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TL v61n1: Selection Policy in a School Library Media Center
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 61 Number 1



Selection Policy in a School Library Media Center


Michelle Renee Andis 

Candidate for Master of Library and Information Science
San Jose State University


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A school library can serve as the initial contact many children have with a library system. Therefore, it stands to reason that this type of library environment should follow similar, if not the same, standards that most libraries follow. Collection development can take on many roles and guises in a library, but development can be especially convoluted in a school’s library media center (LMC). Just like in any library, a LMC should have a collection development policy and the policy generally should contain specific criteria that the employees of the library need to follow fairly closely, or more importantly the library media teacher (LMT) should administer. It should be noted that most all collection development policies in school libraries are created by the school district, governing board, or more specifically the school board and directors. According to Shirley (2006), school libraries support the philosophy, goals, and objectives of school districts. However, collection development can be difficult in a school environment when there are so many extenuating factors in relation to a district’s mission. Real issues come into play when LMTs have their own agendas regarding two specific collection development areas--selection and challenges regarding selection. Research shows that with a well-planned selection policy challenges can be minimized and collection impact maximized. This paper aims to pinpoint the most widely accepted selection method at the secondary level for LMCs while addressing why some LMCs do not utilize selection criteria, and understand how intellectual freedom can be maintained in a LMC.

In order to provide the best possible services to the patrons of a school library, the criteria set forth in a collection development plan must be relevant to the classroom curriculum, provide ample access to informational and recreational resources, and provide resources for various abilities and interests. Each school within a district can be different in terms of the needs of a particular student population, thus affecting selection. Difficult decisions arise when debating quality literature selection over popular books, and it will continue to be debated by LMTs. While quality over popularity may always be debated, clear and specific selection criteria can serve as excellent indicators. Selection methods and criteria in LMCs can be difficult to establish as well as implement. It is typically a LMT’s responsibility to support the district and school’s curriculum. The final selection, in many instances, comes down to the choice of the LMT, although selection committees drawn from the school district as well as individual school locations also play a part. However, there are cases of pre-censorship by LMTs, which is highly suspect and unprofessional. Selection responsibility becomes increasingly difficult when working with teachers across various subject matter disciplines while trying to maintain a very limited budget. However, if LMTs remain constant and true to curriculum relevancy, as opposed to basing choices on teacher preference(s), then this should provide some initial and professionally focused guidance.

Difficulties continue to arise when delving deeper into selection. Genco et al (1991) have noted that students are generally, “uninformed and inexperienced readers.” From this assertion, LMTs have typically found that students gravitate toward what they are familiar with and do not branch out. However, Jacobs and Tunnell (1996) have stated that adults will determine the literary merit on criteria that has little relation to a student’s life. In examining books that typically receive awards, it can be noted that within the pages of many award-winning books there will be few instances of vulgar language and alternative issues addressed, yet for a few other awards alternative issues may be central to the criteria for award selection, and thus one may discount items a student may have chosen to read.

In some cases, such as in some school districts in California, LMCs are typically not funded from the general fund by the state, and therefore, LMTs must be resourceful as well as creative when purchasing and making selections. However, a policy can greatly help an issue of this magnitude when funds become available, thus leaving the creativity to the genre chosen. Furthermore, the ALA (Workbook, 1998) has stated the reason should be obvious regarding “why a policy should exist: haphazard patterns of acquisition will result in waste because some—perhaps many—materials will overlap in content, or will be unrelated to changing patterns of instruction.” The criteria for selection can include a variety of factors. For instance, the University of Illinois Laboratory High School (2006) has noted:

Materials shall be chosen to enrich and support the curriculum and the educational, emotional, and recreational needs of the users. Materials shall meet high standards of quality in: physical format, treatment of subject, accuracy and currency of information, arrangement and organization, and literary style. Materials shall be appropriate for the subject area and for the age, emotional development, ability level, learning styles, and social development of University Laboratory High School students. Materials shall represent differing viewpoints of controversial issues so that users may be motivated to engage in critical analysis of such issues, to explore their own beliefs, attitudes, and behavior, and to make intelligent judgments in their everyday lives.

