By: Jacqui Higgins-Dailey
I became a collection development librarian about two years ago. Before that, I assumed that most of the challenged books in public libraries fell into the familiar categories we see in the “frequently banned and challenged” lists that are featured during Banned Books Week: Harry Potter; Go Ask Alice; Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
I was wrong. The requests I’ve received are not well-known titles, but they are for pretty standard reasons – religious or (perceived) sexual content.
Phoenix Public Library gets very few requests for reconsideration each year but most of them are for children’s materials, which is not a surprise. Parents are concerned about the materials that their children consume, as they should be – but oftentimes this results in their desire to remove materials for all children.
As it happens, there was a request for reconsideration waiting for me to research on my first day of work in the collection development department. The title was Dinosaurs for Kids by Ken Ham. The request came from a parent concerned about being misled by the book’s title. The book was shelved in 567.9 (dinosaurs) but the information within the book was a biblical interpretation of the timeline of when dinosaurs walked the earth. The parent was concerned that it was shelved with the other books about dinosaurs from a scientific perspective and requested that the library remove the book or shelve in a religious section.
This was a tricky question because it is imperative, as public librarians, we offer materials for people who ascribe to a variety of different belief systems. But, the title in question did not fit with the standard scientific theories on when dinosaurs walked the earth, claimed that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth together, and that dinosaurs were created on Day 6, when God created animals.
So, I did what librarians do best – I researched. I read the entire book and confirmed it was a religious interpretation of dinosaurs from a biblical perspective. I noted that it specifically gave tips on how to refute scientific theories on evolution. Then, I looked at where this item was shelved in other libraries, using WorldCat to find other systems in AZ that had this title, and found that they were shelved in the religious section – either 231.7 (divine law and miracles) or 220.859 (biblical animals).
With this information, I consulted with our collection manager and we both determined it would make the most sense to shelve the title in 220.859. I crafted a letter to share our determination with the customer who made the request.
In my time in the role of children & teen collection development librarian, we have not removed any materials from the library. As librarians, we know removing offending materials isn’t a feasible solution and usually explaining our selection policies and reasons we will retain the book is enough to satisfy our customers. This has been the case, so far, with all of the titles that have come across my desk with requests for removal. Every title has come as a surprise to me – whether the reason for request has been a surprise – or the information found within the material. I look forward to sharing the other titles and my personal pointers and tips for how to deal with these types of requests.
How do you approach requests for reconsideration? How often do people challenge titles that you have selected? Does your library have a policy and procedure to address requests for reconsideration?
Jacqui Higgins-Dailey has been a public librarian for 10 years and has been an adjunct faculty librarian for the last two. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and a masters in library science. She currently selects the children and teen materials as a collection development librarian for Phoenix Public Library. She loves to read, write, figure skate and travel.