"Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored."
Excerpted from the Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A (2010). American Library Association.
I don't think we should have books containing "bad words" in our library.
Google, Yahoo, and all those other search engines just bring porn into the school. We should filter everything on the Internet.
I don't think children should be allowed to read about witches, wizards, or magic. It's against our religion.
These could be comments made at school board meetings, in parent organizations, or even in your library. As a teacher librarian, keep in mind that one of the cornerstones of democracy is the right to free expression.
Intellectual freedom is the right of any person to hold any belief on any subject and to express such beliefs or ideas in the way he or she believes appropriate. The question of intellectual freedom is at the core of the library philosophy. The question of intellectual freedom related to the right of unrestricted access to all information and ideas regardless of the medium of communication.
Parents can protest, but they are not free to interfere with the right of other people's children to read what they wish. The role of the teacher librarian is to mediate and guard the rights of both parents and children.
The value you place on intellectual freedom will influence the materials your make available to your students.
Read Adams, Helen (Nov/Dec 2007). Intellectual Freedom 101 (PDF doc; Access Requires Login). Knowledge Quest; 36(2), 12(4)
Skim the Office of Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association website. Explore a wide range of issues at the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Issues page.
Explore the (2010) Intellectual Freedom Manual (8th Ed). Office of Intellectual Freedom, ALA.
This website supplements the text: updated for the first time since 2005, manual includes revised interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights along with key intellectual freedom guidelines and policies.
What is censorship?
Rejection of an informational material by a library authority which the librarian, the school board, or some person bringing pressure on them holds to be objectionable is called censorship. People may complain that the item is obscene, dangerously radical, subversive, or too critical of existing mores. Complaints are often in the categories of sex, race, religion, values, alternative lifestyles, profanity, drugs, sex-role stereotypes, defaming of "heroes", works by "questionable writers", violence, and satanic/demonic activities.
Sometimes people feel personally threatened by materials. For example, the Lorax was thought to be a threat to the economy. Some parents fear for their children. Others fear for society. For example, people have said that Charlotte's Web and Animal Farm represent satanic practices because the animals talk. In Little Red Riding Hood, the girl is carrying wine and some say this promotes alcoholism.
Always keep in mind that selection is liberty of thought. Censorship is control of thought.
A number of United States Supreme Court rulings have spoken to the issue of censorship. The best known was a ruling called Island Trees School District Board of Education v. Pico (1982). The decision found that local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the contents of the materials.
Read I Read Banned Books by Nikki Troia at the First Amendment Center.
Explore the website: First Amendment First-Aid Kit, The from Random House.
Also Read Lukenbill, W. Bernard and Lukenbill, James F. Censorship: What Do School Library Specialists Really Know? A Consideration of Student Rights, the Law and Implications for a New Education Paradigm. School Library Media Research.
How can censorship problems be resolved without a legal battle?
There are many things you can do to avoid heated conflicts related to censorship. These include:
- good interpersonal relations
- reduce the strong feelings of the complainer
- reduce pressure from special interest groups
- get backing from a library organization such as ILF, AIME, and AASL
- form an intellectual freedom committee
- have a policy and strict procedures in place
- follow a good selection policy and you'll be fine
What guidelines can be used?
You don't need to start from scratch the American Library Association and others provide excellent guidance and materials.
Explore Banned & Challenged Books from ALA
What types of complaints are likely?
There are generally three types of complaints: in-house, parents, and public.
In-house. These complaints come from teachers who have used particular materials. In most cases, their concerns relate to inaccurate information or materials inappropriate for the developmental level of their children. For example, a teacher might find an old videotape that was produced before new methods were developed for dealing with blood pathogens. Or, a website on a library site pathfinder was at a reading level way too high for the class.
However, this is not always the case. A book was challenged by a Montana teacher and the school board ruled in favor of the reconsideration committee to keep the book: School Board Votes to Keep Book on Library Shelves (Jun 2004).
