Just Books?

Challenge Reporting, General Interest

by Jamie LaRue
ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom is well known for its Banned Books Week, and its Top Ten lists. I’m still the new guy, but I wonder: how come we’re only talking about books?

When I was a public library director I got challenges about movies, music, art pieces, and programs. Surely others, do, too.
We’ve put out a call for challenge reporting before, but this call is just to see if we’re missing whole categories of challenges. As you think back over the past year, did you have any challenges to:

– DVDsJust Books?
– CDs
– Streaming content (audio or video)
– Magazines or magazine advertisements
– Programs (speakers, topics)
– Art
– Websites (access to social media, for instance)
– Other digital services (library Facebook postings or tweets)
– Service (outreach to a particular group, say)
– Other?

You don’t need to post the specific challenge if you don’t want to, but I’d be keenly interested in hearing about the kind of material or service that was challenged.

My real question: what percentage of challenges are just about books?


Jamie LaRue is the director for ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.  Connect with him @jaslar on Twitter.


  • I’m heartened by your commitment to the full-range of challenged materials. Of course, school librarians debate how to handle the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

  • Both are good ones. Yes, I’ve heard of displays being challenged – even Banned Books Week displays!

  • I worked in the Mail-a-Book department of our system and we would send out paper copies of catalogs of what we had. We serviced rural areas, areas that didn’t have libraries and homebound. So it was people who may not have access or didn’t want to access the internet to look at what we had. Well, we had a catalog devoted to DVD’s and one of the largest challenges we faced was the person in charge of the department didn’t put the rating of the movie in the description. The policy was just the description and and put in partial nudity or graphic violence or whatever. We had a lot people wanting the rating put in the catalog.

  • I’ve personally had 3 people ask/challenge a title – a film, a cd and a book. These instances all occurred quite a long time ago. The film was Antonia’s Line, a Dutch film which won the Oscar for Best Foreign film in 1995. A patron strenously objected to it, calling it pornographic due to the sex in it, and wanted me to remove it from the shelf. She wasn’t happy with the explanation that many foreign films cover subject matter such as sex and violence in a way that American films do not. For the cd, a parent asked why we let his daughter check out a Prince tape. It turned out she was in 7th grade, and at that time, we allowed middle schoolers to check out adult av. After some discussion, the parent said it would probably be best if he were with her when she checked out materials. Our policy is now changed so anyone can check out anything.

  • DVD “The Killer Inside Me” was challenged via a phone call (patron did not fill out a Request for Reconsideration form), and we were asked to remove it from the collection.

  • A persistent confusion in the public mind is the false notion that movie “ratings” have the force of law. They do not. Rather, they are voluntary judgments made by private parties, and are suggested guidelines only. Nor are they judgments about artistic merit. For more information, see here: http://filmratings.com/.

    ALA has opposed labeling (see http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/labelingrating). But I know many librarians who do provide the information, both bibliographically and on the item itself, arguing that it is simply one more bit of information, like a blurb. But as the labeling interpretation notes, “Labeling *as an attempt to prejudice attitudes* is a censor’s tool.” And indeed, they are often used for precisely that purpose.

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