Educating Parents about Intellectual Freedom

Q: How can I educate parents and members of the community about intellectual freedom and the negative effects of censorship? (Especially when all they are doing in their minds is trying to protect their/our children?) Is educating parents about intellectual freedom something that can help, or will it create more problems?

The more you can do to educate parents, staff, administrators and students about the library media program and intellectual freedom the better—hooray!

One way we like to think about intellectual freedom is in terms of 3 Rs: Rights, Responsibilities, and Rewards.

Intellectual Freedom is about the RIGHTS of students to have access to a wide range of reading materials and information.

Intellectual Freedom is about the RESPONSIBILITY of librarians to choose materials for the library media center using professional judgment and following criteria outlined in the board-approved policy. (No, you don’t just buy anything and you don’t necessarily personally appreciate everything you buy, but you do make sure the materials you choose have been recommended for students of the age/grade range you are serving by looking to professional sources–reviews and other recommended lists. And you do make sure the school library serves everyone—that every student can find a range of materials to meet their informational needs and reading interests, although not every book will be for every child.)

Intellectual Freedom is about the REWARDS of student engagement and achievement that come with offering children and teens a wide range of materials that meet them at their many and varied points of need and interest, and offer opportunities for them to develop their analysis and critical thinking skills.

Another What IF . . . response relates to how to educate library aides and classroom teachers, and offers a lot of starting points for education and advocacy for the school library media program.

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) also has an advocacy toolkit for school library media programs.

You may accomplish this education and advocacy work in multiple ways. A library workshop or open house is a great idea; you might also do a regular column in the school newsletter, emails, put information on your website, etc. However you get your message out, emphasize that what you do in the school library supports the entire school learning environment. And make clear you are available—to answer questions, to suggest books, to talk about concerns.

You are not only setting the stage for families to come to you with any questions or concerns they might have, you are establishing a rapport with the whole school community—something that is great insurance if a potential or actual challenge arises.

January 2012

Thank you to Tessa Michaelson Schmidt for contributing to this response.