Throughout 2021, various concerted efforts have been made nationwide to challenge and even censor library collections. Indiana libraries have not been exempt from these attempts. Some Indiana school board meetings have taken an unexpected turn from discussing operational and COVID protocols to attempts to gut school library collections related to hot-button topics like race or gender issues. Additionally, there was even an unsuccessful attempt at legislation that could have punished individual school and public library staff for distributing “harmful material” to minors.
Challenges to library materials have been around for as long as library collections have been around. Even in the late 19th and early 20th century, as most of Indiana public libraries were being formed, some protested fiction in public library collections, as novels were believed to be distracting and frivolous. More recently, attempts have been made to ban several books commonly regarded as classics, and even The Holy Bible made the list of top 10 challenged titles in 2015.
What is troubling about these efforts is that they go against the principles of libraries and librarianship, which is to provide free and open access to information, without judgment. One of the tenets of librarianship is the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which affirms:
…that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.
- Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background or views of those contributing to their creation.
- Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
- Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
- Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
- A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background or views.
- Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.
- All people, regardless of origin, age, background or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. Libraries should advocate for, educate about and protect people’s privacy, safeguarding all library use data, including personally identifiable information.
The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom provides nationwide support, consulting and training for libraries facing collection challenges and works to track trends in challenges, geographically or title and topic-wise.
Public and school libraries are required by the Indiana Code and Indiana Administrative Code to have collection development or materials selection policies. Like other library policies, these policies are authored and enforced at the local level. Policies should include the rationale behind materials selection, in an effort to collect materials appropriate for the library’s own community, while being impartial and representative of all viewpoints.
Patrons or parents concerned with materials in their library’s collection are able to challenge materials. A library’s collection development policy should guide the process for challenges, reconsideration or withdrawal. Some libraries provide patrons with a paper or web form that can be completed and turned in to library staff. Others require the challenge be brought to the library or school board. While the public is welcome to challenge materials, withdrawal is rare, as it is likely the item was initially purchased in alignment with the library board’s policy. In some cases (e.g., for a children’s book including sensitive or mature topics) access may be restricted instead.
The Indiana State Library provides support and guidance to library staff in developing or revising their collection development policies and responding to challenges. Additionally, the Indiana Library Federation’s Legislative Advocacy and Intellectual Freedom Committees have been leaders in helping Indiana libraries face this year’s challenges. Hoosier librarians will continue to ensure there is something for everyone on Indiana library shelves.
This post was written by Jen Clifton, Library Development Office.