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 PolicyHave 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 ChallengesKnow 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 AccessEnsure 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.
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.