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Don't defend any book

Philosophy of Resource Selection
Public education in a democracy is committed to facilitate the educational growth and equal educational opportunity of all students. The freedom to learn, therefore, and the corresponding freedom to teach are basic to a democratic society. In order to meet these goals, School District 77 is committed to selecting educational resources which will aid student development in knowledge acquisition, critical thinking, objective evaluation and aesthetic appreciation. from Mankato Area Public Schools Board Policy 606: TEXTBOOKS AND INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS

The discussion over the Newbery Award winning book The Power of Lucky continues on LM_Net, the AASL blog and, I am sure, in meetings, phone conversations and e-mails throughout the country. I find it upsetting that so many professional librarians seem to have lost the basic understandings of selection, reconsideration, in loco parentis, and intellectual freedom. But perhaps it's time for a wake-up call that we all need to brush up on some of these concepts.

The main objection I have to the conversations has been that we are trying to defend a single book rather than defending a fair and open process for selecting and retaining any instructional material in our schools. Quite frankly, if a school decides to remove Lucky or any other book from its library or classrooms, so be it. If it decides to block every blog on the web, so be it. If it decides that Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet movie not be not be allowed because it shows a glimpse of Olivia Hussey's breasts, so be it. So long as due process has been followed in making the decision. While I can't imagine the circumstances under which I would do so, I like knowing that as a citizen I can request that  ill-chosen materials be removed from a public school.

As I remember from li-berry school, this is how professionals deal with the selection of and potential censorship of instructional materials:

1. They assure that the district has a board adopted selection/reconsideration policy. Oh, and they've read it.

2. They select all materials based on the stated selection criteria in the  policy. Here are ours:

Criteria for the Selection of Resources. Selection of resources shall be constant with the following principles:
1. To consider the characteristics and philosophy of the school and community when selecting resources.
2. To select resources which will meet needs, find use, reflect current research, and meet current standards of excellence.
3. To provide resources that will enrich and support the curriculum, taking into consideration the varied interests, abilities, and maturity levels of the individuals served.
4. To provide resources that will stimulate growth in factual knowledge, literary appreciation, aesthetic values and ethical standards.
5. To provide a background of information which will enable individuals to make intelligent judgments in their daily lives.
6. To provide resources relative to controversial issues so that individuals may develop informed opinions and practice critical reading and thinking.
7. To provide resources representative of the many religious, ethnic, and cultural groups and their contributions to our American heritage.
8. To place principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of resources of the highest quality in order to assure a comprehensive collection appropriate for the users.
9. To anticipate and meet needs through awareness of subjects of current interest.

 3. They select only materials based on authoritative and reliable review sources.

4. If they are asked to remove an item selected from the instructional program, they do not defend the material, but insist that the board adopted reconsideration policy and procedures be followed. This policy should require that a standing reconsideration committee be appointed at the beginning of each school year. When requested by the committee, they will provide the rationale and resources used for selection of the item under reconsideration.

5. Once a resource is selected, they do not restrict its use by any student. Professionals cannot act in the place of parents (in loco parentis) to restrict access to materials to individuals.  

That's it. Know your selection policy, select from authoritative reviews, and insist on due process if a book is challenged. It's not hard, but it does take genuine courage at times. And it is not only why we need professionals in all our school libraries, but professionals who act professionally.

At some point in time, schools will need to wake up and realize that the principles of selection and reconsideration need to be applied to online resources, including the web, as well as print and audio-visual materials. Does your district have acensorship.jpg written policy that upholds the concepts of intellectual freedom in regard to the Internet? Who decides what is blocked and how are those decisions made? Are there resources from ALA and ISTE that can help schools formulate good policy in this area? (The Office of Intellectual Freedom at ALA does not respond to my e-mails about this.)

Other basic rules that I've forgotten? Library school was many, many, many years ago! 

Schools are closed here in Minnesota because of snow and ice. Can you tell?  

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Reader Comments (1)

Hi, Doug,

I nodded in agreement with you almost to the end when my eyebrows shot up about OIF not responding to your e-mails. Hmmm. But, if you go to the AASL page <> and click on the "issues' button at the top and then go to "Intellectual Freedom," you will find the "AASL Resource Guides for School Library Media Program Development" page. Or, just follow this link: >>

The AASL Intellectual Freedom Committe is updating a school library IF pamphlet at this time, too.

Hope you don't hurt your back shoveling that lovely snow! We have enough here in Lake Placid for good skiing but could always use more. Sara
March 3, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSara Kelly Johns

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