Facing Angry Parents? Keep Cool when Adults Demand Book Removal | Scales on Censorship

How to handle confrontational parents; a principal's reprimand; supporting LGBTQIA+–themed books; and more advice on challenges and censorship.


I’m a first-year librarian in a school serving grades 5–12. The entire library collection has been available to all students. When a parent complained that her fifth grader checked out a YA graphic novel, the elementary principal ordered me to restrict fifth and sixth graders from borrowing YA books. I sent the principal information on the Library Bill of Rights and explained my professional stance. He responded with a reprimand. What should I do?
You did the right thing. Also, post the Library Bill of Rights in the library, and review the document as part of library orientation next school year. In the meantime, if students ask why they can’t borrow YA books, politely let them know that it wasn’t your decision. I wonder what the principal would say to a parent who complains ­because their child needs a title from the restricted ­section? Which parent has the greater voice? Unfortunately, many school administrators don’t listen to parents who are “for” something; they tend to bow to those who are “against.”

Consider discussing the matter with the superintendent. Don’t say negative things about the principal, but present the question: How do we meet the broad recreational and informational needs of students if we restrict certain materials? The superintendent may be surprised to learn that the principal issued this order.

That said, I would begin talking informally with open-minded parents about the dilemma and let them know that restricting students to certain library areas isn’t in the best interest of their children’s educational growth. This way, you build a coalition to support you and the practices you’ve put in place. It may not help this school year, but next year is a new beginning.


A parent came into my high school library and presented me with a list of books she wanted out of the library. She printed the list from the internet. I was so unnerved that I took the list and said I would look it over. Now I regret my response.
It’s sometimes difficult to think clearly when an angry parent appears with such a request. In the future, respond that you are aware of this list of titles floating around the internet, but books aren’t removed from the library without due process. Give the parent a copy of the school district materials reconsideration policy and tell them that they can file a formal challenge. Parents need to know that an individual challenge must be filed for each book they question.

Now may be a good time for your school district to perform an audit of your collection development and reconsideration policy. This should include expanding the statement about controversial materials, evaluating guidelines for submitting a challenge, tweaking the reconsideration form, and reviewing the makeup of the reconsideration committee.


My high school has a Gay/Straight Alliance. We recently met because the students want to donate 20 books with LGBTQIA+ themes to the library. I want to support them, but in the current political environment, I was afraid to commit to this list.
All libraries should have a gift policy. Thank the Gay/Straight Alliance for their support of the library, and let them know that you will access the titles using the selection criteria for purchasing materials. The library may already have some of the books. If so, determine whether multiple copies are needed. Tell the group about the Stonewall Book Awards and suggest holding a meeting to determine which titles are most needed. This assures the students that you support their mission and are eager to work with them.


How do I answer a student who returns a book and says his mother doesn’t want him to read it, and that it shouldn’t be in the library?
Simply say, “Thank you for returning the book. I understand if your mother doesn’t want you to read the book, but parents of other students think it’s OK for them to read it.” That will likely end the conversation.

Pat Scales is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Send questions to pscales@bellsouth.net.

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