As the local intellectual freedom expert, school librarians have the responsibility to educate the principal, faculty, students, and parents through systematic advocacy. Advocating for intellectual freedom requires regular, intentional planning as well as taking advantage of teachable moments. The principal is the educational leader of the school so begin with him or her. Start by meeting with the principal to review the material selection policy, how materials are selected, and district reconsideration procedures.
Initiate other discussions when issues such as the confidentiality of student’s library records arise. Gradually educate the principal about student’s First Amendment right to read, view, and listen to library resources. Connect student’s free access to information in the library with their being citizens in training. To ensure that today’s students are educated for citizenship in a global society, they must be able to freely use resources in a wide range of subjects representing various perspectives. Help the principal understand that in reality, the continuation of our democratic way of life depends on the free and open examination of ideas by students during their K12 education.
Teachers also need to be educated about intellectual freedom. Orient new staff members to library policies including those related to selection of library resources, reconsideration of challenged materials, the confidentiality of student’s library use records, and the use of the internet. Select professional materials related to censorship and make them available to staff. Celebrate Bill of Rights Day in December by collaborating with teachers to create learning experiences that include the First Amendment and student’s free speech rights.
To become productive, civic-minded adults, students must learn about their First Amendment’s free speech rights and the school librarian should be part of the instructional team to make this happen. Today’s students are tomorrow’s adult citizens. Teaching students about freedom of speech under the First Amendment and its opposite, censorship, will have a profound impact on their lives.
Here are a few ideas to get started with middle and high school students. During Banned Books Week in September attracts student’s attention by creating displays of books that have been challenged. Give away bookmarks promoting the freedom to read. Present book talks on banned books such as The Giver and Fahrenheit 451. Knowing a book is controversial may intrigue students and motivate them to read. Encourage students to incorporate the theme of banned books and censorship into their lessons during banned books week.
Display intellectual freedom documents prominently in the library including the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution and the Library Bill of Rights. During conversations, refer to these documents and explain their connection to the library. Promote KidSpeak, a website sponsored by nine national organizations. It offers ideas on how students can use their First Amendment rights to protest attempts at censoring library and curricular materials.
Parents can be supportive allies for school librarians. Help them understand intellectual freedom in a way that connects to their children. Post the district’s material selection policy on the library’s website. Introduce new library books at meetings of the school’s parent organization and explain how those materials were selected.
Start a reading group for parents that will enable them to learn about new children’s and young adult books. Give them suggestions on how to select books appropriate to their children’s age and social, emotional, and cognitive development. Teach them strategies for discussing books with their children. Finally, help parents understand that they have the right to guide the reading choices of their children but they must give the same right to other parents.
National intellectual freedom advocacy events occur throughout the year. Use them to raise awareness in your school community. Let’s start in September with Banned Books Week. It is an annual event during the last week of September. It acknowledges American’s right to read books they choose regardless of whether the ideas, language, or images are controversial or offend others.
Fearing parental objections, some principals are concerned about having displays in library programs related to challenged books. If you encounter resistance, use an alternate theme such as the freedom to read. To help you plan your banned books week activities, use the book Banned Books challenging our freedom to read published by ALA. It is an excellent resource with hundreds of ideas. It’s listed on your key resources bibliography.
Banned Websites Awareness Day is sponsored by AASL and is observed on Wednesday during Banned Books Week. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the overly restrictive filtering of legitimate educational websites. The URL for more information is on the key resources bibliography. Choose Privacy Week is observed annually during the first week of May and its theme changes each year. Check out the next theme on the Choose Privacy Week website listed on the key resources bibliography. Advocating for intellectual freedom only during banned books week is insufficient to teach students about their First Amendment rights. Promoting the personal right to read, view, and hear the expression of others should be an ongoing campaign throughout the year. You’ve got the tools; now it’s up to you.