The California Department of Education recommends that each district have literature selection policies that are approved by the local governing board. Such policies should address both school library collections and literature that is used in the classroom, and these policies should be used in conjunction with Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve.
Careful and considered selection of literature and nonfiction for school libraries and classrooms should be made according to established policies and procedures. (See “Resources” for more information.) Many organizations offer sample selection policies, and whole courses on the selection of school library materials are taught to teacher librarians. Classroom teachers, teacher librarians, and administrators should anticipate that good literature and nonfiction, which is often based on real-life issues, will draw requests to reconsider the use of a book. In fact, any piece of literature or nonfiction is potentially objectionable to someone for some reason. Therefore, ideal selection policies that are designed by the district establish procedures for reconsidering the use of a particular title and reflect the school’s philosophy of education and the curriculum, community values, and students’ ages.
School library selection policies, which are approved by the local governing board, are usually based upon the principles of the “Library Bill of Rights.” It is critical to determine whether the library selection policy applies to literature and nonfiction taught in the classroom as well, or if curriculum requires its own policy. Most selection policies cover six basic elements:
- Criteria for selection
- Selection aids (such as professional reviews, first-hand evaluations, recommended lists,
and so on)
- Donated materials
- Exactly who is responsible for the selection of materials
- Procedures for reconsideration of materials
Whether the district’s literature and nonfiction selection policy is developed by a local committee or is adapted from another source, addressing the following checklist will assist in the selection and confident use of quality literature and nonfiction in the classroom and library:
- Does the district have a written instructional materials selection policy? Has it been formally adopted by the local governing board? Is it reviewed annually and revised periodically? Does it specifically address literature and nonfiction that is taught in the classroom, or does it pertain only to literature and nonfiction in the school’s library?
- Does the policy include written procedures for handling complaints? Is the policy reviewed each year by principals, teachers, teacher librarians, and classified library employees?
- Does the policy include guidelines for the use of materials other than those purchased by the district (such as materials donated by parents, teachers, or students)?
- Is there an established procedure to inform parents of the literature and nonfiction that will be taught during the school year? Is the right of students to use an alternative assignment addressed? (The right to not read a selected text does not mean one can prevent others from reading that text.)
- Is it standard district procedure for teachers or teacher librarians to read a book before using it with a class or a small group?
- Do teachers or teacher librarians prepare a brief rationale justifying the use of any literary or nonfiction work in class? The rationale should answer four questions:
- Why use this work with this class at this time?
- Will this work meet instructional objectives?
- If problems of style, texture, tone, or theme arise for students who are reading this work, how will those problems be addressed?
- If the instructional objectives are met, how will students benefit from having read and discussed this work?
- If a book is challenged, does the person who raises the issue have an opportunity to talk with the teacher or teacher librarian informally before any further steps are taken?
- Does the district have a committee dedicated to dealing with requests for reconsideration? This committee should be representative of the community and educated about intellectual freedom issues in advance of any challenges.
- Do district personnel communicate with civic, religious, educational, and political community groups?
- How do district personnel keep informed of current legal issues that affect the selection and use of instructional materials?
- Are selection tools available that assist teacher librarians and classroom teachers to choose quality titles?
American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom
- Online Workbook
The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association provides an online workbook to assist with the writing of a selection policy. They recommend every school system should have a comprehensive policy on the selection of instructional materials. It should relate to and include all materials; for example, textbooks, library books and materials, and all supplementary resources.
California Department of Education
- Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content (DOC)
This document is based on California law as well as policies established by the State Board of Education regarding matters of social importance, such as male and female roles, older people and the aging process, people with disabilities, and religion. The standards also address other sensitive issues, including brand names and corporate logos, and provide for exceptions (classical and contemporary literature, music, art, stories, articles, and the presentation of historical perspectives, for example).
Instructional Resource Policies and Examples
- California School Boards Association
For a fee, the California School Boards Association offers sample district selection policies
- Chicago Public Schools
New Collection Development Policy for School Libraries (PDF)
National Council of Teachers of English
- Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs
This document offers criteria for selecting educational materials in light of potential censorship problems and outlines specific strategies for classroom teachers who are faced with censorship issues.
- Guidelines for Dealing with Censorship of Nonprint and Multimedia Resources
This document offers principles and practices to guide teachers and administrators in the use of nonprint media (such as television, music video, film, and software) and outlines how teachers can resist censorship of these materials.
- The Students’ Right to Read
This pamphlet offers guidance on how to set up an orderly process for reviewing challenged instructional materials at the school or district level.