Parents. The concerns of parents often focus on a particular item. For example, a parent may not like a particular book or series such as the Harry Potter books. Judy Blume's books have always been a favorite target because of situations and language. Some parents are concerns about the "family values" that are represented or the lack of respect of elders. Almost any popular intermediate or young adult realistic fiction books could become a target.
Public. Sometimes a group of people get together to challenge an item. Sometimes fundamentalist groups target particular schools. They may seek widespread change and request many withdrawals.
Teacher and parent complaints are generally easy to handle. It's the public complaints that cause problems. A good reconsideration policy can really help.
Increasingly, government agencies are getting involved. Read the article South Dakota Governor Begins Website Review (Aug 2004) at American Libraries.
How common are challenges?
According to the American Library Association, there were 6364 challenges reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom during the 1990s. Three quarters of the challenges were made to schools or school libraries. Sixty percent were from parents. The top three concerns were sexually explicit materials, offensive language, and non-age appropriateness.
Read Violence in the Media: A Joint Statement from the American Library Association.
Do you agree with their principles? Why or why not?
Where do you draw the line?
Censorship involves control. It's the idea that one person is making the decision for others about what should or should not be available. The position of librarian is very powerful. Every time you choose not make a purchase, you are restricting access to that item. Of course it's not possible to buy everything. However all decisions must be made on the basis of a selection policy, not your personal preferences.
The school librarian has a unique set of responsibilities related to intellectual freedom. We must balance the needs of the curriculum and mission of the school with the importance of intellectual freedom. Language such as developmental level and age appropriateness are found in selection policies for school libraries. These issues words lend themselves to different interpretations, but should not be used as an excuse for censorship.
Only by being aware of your own bias can you be an advocate for intellectual freedom.
"Constitutionally protected speech cannot be suppressed solely to protect children or young adults from ideas or images a legislative body believes to be unsuitable for them."
Helen Adams (Nov/Dec 2007). Intellectual Freedom 101. Knowledge Quest; 36(2), 12(4).
What is reconsideration?
If a person wishes to formally challenge materials used in a school district, a reconsideration process is followed. Normally, a standard form is completed by the person making the complaint. The reconsideration process involves re-examining the materials to determine whether the selection policies and procedures were properly followed. A reconsideration committee will determine whether the material is appropriate for its designated audience. This committee has the following options:
- take no removal action
- remove all or part of the challenged material
- allow alternative materials
- limit use of materials
In some cases, the recommendation of the committee is final. In other cases, the committee's findings can be appealed to the school board.
Explore the resources found at Challenges to Library Materials from the American Library Association.
"All libraries have to deal with the thorny and complicated issues of promoting intellectual freedom, but school libraries and media centers face more challenges to promoting and maintaining intellectual freedom than other types of libraries."
Larry Cooperman (Fall 2010). Reference & User Services Quarterly: 50(1), 89.
Explore the What IF . . . website from the Cooperative Children's Book Center in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Need intellectual freedom advice; this helpful resource includes media specialist - specific questions such as 'My principal wants to know why we can't just white out swear words in library books that might offend parents.' 'How should I respond?' . . . or . . .'How can I defend purchasing graphic novels?' Examine the responses to past questions that have been submitted.
Taking a stand on an issue of intellectual freedom takes courage.
Will you be ready to face this challenge?
Are you prepared?
Create a list of resources that will help you be ready for a challenge.
Banned Books Week
First launched in 1982, Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read.
Coping with Challenges from the American Library Association
Addressing these challenges requires a balance of carefully crafted library policy, knowledge and understanding of intellectual freedom principles, and sensitivity to community needs and concerns. It also requires effective communication.
First Amendment in Schools: Resource Guide: Introduction: Avoiding Censorship in School, The from the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Handbook on Intellectual Freedom (2003) (PDF doc) from the Michigan Library Association.
PABBIS (Parents Against Bad Books in Schools), VA
This is a group that has been challenging many school library books. PABBIS followers sometimes visit school libraries checking if specific titles are in the collection.
2) List of Lists of Books that have been Challenged
3) PABBIS News