Assess your collection

When someone objects to or challenges a library resource you've selected, it's helpful to have a process for handling the situation. Balancing your aim of an inclusive collection against the diverse opinions in your community needs good communications.

What a challenged resource is

Occasionally resources in your library collection, including print and digital content, may be called into question by a member of your school community. A complaint about a specific resource is called a challenge. Challenges to school library resources are serious matters. They can be controversial, personal and, on rare occasions, can polarise people in your community.

The American Library Association's (ALA) definition is, 'A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.'

ALA — Challenge support

Ethical considerations

Librarians aim to give people access to information free from censorship. The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) includes this in their code of ethics.

Librarians and other information workers reject the denial and restriction of access to information and ideas most particularly through censorship whether by states, governments, or religious or civil society institutions.
— IFLA Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers

The ALA Library Bill of Rights explains that the freedom to read is an essential part of democracy.

Freedom to read statement

When you receive a complaint or challenge

You could receive a complaint about any resource in your library collection, but commonly physical resources are challenged. Most complaints are verbal and are often made to a library staff member, teacher or your principal.

  • Guidelines for dealing with a complaint

    Handle all challenges, wherever they come from, in the same way, and in line with any policy and procedures you have.

    The American Library Association (ALA) has extensive advice for dealing with a challenge to a library item.

    • Listen respectfully and avoid giving a personal opinion about the item. If you don't feel able to manage the conversation, refer them to someone in your school who has responsibility for dealing with complaints.
    • Try to find out what the person's concern is and what action they’d like you to take. Don’t make any promises about what action you’ll take, although you could offer to help find a more suitable resource.
    • Describe how library materials are selected.
    • Explain that carers play a major role in guiding their children's reading and libray use. Each family has the right to decide which library materials are acceptable for their children and must accept that other parents have the same right.
    • Keep notes of any conversation you have with them and keep senior library staff or your principal informed.
    • If they want to make a written complaint, give them your library’s complaint form and information about your selection policies. Explain what will happen to the item while it’s the subject of a complaint.

    ALA — Challenge support

  • Guidelines for dealing with a complaint

    Handle all challenges, wherever they come from, in the same way, and in line with any policy and procedures you have.

    The American Library Association (ALA) has extensive advice for dealing with a challenge to a library item.

    • Listen respectfully and avoid giving a personal opinion about the item. If you don't feel able to manage the conversation, refer them to someone in your school who has responsibility for dealing with complaints.
    • Try to find out what the person's concern is and what action they’d like you to take. Don’t make any promises about what action you’ll take, although you could offer to help find a more suitable resource.
    • Describe how library materials are selected.
    • Explain that carers play a major role in guiding their children's reading and libray use. Each family has the right to decide which library materials are acceptable for their children and must accept that other parents have the same right.
    • Keep notes of any conversation you have with them and keep senior library staff or your principal informed.
    • If they want to make a written complaint, give them your library’s complaint form and information about your selection policies. Explain what will happen to the item while it’s the subject of a complaint.

    ALA — Challenge support

  • Formal or written complaints

    Formal complaints are usually in writing. Many libraries have a form that people can fill out. This helps you get accurate information and can include:

    • the person’s name and address
    • the name of the item being challenged
    • the reasons for the challenge, and
    • suggestions of titles that represent their point of view.

    You can adapt our challenged resources form for your school. You can also use this form if you get a complaint about materials that have been weeded or removed from your collection.

    Challenged resources form (docx, 107KB)

    How schools handle written complaints varies, but typically senior library staff, designated teachers or the principal have responsibility for responding to a written complaint. In some cases the complaint may be referred to the Board of Trustees.

  • Formal or written complaints

    Formal complaints are usually in writing. Many libraries have a form that people can fill out. This helps you get accurate information and can include:

    • the person’s name and address
    • the name of the item being challenged
    • the reasons for the challenge, and
    • suggestions of titles that represent their point of view.

    You can adapt our challenged resources form for your school. You can also use this form if you get a complaint about materials that have been weeded or removed from your collection.

    Challenged resources form (docx, 107KB)

    How schools handle written complaints varies, but typically senior library staff, designated teachers or the principal have responsibility for responding to a written complaint. In some cases the complaint may be referred to the Board of Trustees.

  • What happens to the library item after a complaint

    Libraries don't usually remove materials that are being challenged unless the person who has complained can show that the material doesn't fit the library’s collection management policies.

    Let the person know what decision has been made.

  • What happens to the library item after a complaint

    Libraries don't usually remove materials that are being challenged unless the person who has complained can show that the material doesn't fit the library’s collection management policies.

    Let the person know what decision has been made.

  • Documenting your complaints procedures

    Your library guiding documents usually explain how challenges to library materials are handled. Having agreed procedures helps library staff deal confidently and fairly with any users who express concerns. As a result, a complaint is less likely to become controversial.

    The information should include:

    • the steps that make up the complaints procedure
    • who is responsible for handling the complaint at each step
    • what documents you share with someone who complains — for example, your guiding statement or selection criteria.

    Library guiding documents

    Find out more

    Be prepared with a challenged materials policy — a blog by Rebecca Cruz for the Public Library Association

    Challenge support — a guide, developed by the ALA, to handling challenges

    Book censorship in schools: a toolkit — how the community can respond if an item is going to be removed from your collection