Professional Book Review: Intellectual Freedom Issues in School Libraries

Book Cover: Intellectual Freedom Issues in School LibrariesWhen school librarians consider our unique set of core values, we must include intellectual freedom along with equity, diversity, and inclusion. Intellectual freedom is a bedrock of our practice. It impacts our work in so many overt and covert ways as we serve the literacy and learning needs of our students, colleagues, administrators, families, and communities.

Intellectual Freedom Issues in School Libraries (Libraries Unlimited 2021) edited by April M. Dawkins is a collection of 57 previously published articles that address this topic in variety of contexts. Readers may be surprised by the many ways the contributors frame our work as school library professionals in terms of intellectual freedom.

In our forthcoming book, the co-authors of the intellectual freedom chapter defined intellectual freedom in this way. It “is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. Rooted in U.S. law, intellectual freedom is further supported through library professional standards and guidance, and involves protecting the rights of access, choice, privacy, and confidentiality” (Moreillon 2021, in press).

From 2012 through 2015, I was privileged to contribute to a column for School Library Monthly. Four of the articles in Dawkins’ book are from those columns: “Leadership: Filtering and Social Media,” “Policy Challenge: Closed for Conducting Inventory,” “Policy Challenge: Consequences of Restricting Borrowing,” and “Policy Challenge: Leveling the Library Collection.” My fifth contribution, “Progressive Collection Development = A Foundation for Differentiated Instruction,” which was originally published in 2017 in School Library Connection, is the last article in the book.

Although each of these articles speak to the commitment it takes to remain true to the core value of intellectual freedom, the most recent “Progressive Collection Development…” has an important place in today’s conversations about racial and social justice.

“Collaborating librarians cannot overestimate the importance of their work as literacy stewards who provide the resource foundation for DI [differentiated instruction]. With their knowledge of literature, librarians can support teachers’ teaching and help motivate students to engage in deep and meaningful learning. Providing multiple sources that serve as mirrors and windows can make DI a reality.

Diverse resources are an essential first step in opening doors for all students to succeed” (Dawkins 2021, 197).

Other contributors to the book are school librarianship’s long-time staunch intellectual freedom leader Helen R. Adams, April M. Dawkins, Elizabeth Burns, Chad Heck, Maria Cahill, Lucy Santos Green, Michelle Maniaci Folk, and more.

Contributing to this book was important to me because the First Amendment applied to the rights of library users was my initial pathway into developing a passion for librarianship. Ensuring that K-12 students had those rights has always been part of my mission as a school librarian and school librarian educator. Intellectual freedom can position our values and work in sharp contrast to outdated school policies and practices. It can cause us to consider and reconsider the distinctions between selection and censorship. And in the case of book or resource challenges, intellectual freedom can require that we show courage to stand up for the rights of youth, authors, and illustrators.

I know readers of Dawkins’ book will want to add Chapter 4: Intellectual Freedom by Suzanne Sannwald, high school teacher librarian, and Dan McDowell, Director of Learning and Innovation, Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego County, California, to their essential readings on intellectual freedom (Moreillon 2021, in press).

In their chapter, Suzanne and Dan explore intellectual freedom from access to print and digital resources to students’ opportunities to exercise agency. The co-authors make a strong case that intellectual freedom is a mindset for students and for educators. It includes seeking and receiving information, securing privacy and confidentiality, and fostering democracy. Suzanne and Dan note that when school librarians collaborate with other educators to design pedagogy, they can make a shared commitment and practice of honoring students’ rights to lead their own learning.

And isn’t that the ultimate goal of intellectual freedom?

Works Cited

Dawkins, April. Ed. 2021. Intellectual Freedom Issues in School Libraries. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Moreillon, Judi. Ed. 2021. Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

 

 

Banned Books Week and The Freedom to Read

Censorship is a deadend. Find your freedom to read.This week, classroom teachers, librarians, and libraries across the country are honoring the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom’s annual Banned (and Challenged) Books Week, September 27 – October 3, 2020.

The observance began yesterday with the publication of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010 – 2019. This list is compiled and published every decade and once again testifies to the fact that books written expressly for youth dominate the list.

The top seven books on the list were written expressly for children and young adults. Perennial “favorites” on this list, including Captain Underpants, Hunger Games, and Speak, are some of the books that young people repeatedly request, read, enjoy, share, and eagerly discuss. Those are the books that should be in the hands of our youth. (See last year’s 9/24/19 post about Speak!)

Each year, the OIF publishes the ten most frequently challenged books from the previous year. The 2019 list should cause all school librarians to pause and reflect on their own commitment to students’ intellectual freedom and right to read. Nine of the ten books were written expressly for children and young adults. Of those nine, four are nonfiction titles focused on sexuality, gender identity, or LGBTQIA+ experiences. Let me repeat. Four of the nine are informational titles: biographies or narrative nonfiction.

Why would be deny students access to information presented in age-appropriate books?

Four Book Jackets for the Books Listed Below

Four Frequently Challenged Books – 2019

#2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin – Narrative Nonfiction

#4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth – Expository Nonfiction

# 6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas – Biography

#10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole – Narrative Nonfiction

At this time in the lives of our K-12 students and in the life of our country, school librarians must raise our voices with and for young people’s access to ideas and information. For as long as I have been in the profession, school librarians have facilitated many different kinds of learning experiences centered on students’ right to read (See Banned Books Week Projects blog post 2016.)

Since 2011, school librarians have also been observing Banned Websites Awareness Day to hone a spotlight on over-restrictive filters that compromise students’ and educators’ access to information. It will be held on Wednesday, September 30, this year.

Last Thursday, I attended the ALA Connect Live: Intellectual Freedom webinar. Thank you to ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Freedom to Read Foundation President Barbara Stripling and ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair Martin L. Garnar for this program. (See information about ALA Connect Live! Programs.)

Here are some resources:

Check out the Banned Books Week Facebook page. There will be live events throughout this week.

For research related to banned books, read Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read by Robert P. Doyle (2017).  ALA offers a link for members-only online access. You can also purchase the book for $15.00 from the ALA Store.

There are resources to support the popular “Dear Banned Author” program including printable and virtual postcards, author addresses, and tips for libraries in hosting virtual programs.

On Friday, October 2 at 6 p.m. CT, ALA is hosting a national watch party of “Scary Stories,” a documentary about the censorship history and impact of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. (I cannot count the replacement copies I purchased of Schwartz’s book during the ten years I served as an elementary librarian!) Libraries can learn how to stream the film for free, or host their own watch party.

Follow these Twitter hashtags: #BannedBooksWeek; #BannedBook; #BannedAuthor

Learn more about the webinar series hosted by Intellectual Freedom Round Table, the Graphics Novels & Comics Round Table and Image Comics.

I hope you will join me in proudly wearing your “I read banned books” button and continue reading, recommending, and discussing these books with youth.

Image Credit

American Library Association. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/freedownloads