Ten Steps to Creating a Selection Policy that Matters

Have you ever gotten a surprise package of books in your library that included a note saying, "For your collection"? At first, you're excited that someone sent you free books, but upon closer examination you begin to question if it would be a good idea to add the donation to the collection at all. Just as you ask your students to examine sources of information they want to include in their research projects, you should be asking questions about donations, especially if they are unsolicited ones.

This year in North Carolina, many middle and high school librarians posted to the school library association listserv questioning a book that appeared to have been sent by the Department of Public Instruction. Upon investigation, it turned out that a former governor had donated a book about his time as governor. Once more was shared about the book, an interesting discussion ensued over whether the book should be added to library collections. Several questions were raised: Would it provide a balanced perspective? Would we need to find other selections to provide balance? Do we have policies in our libraries about gifts and donations and how they are to be handled?

The final question is perhaps the most important: Do we have selection policies that help guide us in our decision-making? If we do, how closely do we follow these policies, and are there gaps, like a lack of a gift or donation policy, that make our lives more difficult? Policies are important because they help us make sure we are providing access to good information for our students. And ,access is a fundamental component of who we are as librarians. The new National Standards for School Librarians includes intellectual freedom as a common belief and a right for every learner:

Learners have the freedom to speak and hear what others have to say, rather than allowing others to control their access to ideas and information; the school librarian's responsibility is to develop these dispositions in learners, educators, and all other members of the learn­ing community (https://standards.aasl.org/beliefs/).

At the core of intellectual freedom is the idea that school libraries and school librarians must provide access to ideas and information for our students. This is why policies matter. Selection policies are essential to providing access.

Almost two years ago, I was asked to join a group of librarians from public, academic, and school libraries to work on updating the American Library Association's Workbook for Selection Policy Writing. The workbook was created in 1998. I think all of us involved were aware of the need for an update. There were two big issues: It reflected a view of libraries that was almost entirely print or text-based, and it was designed as a guide for writing policies for school libraries only. The new Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, and Academic Libraries is now available online at the American Library Association website (http://www.ala.org/tools/challengesupport/selectionpolicytoolkit).

It is a wonderful resource including sample text for each type of library which can be adapted for each library's unique characteristics. So, take this new resource as an opportunity to either update your existing policy or write a new one! Before you begin, you first should determine exactly which materials are being governed by this policy. Is it only for library materials? Or do other instructional materials or even classroom collections fall under its guidelines as well. Here are some areas you should include and some questions you should consider during your policy-writing/revising process.

Does your policy include your library's mission?

You always want to include your mission. It can be used to justify your purchases and your decisions to retain materials in the collection if they are called into question.

Is there a section with a statement or explanation of the purpose of the policy and the school library's role in supporting intellectual freedom?

This is a great section that explains why selection is so important and why intellectual freedom and unfettered access to materials are an essential right of all students. Here is an opportunity to explain the difference between selection and censorship. This is your chance to promote the Library Bill of Rights.

Who is ultimately responsible for the selection of materials for the library?

If you are revising your district's selection policy, you'll want to make sure the section on responsibility clearly states the importance of your role as the professional expert in selection.

What are the procedures, including the use of reviewing sources, that will be followed in selecting materials?

You'll want to review any processes involved in selecting materials. Is there a role for student, parent, faculty, and staff input? Unfortunately, I've seen policies and procedures where the students are never even mentioned! Student access and input should be front and center in your policy. Another area of concern is the review and vetting of materials to determine if they should be added to the collection. Try to avoid including a list of acceptable reviewing sources or a minimum number of positive reviews. While sometimes helpful, this can also serve as a barrier for materials reflecting diverse cultures and viewpoints that might not be reviewed in traditional trade publications. If you want to include a list, make sure it is broad and suggested (not required) and that it includes non-traditional sources for review such as blogs.

Does your policy reflect more than just a print collection and provide guidance for non-print materials, databases, and digital curation?

We aren't just collecting print books any more. Your policy should reflect that and be flexible enough to allow for new formats as they arise.

How are potentially controversial materials selected?

It's important to acknowledge in your policy that sometimes materials may cover sensitive or controversial topics and that you have procedures for selecting them. You want to make sure these materials are not automatically excluded from consideration.

How are gifts and donations handled?

It's wonderful to receive a donation or a gift, but it's important that you have clearly outlined in your policy that those gifts and donations will go through the same selection procedures as other materials. You want to make it clear that being donated doesn't mean an item will be automatically added to the collection or kept forever. You don't want to end up with someone's entire National Geographic magazine collection from 1900 on!

What are the procedures for maintaining the collection and removing outdated, worn, or inaccurate items?

Weeding…it can be a controversial, but it's necessary. This is one topic that those outside of the library really don't understand. Why are school librarians throwing away books?! Use this opportunity to explain why it's important to maintain the collection and remove materials. You should also explain why most of those materials should not be passed on to classrooms.

Is there information that outlines the policy and procedures for reconsideration of materials?

Provide a general overview about removing materials from the collection, including the need for a formal procedure and review process. The reconsideration procedures themselves will need to have special review. They are typically in a separate section at the end of the selection policy itself.

Is there a timeline or guidance provided for revising the policy itself?

All policies should include a date of adoption and guidelines for revising the policy. If this is a district level policy, does your district allow individual school-level policies? If not, is the district policy broad enough to be applicable to all types of schools in your district?

As you are revising or writing your policy, keep in mind that its purpose is to provide access to quality resources and information for students. Are there procedures or guidelines in your policy that might be barriers to student access? Explore other school and district selection policies to see how these issues are being handled. And, be sure to take advantage of the new Toolkit for sample language and additional items to consider.

About the Author

April M. Dawkins, MLS, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Library and Information Studies Department at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and recently received her doctoral degree from the University of South Carolina. She earned her master's in library science from North Carolina Central University and her bachelor's in history from Meredith College. Dawkins has previously published a chapter in School Librarianship: Past, Present, and Future (Rowman & Littlefield 2017).

Her research focus for her doctoral dissertation was understanding the factors that influence decisions around selection in school libraries and the role of self-censorship. Dawkins is part of the NxtWave program funded by an IMLS grant, a national cohort of PhD students whose focus is school librarianship. As a graduate teaching assistant at USC, she taught information literacy, children's materials, and young adult materials. Prior to her doctoral studies, Dawkins served for fifteen years as a high school media specialist in North Carolina.

MLA Citation Dawkins, April M. "Ten Steps to Creating a Selection Policy that Matters." School Library Connection, October 2018, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2145378.

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