Many LMCs that have established highly successful and precise selection criteria have fewer incidents of challenges and issues in providing high quality literature as well as popular fiction. Trafalgar Castle School (2002) has adopted some specific criteria similar in nature to other schools:

• Authoritativeness (background and reputation of the author, publisher)
• Accuracy   
• Impartiality
• Currency of data
• Scope / depth of coverage
• Appropriateness (to end user, format)
• Relevance
• Interest
• Organization / Style / Aesthetics
• Physical characteristics (Will it stand up to circulation?)
• Special features
• Library potential (Demand / Relation to collection development strategies)
• Cost / Cost-effectiveness
• Instructional objectives & criteria

Regarding selection policy, Shirley (2006) concludes that, “the importance of free access to the widest possible resources, conveying the greatest amount of human ideas and experience, is important in order to meet the information needs of every student.” Yet, if a LMC does not have a selection policy then the criteria has not been established and the LMT will select at will.

It is important to note that while criteria should be outlined within a policy, tools are not always set forth by the school district, which may assume that these were taught in LMT certification courses. Selection tools also vary by school and this is primarily due to preference on the part of an LMT.  Some LMTs use vendor catalogs as selection aids; however, the selection process should be more professionally based, distinct and precise. Thus, it should follow criteria set forth by the district’s governing body. LMTs, according to Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia (2006), should “utilize particular selection aids in order to assure quality collection materials. Schools should utilize standard bibliographic tools, current lists prepared by professional organizations, special bibliographies for reference books and particular subject lists, reviews in journals, materials exhibits, and examination.” Standard bibliographic tools and lists prepared by professional organizations provide excellent insight for LMTs selecting appropriate materials for their patrons, teachers and overall curriculum.

School populations are perpetually in flux and thus a school’s demographics vary year after year. The right to read and have intellectual freedom should be a mission of all librarians. A LMC can negatively impact any particular student population if they are not being mindful of the changing demographics on campus. Protecting intellectual freedom should be on the top of any librarian’s priority list, but it can be a difficult field to maneuver as a LMT. Shirley (2006) has outlined several responses to intellectual freedom issues that include proactive policies, confidentiality law, the Library Bill of Rights, the Internet, staff development, and handling complaints. However, the Internet and confidentiality law are outside the scope of this paper.

Proactive policies can help to circumvent the issues surrounding intellectual freedom, and more specifically to handle challenges. Proactive policies can eliminate issues like censorship when inclusive of items such as the Library Bill of Rights. A written policy can establish the necessary criteria to select appropriate items as well as guard against the de-selection of items others believe to be questionable. Shirley (2006) has pinpointed several research studies focusing on this area such as those by Fiske, Woodworth, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Bracy, Jenkinson, Hopkins, and Folke. Each of these studies stresses the importance of including the Library Bill of Rights within the collection development policy. Staff development should include proactive measures in order to prevent pre-censorship and personal biases.
According to the Dianne McAfee Hopkins  (n.d.), writing for the ALA website, challenges of particular materials selected and circulated in a LMC generally -- in terms of percentages -- come from parents/guardians of students, and the challenges are typically directed toward fiction books. There are many instances in which the recreational readings of secondary-level students are challenged by parents. LMTs must follow challenge procedures in order to properly and professionally address issues as they arise. Also according to Hopkins (n.d), challenges are generally centered around sexuality, profanity, morality, and obscenity. LMTs must be discerning and understanding in their positions. Plus, they must remain focused on what their collection offers the faculty, staff, and most importantly students on any particular campus. LMC collections must be varied in nature and address differing needs and wants. The bottom line is that challenges can be lessened by having a clear selection policy coupled with a written challenge process. However, there need to be library committees in place, at the school level and district level, to establish selection procedures as well as address challenge issues. Ideally, the district would collectively create a selection policy and the school, as well as the district, would have challenge committees to address needs as they escalate.

