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Statement on Intellectual Freedom in the School Library

Dixie Shoemaker
Georgia Southern University


Intellectual freedom encompasses the basis of the library system. The idea that open
access to information should be available to all people is the reason libraries opened as Benjamin
Franklins brainchild in 1731 with the motto to support the common good is divine.
(ushistory.org) Intellectual freedom today is a goal for libraries and also a challenge, as
individuals, groups, and government try to restrict intellectual freedom under the cover of best
interests for others. In attempting to define intellectual freedom, I would combine the definition
offered by the American Library Association and information within the first amendment itself.
Intellectual freedom is the right of every person to be able to find and receive information, even
if it may be considered offensive or unpopular, from diverse points of view without limitations,
short of those which tread on the grounds of libel or slander. It is the idea that anyone can get any
viewpoint on any idea, cause, movement, etc. freely and without fear of retribution. (ALA, 1996)
This idea applies to peoples access of books, audio and visual materials, and the internet. In a
school library, students should have these same freedoms within the structure of the school, with
developmentally appropriate guidance. The idea though, of providing developmentally
appropriate material, is the gray area of intellectual freedom where challenges arise. It is the area
where certain adults and groups would begin to look out for childrens best interests, and is the
area where school librarians need to be very careful.
As a school librarian, I will strive to keep my library open and free, with access to all
students, supporting intellectual freedom as I run the library and select materials for patron use. I
am a firm supporter of intellectual freedom and the rights of students, while providing
developmentally appropriate learning opportunities for students at all levels of education.
Supporting intellectual freedom in the library comes in many forms, such as selecting a wide
variety of materials from all genres and types of content. Such is the focus of Elaine, a media


specialist who wanted a variety of materials available in the rural schools in which she worked,
where there was little diversity. (Adams, 2011) Supporting intellectual freedom also means
protecting the privacy of patrons and creating a welcoming environment in which students feel
comfortable asking questions and seeking help in finding material of any kind, as was Marcias
top priority in the schools she served. (Adams, 2011) I had not even thought of this as being an
area of intellectual freedom, but now understand how and why it is important and applicable to
the cause. To ensure that I am doing these things, I will follow the advice of Rebecca Hill, which
will not only support the overall goal of intellectual freedom in the school library, but will also
protect against the likelihood that self-censorship issues will arise. I will make sure there is a
specific and well-written selection process for choosing material for the library collection, create
a committee that can review material that may be considered objectionable, and use these
processes to prepare a rationale for the collection in the event of a question or a challenge.
Additionally, the American Library Association has information on how to prepare for the
defense or explanation of a challenged book that can be used on an as-needed basis. (Hill, 2010)
I will strive to use the school media centers carefully written selection process to guide
my decision making in purchasing new materials for the library, and keep my personal beliefs
and fears out of the equation, as I do not want self-censorship to become a problem. I have been
carefully considering what it means to self-censor, as I know the line between choosing materials
based on age-appropriateness and developmental levels versus personal fears and beliefs can
sometimes blur. As Debra Lau Whelan stated in her article A Dirty Little Secret, the key in this
process is intent. She states A trained media specialist is expected to choose a range of titles that
best suits the curriculum and meets the reading needs of students and that involves making
judgment calls. (Whelan, 2009, p. 28) I will be required to make judgment calls on material I


select, but by carefully adhering to the selection process guide and consulting the committee for
materials that I am uncertain of, I can protect against self-censorship.
I will further support intellectual freedom by creating an environment within the school
and media center that fosters it for all patrons. I will ensure that I, and any other media center
staff, work with morals and integrity, ensuring the privacy of patron check-out, positively and
eagerly assisting any patron with searching for material without probing questions beyond what
is needed to perform a successful search, and making all materials equally accessible for use
and/or checkout. I will post the Library Bill of Rights, created by the American Library
Association, in a prominent and visible location, and provide information about intellectual
freedom at the circulation desk. I will further this promotion by educating the teachers and staff
in the building about intellectual freedom during staff training meetings.
Intellectual freedom extends beyond books and print materials to the world of the
internet. All of the ideas so far mentioned in reference to supporting and promoting intellectual
freedom can be applied to patron use of the internet. There are, however, more challenges
surrounding the use of the internet, namely district internet filtering software, and of course the
endless variety of material out there that is clearly considered objectionable. In this area, while I
do not have control over what is filtered, I can hopefully be a positive influence. Firstly, I will try
to educate my principal about the need for the internet to be more accessible, with less stringent
filtering that still coincides with the law. My principal can add support to this cause and together
we can address the decision making body of the district to change filtering policies. Regardless
of what filtering policies are in place, I will educate students on ways to positively and safely use
the internet, whether at home or at school. Intellectual freedom that students utilize can be
positively affected with education about safe and appropriate use of the internet. In her article,


Intellectual Freedom for Youth, author Annette Lamb addresses several common issues and
challenges that arise with use of the internet, specifically social networking sites, and points out
ways that media specialists can help students become effective users and creators of information
using online tools. (Lamb, 2007) As she stated in her article, Rather than viewing these tools as
negative, school library media specialists should investigate the value of online tools for
furthering intellectual freedom by promoting creative thought, communication, and
collaboration. (Lamb, 2007, p. 39) I will use this article as my guide for creating instruction and
lessons that encourage students to be thoughtful and aware of their use of the internet, that in
turn, they might exercise their intellectual freedom in a safe and intelligent manner.
Finally, as a media specialist, I will promote intellectual freedom through advocacy
efforts throughout my career. I will create a support system by actively communicating with my
colleagues and principal, teaching about the importance of intellectual freedom and educating
others about the way materials are selected for the school library. As stated earlier, I will strive to
convince my district to reduce the heavy filtering on our internet, which inhibits both teachers
and students from accessing what is perfectly safe and useful material. I will join organizations
like the National Coalition Against Censorship and encourage others to do so as well. I will
invite parents and the community to use the library and its resources, and during their visits,
make sure they receive information about the importance of intellectual freedom. By acting as a
leader in my school and proactively working for intellectual freedom, I hope to positively
influence others to encourage the same in our students and others.


Adams, H.R. (2011). Solo librarians and intellectual freedom: Perspectives from the field.
Knowledge Quest, 40(2), 30-35.
Hill, R. (2010). The problem of self- censorship. School Library Monthly,27(2), 9-12.
Intellectual freedom and censorship Q & A. (2014, Nov 2). Retrieved from
Lamb, A. (2010). Intellectual freedom for youth: Social technology and social
networks. Knowledge Quest, 36(2), 38-45.
The library company. (2014, Nov 2). Retrieved from
Whelan, D. (2009). A dirty little secret. School Library Journal, 55(2), 26-30.