Chapter 4: Intellectual Freedom by Suzanne Sannwald
and Dan McDowell
Blog post by Suzanne
Although I was a co-author for the chapter on Intellectual Freedom for Core Values in School Librarianship, I am quite self-admittedly far from being an expert on intellectual freedom. My approach with writing was instead from the perspective of an ordinary school librarian, and the chapter that unfolded shared information that anyone can find by doing some research on the topic.
At the same time, the framing of the chapter was very personal. My hope was to share the thought journey that I went through in making sense of this very theoretical sounding concept and seeing how it affects my very concrete daily practices.
“Intellectual freedom, including access and choices, privacy
and confidentiality, is the right of every library stakeholder” (Sannwald and McDowell 2021, 55).
As often happens when you learn about something, you start to see the term or idea show up all over the place, and that has definitely been the case for me since I co-wrote the chapter on intellectual freedom. For instance, as I shared in a previous post, I cannot hear discussions about challenges to curriculum related Critical Race Theory (CRT) without thinking about how this threatens the intellectual freedom of students. The fact that educators may through intimidation and/or legislation be discouraged from sharing marginalized voices and factual experiences is clear and present censorship.
I have also been thinking about the way misinformation with COVID-19 has also endangered intellectual freedom since intellectual freedom is not just a matter of what information is allowed or not allowed to be shared. Intellectual freedom is also about our capacity to be mentally free, to be able to think critically.
With the pandemic, another trend that I tracked was the increased use of digital resources as students engaged in online-based distance learning. I work in a district that has been working for years now as a #GoOpen Ambassador District implementing Open Educational Resources (OER), but I feel like movement and motivation in this direction was certainly accelerated during the pandemic.
This past summer, my ideas around OER were deepened when I had the fortunate opportunity to talk with Susan D. Ballard, Dr. Pamela C. Harland. and Dr. Gerard L. Hanley for School Library Connection. Although I had originally sought them out based on their involvement and expertise with OER, my favorite takeaway was learning about OEP: Open Educational Practices/Pedagogy. I realized that OER may, of course, have benefits when it comes to ensuring equitable access to learning resources.
However, if it is always teachers and librarians doing all of the curation with OER, then is there really that fundamental a shift in the learning experience for students?
With OEP, the idea is that we don’t just look for ways to open up resource access. We go further by looking at ways to open up learning so that students share ownership in constructing their own learning. This, again, made me think again about intellectual freedom and fostering student capacity to be mentally free. It ties to the idea that we, as school librarians, must go beyond simply opposing censorship and securing access to resources for students. We, in collaboration with all educators, must open learning experiences to students so that they are enabled and encouraged to think and engage critically.
Only by creating these opportunities for participatory practice may we truly ensure students’ intellectual freedom.
“What practices are you already doing to support the intellectual freedom of students and staff members in your school community, including ones that you may not have previously identified as relating to intellectual freedom?” (70).
To learn and reflect more about how intellectual freedom can drive your professional practice, make sure to check out Chapter 4 in Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage.
Sannwald, Suzanne, and Dan McDowell. 2021. “Intellectual Freedom.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 55-72. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
About the Blogger
Suzanne Sannwald, MLIS, (she/her) has worked as a high school teacher librarian since 2014. She builds upon her previous education-related roles from middle school to higher education levels, serving as a certificated classroom teacher, classified library technician, district library supervisor, and student affairs technology manager. Suzanne earned both an MA in Teaching and Learning with Technology and an MLIS. She was a 2015-16 ALA Spectrum Scholar, 2016 California School Library Association Leadership for Diversity Scholar, 2017 school site Golden Apple Teacher of the Year, 2018-19 AASL Induction Program member, San José State University iSchool lecturer starting Fall 2020, and School Library Connection contributor. Suzanne has published articles and presented on topics including user experience, information literacy, collaboration, advocacy, and affirming students’ reading and larger lives. Connect with her on Twitter @suzannesannwald.