As challenges arise they should be handled via a step-by-step process. All challenges should start with the LMT. First, a verbal challenge is generally expressed by a parent to the LMT.  In some instances the challenge is easily resolved at the LMT level by merely easing a parent or guardian’s objections, but in some cases there are instances of blocking further usage of the material from a particular student by the request of a parent. However, in any case after the initial verbal complaint has been lodged with the LMT, the challenge needs to be formally written up by the challenger. The LMT should notify the principal of the challenge, regardless of the outcome. If at this point the challenger is not satisfied after a meeting with the LMT, then the second step in the process is to submit the written challenge form to the principal of the school. Most policies denote all challenge items will be responded to within five (5) working days of receipt. After the challenge form has been completed by the challenger then the LMT submits a “response to the challenge” in writing to the principal. According to Kravitz (2002), the LMT should at this point “connect with the intellectual freedom support groups in the community. Also, connect with state and national intellectual freedom organizations such as the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.” Upon receipt of the challenge form, a principal would then call together the school-based committee within five (5) working days in order to review the challenged material. As a sidebar, the principal also notifies the central office of the challenge at this stage in the process. Most committees are comprised of the LMT, principal, two parents, two students and two classroom teachers. The challenger can be present at the committee meetings. The school-level committee typically reads and/or views the challenged resource, checks if any other challenges have occurred inside as well as outside the school district, discusses curriculum relevance of resource, reviews written statements of challenger and LMT, and ultimately completes a committee-level form that includes a written decision to the challenger. The committee level process generally is defined and completed in fifteen (15) working days in most school systems. At this time, if the challenger receives an unsatisfactory response the principal will forward the process to the district committee.
Many challenges can be circumvented, and even eliminated, if LMCs and LMTs follow some general guidelines. For instance, since LMCs are generally in place to support teachers, students and the overall curriculum, it stands to reason that this should always be a top priority when selecting materials for the LMC. The Stillwater Area School System in Minnesota has a very detailed selection and challenge policy in order to be proactive in these highly scrutinized duties. When selecting and deselecting, due to an outside request or internal need, the resources should follow specific criteria.  According to Stillwater school district’s policy level R 1.12 (2003) the resources will:

1. Be consistent with district mission and core values
2. Be quality materials, appropriate for instruction and curriculum
3. Be age, social development and maturity appropriate
4. Be judged in total rather than in part
5. Promote tolerance, respect and understanding
6. Reflect the history, culture and contribution of society members
7. Represent diverse views and expression to promote learning, critical thinking and objective evaluation
8. Be used in a manner that enables students to recognize potential bias
9. Provide a background of information designed to motivate students to:
     a. Examine their own attitudes and behaviors
     b. Comprehend their duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges in a democratic society

Since the presence or lack of a selection policy can drive challenges, and challenges can drive some selection, it is logical to intertwine selection and challenge policies. By thoroughly understanding and being able to communicate how the LMC resources will aid the overall mission of a school system, LMTs can lessen the issues encountered with materials. Selection and retention policies will help to alleviate the amount of challenges lodged, as well as alleviate the challenge process issues that could arise without specific policies being in place and followed.

Overall, LMCs must have a clear and precise selection policy that addresses all needs of a school campus and the patrons it serves. When this type of policy does not exist, a whole host of issues can and typically do arise. Several studies have shown the increased benefits of implementing an ALA-endorsed selection policy. However, it is important that a district-level committee creates said policy and follows up on the implementation of the policy. Libraries that do not have a clear policy, or any policy at all, have shown increased deficiencies in materials as well as challenges to materials. With a clear policy, challenges to intellectual freedom are more easily handled with a step-by-step process. School districts that appoint selection committees invest time and energy to develop selection policies help to create positive library selection environments that ultimately benefit students, teachers, and the community.


Genco, B.A., MacDonald, E.K. and Hearne,B. (1991). Juggling popularity and quality. School Library Journal 37(3), March, pp 115 - 119.

Hopkins, D. M. (n.d.). School library media centers and intellectual freedom. American Library Association. Retrieved from

Jacobs, J. and Tunnell, M. (1996). What is a good book? In Children's literature, briefly. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Kravitz, N. (2002). Censorship and the school library media center. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Office of Media Services. (2004). Library media center handbook. Norfolk Public Schools. Retrieved from

Shirley, L.J. (2006). Intellectual freedom in school libraries. Louisiana Library Association. Retrieved from

Stillwater Area Schools. (2003). Selection and review of instructional resources. Retrieved from

Trafalgar Castle School Resource Center. (2002). Collection development policy. SLiP (School Library Information Portal). Retrieved from

University Laboratory High School Library. (2006). Collection Development Policy. University of Illinois. Retrieved from

Workbook for selection policy writing. (1998). American Library Association. Retrieved March 9, 2011, from


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