The library must have a material selection policy, and it must be in writing. The material selection policy should apply to all library materials, from books to videos to electronic sources, including the Internet, whatever media the library uses to deliver information. It should reflect the library's philosophy of service to the community.
If a library is faced with a formal request for reconsideration, the written material selection policy will give the governing body a local statement on which to rely in its response to the request. Obviously, book reviews and other outside sources are helpful in defending the material, but a formally adopted material selection policy provides an excellent defense because it was created with input from local residents, i.e. the governing body.
The governing body of the library must adopt the material selection policy in a formal meeting that is posted to allow the public to attend and comment.
The library's material selection policy must include a standard written form for the patron to complete, usually called "Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials."
The library staff and governing body must be aware of the contents of the material selection policy. If there is a request for reconsideration of library materials, all must speak with one voice. A basic understanding of the library's selection policy will help ensure this unity.
All staff members involved in selecting materials should understand the policy and follow its guidelines when making collection development decisions, so there will be less chance of "internal censorship" on the part of the library staff.
Elements of a Materials Selection Policy
Goals of the library (mission statement, philosophy of access to materials)
Purpose of the Material Selection Policy
Library's service area, including projected growth
Types of people in the community
Educational background of the community
Special factors which might influence the selection of materials
Intellectual freedom statements
Library Bill of Rights
Free Access to Libraries
Statement on Labeling
Freedom to Read Statement
First Amendment to the Constitution
Library's role in cooperation, e.g., coordinated buying agreements, interlibrary loan
Organization of the selection process
Qualifications of selectors
Authority for selection decisions (ultimate and delegated)
Legal responsibility for selection
Some possible selection criteria
Present and potential relevance to community needs
Relevance of subject, format, and reading level for the intended audience
Importance as a document of the times
Literary and artistic merit
Accuracy of content
Appropriateness and effectiveness of medium to content
Format is appropriate to library use and is not easily damaged
Reputation and/or significance of author, publisher or producer
Author or producer is already represented in the collection
Author or illustrator is local
Positive reviews by critics, staff members and/or professional journals
Coverage in local or popular media
Popularity with library patrons
Continuation of a series
Balances existing materials in the collection
Enhances a specific collection in the library
Insufficient materials available on the subject
Not available from other lending sources
Within limits of budget for materials
Winners of recognized awards
Formats (types of materials to be included in the collection)
Print: Books, newspapers, periodicals, paperbacks, vertical file, government documents, maps
Non-Print: films/filmstrips, videocassettes, records, cassettes, compact disks, microforms, art prints, educational games and toys, realia
Electronic: CD-ROM programs and databases, computer software, on-line services, Internet, other wide area networks
Limits of the collection (areas in which the library will not be purchasing)
Gift and memorial policy
Personal property and money
Preservation policy, including binding, microfilming, restoration, housing, and storage
Replacement and duplicates policies
Withdrawing and discarding policies
Requests for reconsideration of materials
Procedure for handling requests
Reconsideration of materials form
Reevaluation of the materials selection policy
Approval by governing body
General Elements of a Policy
Some libraries have a specific Intellectual Freedom Policy; others have intellectual freedom issues addressed within other policies. Whichever way you go, your policies should include the following elements:
The library should reaffirm the mission statement, the Library Bill of Rights, and the Freedom to Read Statement. Together, these documents attest that the library's materials and services will not be denied based on any factor that could be prejudicial.
The library should make a commitment to strict confidentiality of information for all patrons and staff members in all library operations including registration information, circulation records, overdue notices, and notification of reserved materials.
The library should clearly designate who is responsible for the use of meeting space, display space, and bulletin boards. The principles of intellectual freedom should be affirmed in all cases, whether it is the library or some outside entity making use of any of these facilities.
Rights of Children
The library should affirm the rights of children to enjoy all the benefits of intellectual freedom that adults enjoy, including freedom of access to information and confidentiality.
Special Note: The Internet
While the principles of intellectual freedom should not change in regard to information in any format, a special mention may be necessary if the library offers Internet access. Library policy should include a disclaimer that the library is not responsible for material found on the Internet or World Wide Web, the policy on the use of the Internet by minors, and possibly a statement defining "acceptable use." Governing all this should be the principle that the library does not exist to limit access to information. Policies should affirm the ways in which the Internet is meant to augment the information available at the library.