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LIS 725

Jodi Wortsman
Learning Reflection Journal #1
Intellectual Freedom

A Personal Reflection to:


Intellectual Freedom: Leadership to Preserve Minors Rights in School Library Media
Programs
By Helen Adams

I have been very interested in intellectual freedom ever since my daughter was in
kindergarten and brought home the book, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss.
As a parent, I was disturbed by the many attempts of the King to remove Bartholomews hats
by cutting off his head or executing him in some fashion. I brought up my concerns to the
school librarian who educated me on the concept of intellectual freedom. I became aware of
the responsibility of the librarian to provide access to all information for all students, and the
right of a parent to monitor his/her childs reading material. I have come to believe strongly
that my personal opinions should never limit access of materials to others.
I am now an assistant librarian in a middle school with a fairly homogenous student
body. One of the selection criteria suggested by Adams in her article resonated with me. It
states that the collection should represent the various religious, ethnic, gender, and cultural
groups and their contributions to American heritage. It is very easy not to buy or display
certain materials because our kids wont relate to that. While I am not in charge of
purchasing materials, I do put them on display. I need to ensure that I show a diverse
representation of all cultures, not just those in our community. As one of my GSLIS professors
always said, the books in our library should be a reflection of our students and a window to
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LIS 725
Jodi Wortsman
Learning Reflection Journal #1
Intellectual Freedom

other cultures as well. Another selection criterion that resonated with me was ensuring that
the collection depicts diverse points of view on controversial topics. This tells me that a way
to combat bias is to provide both sides of an argument so that students have access to differing
perspectives and are free to make their own choices. This is particularly important in middle
school where students are maturing and making independent decisions. It is important that
they be educated on different points of view in order to make an informed decision.
I must admit that I felt a twinge of guilt as I read through the self-censorship checklist. It
stated that if you answer yes to any of the questions, you need to review your intellectual
freedom practices. I did indeed answer yes to several questions. For instance, I flip through all
of our magazines before I put them on the shelf, looking for offensive or inappropriate
advertisements or content. I have ripped out pages with ads for cigarettes, alcohol and male
enhancement products. Now I am rethinking my actions. While I do not want to promote these
things with young teens, I should not be restricting them from the information about products
that are legal when used by responsible adults. Another question on the self-censorship
checklist to which I answered yes discusses labeling controversial materials in order to warn
possible users. We put a teen sticker on all of our materials that are more mature in nature
and are geared towards our eighth graders. Since our students range in age from eleven to
fourteen, it is necessary to have a wide range of books with varying maturity levels. While all
students are free to check out anything, I discuss this teen designation with younger students
checking them out. In fact, this week we had sixth grade orientation to the library and I was
meeting our new students for the first time. On numerous occasions, I cringed to see what they
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LIS 725
Jodi Wortsman
Learning Reflection Journal #1
Intellectual Freedom

were checking out. That is the parent in me. I need to put on my librarian hat and consider right
of each child to intellectual freedom. I usually explain that the book they are choosing is geared
towards our eighth graders and that there may be content that they dont understand or are
uncomfortable with. I tell them they are welcome to check anything out, but if the book they
selected is not a good fit for them, just bring it back. My hope is that they will speak to their
parents, the head librarian or me about any concerns. I think it is necessary to very consciously
balance intellectual freedom and the developmental needs of our students.
One question on the self-censorship survey to which I was pleased to answer no is the
practice of putting controversial materials in a restricted area that has to be requested by the
student. We used to have our very high level teen books (for example Forever by Judy Blume
and Inexcusable by Chris Lynch) in a locked glass cabinet that required a parents signature to
be checked out. I felt they should either be available to all students or taken off our shelves all
together. We made the decision to put them on the shelves with all the other books.
Another important aspect of intellectual freedom is the students right to privacy. I
understand that public libraries delete all records of transactions to ensure privacy, but in our
school I can see what a student has checked out since kindergarten. Is this a good thing or a bad
thing? It is helpful for readers advisory to get a sense of what they like, or to help them
remember a book they read last year and loved. But it can jeopardize the students privacy if
teachers or other students can gain access to their circulation records. Upon reflection, I realize
that I have told teachers what students have checked out and have told students who is in hold

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LIS 725
Jodi Wortsman
Learning Reflection Journal #1
Intellectual Freedom

for a certain book. Clearly, this is a violation of students privacy, and I will be cognizant of this
in the future. The chapter also discusses the importance of privacy when generating and
distributing overdue notices. Every two weeks, we print out a report that indicates which
students have overdue books or owe fines for late materials. The reports are given to the
students English/Language Arts teacher to discuss with their students. When I run the report, I
include only the barcode and call number for the books, omitting all book titles. In this way, no
one knows what materials the student has checked out. I am pleased that this practice is
consistent with the value of privacy.
I look forward to one day having my own library media center. This chapter made it
clear that one of the first things I need to do upon taking on the responsibility is to find out if
the school district has a written, board approved instructional and library materials selection
policy. I would not have imagined that this is the most important thing to tackle in a new
leadership role, but now I see the value in ensuring that a clear policy is in place. It will set the
standard for all future purchases and provide recourse for potential challenges.

Adams, H. R. (2010). Intellectual freedom: Leadership to preserve minors rights in school


library media programs. In S. Coatney (Ed.), The many faces of school library leadership
(pp. 43-65). Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited.

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