MI Right to Read.
Collection Development and Commonly Challenged Topics
What is Collection Development? Read on to learn more about the collection development process to get informed about how librarians make selection choices and review five topics that show up frequently in book challenges and discussions of censorship.

This article was written by MLA’s Intellectual Freedom Taskforce member Mary Grahame Hunter, Ferndale Area District Library. Part I concerns the collection development process and may be helpful when discussing how librarians make selection choices. Part II covers five topics that show up frequently in book challenges and discussions of censorship. Read parts I and II online (pdf).

We encourage you to invite friends, family, and colleagues to join the MI Right to Read coalition and be fully prepared to defend First Amendment rights.
Part I: How do Librarians Choose What to Buy for the Library?
When librarians choose what materials to purchase for their library, they consider a number of factors. What part of the collection (fiction? Nonfiction? Film and television?) are they buying for? What materials have already been purchased? How much space do they have on the shelf? How much money do they have in their budget? What materials will best inform their community? What materials will contribute to the variety of topics and perspectives that intellectual freedom standards compel a library to provide?

This process, with all the questions it involves, is called collection development. Collection development is a cornerstone of library services–if library workers did not do collection development, there would be nothing to lend the patrons! Read online (pdf)
Part II: Commonly Challenged Topics
Understanding what topics are most likely to be censored can help us be proactive in protecting intellectual freedom. Below are five topics that frequently appear in challenged and censored materials.

Materials in a library’s collection that contain these topics have been chosen because a librarian, who is a trained professional, has determined that the materials have artistic, literary, political, and/or scientific merit. Any patron is free to not engage or to stop engaging, with library materials containing these topics, but that is a matter of personal preference, not professional decision-making. Read online (pdf)
Sexual content.
Some materials in library collections include sexual content. This content may be informational (such as a nonfiction book about sex education) or it may be part of a narrative (such as in a novel or a film). Library patrons may have varying degrees of comfort with this content and may choose not to engage or to stop engaging with a library item that includes sexual content. This does not mean that these materials should be censored, as restricting or removing the materials would violate the intellectual freedom rights of a library’s patrons.

Some censors object to sexual content specifically because the sex and sexualities depicted are not heterosexual. Discriminatory removal of such content is a violation of intellectual freedom principles, which require librarians to select materials that represent a wide variety of experiences and perspectives.
Gender and sexuality.
Censors may say that they object to books that reference gender and sexuality, but what they generally mean is that they object to books that reference genders other than “cis girl/woman” and “cis boy/man” and sexualities other than “heterosexual.” A book that uses any gendered pronoun (such as “she” or “his”) references gender, and a book about a cis girl and a cis boy falling in love references sexuality.

Nonfiction books about all genders and sexualities and fiction books that include characters from across the spectrums of gender and sexuality reflect the existence and lived realities of people all over the world. Libraries have a duty to provide materials on a wide variety of topics from a wide variety of perspectives; when librarians include materials about all genders and sexualities in their collections, they are fulfilling their professional obligation to foster intellectual freedom.
Depictions and discussions of racism.
Race is a socially constructed category that affects the lives of people around the world. Depictions and discussions of racism in both fiction and nonfiction materials belong in libraries because they reflect reality. Librarians uphold the principles of intellectual freedom by providing access to a wide range of perspectives in their collections. This includes the perspectives of people who experience racism and are otherwise socially marginalized or oppressed. While some patrons may find these depictions and discussions upsetting, the inclusion of materials in library collections is not dependent on the emotional reaction that patrons may have upon engaging with those materials.
Social emotional learning (SEL).
Social emotional learning (SEL) is an educational method first developed at Yale in the 1960s. SEL focuses on teaching children how to be aware of their own emotions and the emotions of others, how to foster interpersonal relationships and communicate within those relationships, and how to problem-solve and hold themselves accountable. Some publishers develop books, particularly for young children, that can be used to help children learn these emotional awareness and communication skills. Social emotional learning has been linked to improved social behavior in children and a reduction in children’s emotional distress (source).
Critical race theory (CRT).
Critical race theory (CRT) is an academic theory applied to the study of law that draws on the work of Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado. It is studied by law school students and legal professionals. Unless the material in question is a law textbook, libraries are unlikely to have materials involving critical race theory in their collection.
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