Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that someone finds objectionable or dangerous. Libraries seek to protect the First Amendment right of everyone in their communities to find materials they want to read. When a concerned member of the community has an issue with library materials, this is called a materials challenge. Each library system has their own policy, set by the Administrative Board of Trustees, to address these challenges. In Mississippi, the management and control of a public library is vested in the Administrative Board of Trustees, who are responsible for their own bylaws, rules and regulations (MS Code §39-3-15, §39-3-17).
What’s a Materials Challenge?
A material challenge is when a patron requests that a book, movie, or other material be removed from a library’s collection due to its content. If you are a Mississippi librarian or teacher facing a challenge, or a question has been raised about a book and you think a complaint or challenge might follow, contact our Information Desk at 601.432.4492 or firstname.lastname@example.org. One of our librarians will compile and send information about specific titles, such as the following:
- Professional reviews
- Awards and distinctions the book has received
- Articles about the book or relating to the nature of the complaint, including author, genre, audience, or content
Tips for Dealing with Materials Challenges
- Make sure your Collection Development Policy is up to date and includes a Request for Reconsideration form.
- Train your staff on each step of the process, including handling informal complaints. From ALA’s Challenge Support resources:
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.
- Follow your library’s reconsideration policy exactly each time. The review process must be transparent and objective.
- Test your policy and procedure for any updates that need to be made.
To assist with questions or concerns about your collection, ALA’s “Diverse Collections: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” has pertinent talking points, including the following:
A diverse collection should contain content by and about a wide array of people and cultures to authentically reflect a variety of ideas, information, stories, and experiences.
Library workers have an obligation to select, maintain, and support access to content on subjects by diverse authors and creators that meets—as closely as possible—the needs, interests, and abilities of all the people the library serves. This means acquiring materials to address popular demand and direct community input, as well as addressing collection gaps and unexpressed information needs. Library workers have a professional and ethical responsibility to be proactively inclusive in collection development and in the provision of interlibrary loan where offered.
Best practices in collection development assert that materials should not be excluded from a collection solely because the content or its creator may be considered offensive or controversial.
Since many challenges are to children’s and young adult materials, ALA’s “How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources” has this advice:
If the individual is concerned about a children’s or young adult resource, explain that parents and guardians play a major role in guiding their child’s reading and library use. Often a person’s concern about a children’s or young adult book involves a desire to “protect all children” by removing that item from the collection or restricting access to it. Explain that each family has the right to determine which library resources are acceptable for its children and must accord the same right to other parents.
General Information about Materials Challenges
- ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom
- ALA’s The Freedom to Read Statement
- Challenges to Library Materials
- Support for Dealing with Challenges (including Sample Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials)
- ALA’s Banned and Challenged Books
- Official Banned Books Week site
Mississippi Challenged Books Index
The Mississippi Challenged Books Index collects data about challenges to library materials in Mississippi. This information will be displayed for other libraries to view and collected into annual reports. Mississippi libraries can report this information to the Mississippi Challenged Books Index on a voluntary basis.
MCBI provides information and resources to libraries dealing with challenges. Past library challenges are posted for public use on the MCBI site, including how the library dealt with the challenge.
For more information, contact Alex Brower.
Have you had a material challenge in your library? Fill out the Material Challenge Report.
|Title||Author||Institution Type||Reason for Challenge||Status||Year|
|Go Ask Alice||Anonymous||Public school||Profane and sexually objectionable||Challenged||1984|
|Cujo||Stephen King||Public school||Profane and sexually objectionable||Challenged||1984|
|I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings||Maya Angelou||Public school||Too sexually explicit to be read by children||Temporarily banned, returned to circulation||1993|
|To Kill a Mockingbird||Harper Lee||Public school||Contains a racial epithet||Challenged||1996|
|Fallen Angels||Walter Dean Myers||Public school||Profanity||Banned||2002|
|America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction||Jon Stewart et al||Public library||Contained an image of Supreme Court judges' faces superimposed on naked bodies||Returned to circulation||2004|
|Will Grayson, Will Grayson||John Green and David Levithan||Public library||LGBT themes||Challenged||2017|
|Outside Over There||Maurice Sendak||Public library||Disturbing imagery||Challenged||2017|
|Her Body and Other Parties: Stories||Carmen Maria Machado||Public library||"Raunchy"||Challenged||2018|