” and 119 because they were “anti-family.”

Please note that the number of challenges and the number of reasons for those challenges do not match, because works are often challenged on more than one ground.

1,639 of these challenges were in school libraries; 1,811 were in classrooms; 1,217 took place in public libraries. There were 114 challenges to materials used in college classes; and 30 to academic libraries. There are isolated cases of challenges to library materials made available in or by prisons, special libraries, community groups, and students. The vast majority of challenges were initiated by parents (2,535), with patrons and administrators to follow (516 and 489 respectively).

From the OIF’s page for Banned Book Week, here is a list of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2015: (links go to GoodReads, for more information about the book itself; go the the OIF page for specifics of the challenges for each title)

  1. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
  3. I Am Jazz by  Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  6. The Holy Bible (there are many different versions of this book; this is just one example)
  7. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
  8. Habibi by Craig Thompson
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by  Jeanette Winter
  10. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan


Thinking through your own strategies for responding to challenges, or in thinking about material that might be challenged, can be difficult. Know that there are resources available to help you as you write your library’s policy, and in handling challenges and collection development complexities. The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom is available to help you with challenges. CMLE is available to help you with policy creation and strategies for working through your ideas for challenges and effective collection development.