Guidelines for Coping with Questions and Challenges
Despite your policies, procedures, and preparations the public still may pose questions and challenges. The following suggestions and strategies may help you to defuse those situations.
- If you’ve not yet done so, have the person or group posing the challenge submit a request for reconsideration form.
- Be calm, courteous and professional. Every question deserves an informed response.
- Move discussions out of the public service area. Refer all complaints to the most appropriate staff member.
- Respect the sincerity of the patron’s concerns. Listen attentively. Remain silent rather than be argumentative.
- Make sure you understand the exact nature of the complaint. Restate concerns to the patron to achieve absolute clarity.
- Deal with each item separately. Keep the discussion focused on specifics of language, content, genre, accessibility, etc.
- Explain the collection development, materials selection and reconsideration policies.
- Provide a reconsideration form and describe the procedure and time frame for dealing with complaints.
- Try to determine if the patron is acting independently or is an agent of an organized local or national campaign.
- Keep a detailed written record of the incident.
- Contact the director /administrator/board of trustees as soon as possible.
- Alert the staff.
- Designate one, and only one, library spokesperson to inform, respond to and update local media and elected officials. Refer all calls and visitors to that person. The spokesperson must return all calls.
- When speaking to the media, be concise. Present the facts – describe the nature of the complaint and summarize the materials selection policy – and what action will be taken.
- Ask for help from colleagues, community organizations, allies, Friends, etc. Encourage them to organize a highly visible and vocal anti-censorship, prolibrary campaign. Acknowledge their help and thank them when it’s over.
After the Challenge Comes
Take the time to figure out what happened, what follow up steps to take, and what may be needed to help in future challenges.
- Review what happened, the actions taken, the interactions and the timeline. Get input from those involved.
- Communicate what happened to library staff, volunteers, and members of the library’s governing body, such as trustees. Use this as an opportunity to educate everyone about intellectual freedom and libraries.
- Thank any individuals or organizations that provided assistance.
- If the media became involved, communicate what happened to them. Emphasize the library’s mission and its role in supporting intellectual freedom.
- Write to the individuals and/or organizations that posed the question or challenge. Thank them for their concern and explain the basis for the outcome.
- Evaluate what happened and formulate a plan to reinforce skills and knowledge to deal with future challenges. Provide educational materials and workshops for anyone involved in formulating policies or providing library services: staff, volunteers, friends, trustees, and administrators.
- Promote activities that inform and educate the public regarding libraries and intellectual freedom: Banned Books Week, National Library Week, and Bill of Rights Day.
- Support local, state and national organizations that share the library’s concerns regarding intellectual freedom.
- Submit a Report a Request for Reconsideration form to the KPLA database to share your experience with others.