Intellectual Freedom and Censorship

“Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books …”
— U.S. Supreme Court in Board of Education, Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982)

Steps to defending intellectual freedom:

1. Have a selection policy and follow it
2. Only accept written complaints to remove material
3. Discuss the complaint with the Board of Education, get others involved
4. Know the laws and past court decisions
5. Know your allies like the ALA and NCAC

Libraries are one of the primary battlegrounds for the first amendment. The first amendment protects the right to intellectual freedom and the pursuit of information. A small group of people, even if they are parents in the community, can not demand that a school ban or censor information for the entire population. A parent can only exercise that right over their own child.

Even armed with this information and the weight of the Supreme Court on the side of intellectual freedom, it can be hard to be the sole librarian standing up against parents, principals, and the Board of Education. This is why it is so crucial to have a written collection selection policy and only accept written complaints. This will allow the librarian to have documentation to present to the principal, P.T.A.(o), or board of education. It makes it easier for these people to understand the situation and be open to more documentation supporting the students’ first amendment rights.

If the complaint is taken to the board of education with public knowledge, the librarian will be able to provide documentation of past legal precedence where censorship was not allowed. This will help resolve the issue with the school and let the community know that future censorship will not be supported.

If the librarian feels it is necessary, there are organizations out there that specialize in this area that can help. These organizations can help combat censorship decisions. No one has to be alone when fighting for the rights of their students.

"First Amendment Area" in Independence National Historic Park.

Websites that can provide help and information:

The National Coalition Against Censorship: School and Library Policies

The Freedom to Read

The ALA Library Bill of Rights

The Right To Read: Censorship in the School Library. http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-9215/library.htm

Libraries & The First Amendment

Delete Censorship

ALA: Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A: