In response to the recent flap over banned books, Carroll County school officials said last week that they would form a committee to review the policies and procedures that media specialists use to buy books and the rules for challenging those selections.
The plan to create the committee resulted from a meeting between librarians and school board members.
"We have a systematic process," said Irene Hildebrandt, the system's media director. "We want board members and parents to feel confident that we're using our skills to carefully select books."
The system's book selection policy was adopted in 1986 and most recently revised in 2002, Hildebrandt said.
The committee -- which will include parents, teachers, students and administrators -- will consider whether changes need to be made to the policy to reflect concerns about content, challenging books and guidelines for determining the age-appropriateness of books.
Steven Johnson, acting assistant superintendent of instruction, said that the committee would make its recommendations by April and that changes would be implemented next school year.
Superintendent Charles I. Ecker last fall removed two disputed books -- The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler and Born Too Short: The Confessions of an Eighth-Grade Basket Case by Dan Elish -- after a committee decided to keep them in school libraries despite parent and student objections.
At the time, Ecker said he objected to profanity and sexual references in the books and decided they were inappropriate for school libraries. Two weeks ago, he returned both books to high school libraries but barred them from middle schools.
During last week's meeting, Hildebrandt and a media specialist each from the elementary, middle and high school levels explained how they pick books and other materials.
Hildebrandt said the guidelines specify that before a book can be purchased, the librarian must find two "positive reviews from reputable sources," such as the American Library Association's Booklist or School Library Journal.
"But this is a beginning point. When the book comes in, we do a hands-on examination of it before it goes on the shelves," she said. "It's a demanding criteria."
She said librarians -- all of whom have master's degrees -- know they are not required to put a book on the shelves just because they have paid for it. If a librarian decides that the book appears inappropriate, he or she can decide against making it available to students, Hildebrandt said.
"They are the reader advisers in their schools," she said. "They are expected to assume responsibility for their collection development."
She said librarians pick books with students' unique needs in mind. But, Hildebrandt said, that doesn't mean there are different rules for different schools.
Jan Nies, librarian at Parr's Ridge Elementary in Mount Airy, said the process is "well-outlined for us."
"It's very important to us to have teacher requests and student requests; however, we still have to have those two positive reviews, and we use our own professional judgment," she said.
She added: "Collection development is an art, it's a privilege and it's a responsibility."
Tim Whitney, librarian at North Carroll Middle in Hampstead, said librarians often consult each other.
"We have formal and informal discussion among our peers," he said. "Our job is to guide students to those books that will meet their needs. ... A sixth-grader's needs are vastly different from an eighth-grader's needs."
The librarians said that while they do not stop students from checking out specific books, they do try to monitor which books children are selecting and will suggest alternatives when needed. They said they encourage parents and teachers to weigh in with comments or concerns.
Board member Cynthia L. Foley said she worried about librarians' ability to monitor which books children are checking out, especially in middle schools, where a student volunteer often handles check-out duties. But Whitney said he looks at every child's books as they leave the library.
With books that deal with sensitive topics -- such as sexuality -- librarians carefully consider the book's value as a whole, and not passages out of context, he said. He pointed to a particular book about a sexually abused girl.
"While it may not be appropriate for all readers, it is relevant to some," said Whitney, who added that he sometimes checks out a book from the public library to read it before deciding whether to buy it for school.
When a parent has a concern about a book already on the shelves, he or she is encouraged to speak with the school librarian, Hildebrandt said. If that doesn't resolve the issue, the parent can file a formal objection with the school system, she said.
A reconsideration committee -- made up of 12 teachers, students, parents and administrators -- handles those challenges.
The committee formed last week will consider changes to the reconsideration process, such as whether a book should stay on the shelves during review.