Thursday, March 29, 2012

Intellectually Free

I always have this idea that I'll post before Thursday night, but then I don't. No really good reasons, other than life being ridiculously busy right now. Can I take a second to say that the weather is a filthy tease and has ruined my mood this week? Anyway...this week we're talking about intellectual freedom, copyright issues, and all the loveliness that is our new world of information.

It's a sticky issue trying to balance the needs of students, teachers, administrators, and local and federal governmental regulations. As librarians, we should be tied to the ethical standards of the ALA, which dictate that a librarian's job is to provide eqitable access to materials. As teachers within our current education system, we are bound by laws and regulations that limit access to protect students before they have learned to protect themselves. Where do we even start?

Helen R. Adams, in Intellectual Freedom: Leadership to Preserve Minors' Rights in School Library Media Programs, outlines the important factors that school librarians need to pay attention to to effectively manage protect students' rights:

Have a Selection Policy

Have a selection policy that is approved by administrators and the school board. I see this as CYA, but also it provides you with a plan if you are challenged. The selection policy outlines the schools mission, their goals, how they select material, and how to handle complaints. By outlining our

Handle Challenges

Know how you'll handle challenges to books in your library. This should also be in the selection policy, as a natural byproduct of selecting materials you will need to know how to handle the situation if someone objects to what you pick. The selection policy will show them why something was selected for the library, if that's not enough, then you can take them to a challenge. Challenges are tricky, they should  have a set method, and a set review board. The review should be done with bipartisan forces, preferably ones that don't have a vested interest in the library. Sometimes all a parent wants to do is complain, in which case you should listen to them in their entirety. When they're done, explain your policy, ask them if they want to go any further.

Fight for Access

Ensure access to online resources. This is the hardest part, with the passage of the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA), "which requires schools and libraries that receive specified federal funds to use filters to block visual depictions of child pornography, obscenity, and material 'harmful to children'." It's crazy that this act, passed in 2000, is still dictating how we interact online. The librarian of course has to abide by it, but they can encourage less restrictive filtering.
When I was student teaching previously, the students were doing a report on WWI technologies, but they couldn't access any website because it was deemed violent. As a librarian, you can help encourage less restrictive filters, fight for overrides, and help identify websites that shouldn't be blocked.

Protect Privacy

I've always taken privacy seriously, because building a relationship of trust means that you don't go blabbing someone's business around. But it also means you protect your students information, such as their check out history, their personal details, and you don't share that with other students, faculty, or administrators. This is especially important in sensitive matters. For example, what if a student is struggling with their sexuality and they check out a book to read to help them better understand what they're going through. If you wantonly share this information, or talk about their book loudly, or share their book selection with their parents, they are less likely to come to your library in the future. Students should feel comfortable enough that they can explore things without fear of retribution or punishment. If you've selected materials properly, than anything they can find in the library will be acceptable for them to check out.

Be an Advocate and Leader

It goes back to everything we've talked about previously. Be an advocate for the library, but also for protecting the intellectual freedom of the school. If you create a program that exemplifies intellectual freedom and open access to information, then hopefully others will follow. 


  1. I like your balance here--you outline several preventive steps (have a plan) as well as action steps and overarching ideas (be a leader).

  2. Totally onboard with the need to have a selection policy. I wonder how many schools have one though? If they don't have an individual school policy, do they actually follow their district's policy?

    It's 3:30pm, you have a very disgruntled mother in your elementary school library with a copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows" demanding that you remove the entire series from your collection because of it's blatant promotion of witchcraft. Do YOU know where your collection development policy is?

    Emily, do you know if there is a collection development policy at your school in Bangladesh? I can't remember- is it a new school? Do you get to create your own?

  3. Yeppers, a selection policy can be your best friend. I think it's good for all administrators to be aware of the process of a request for removal.


Thanks for commenting!