High Points and Concerns: Reflections on Intellectual Freedom in 2017

As a new year begins, I’m reflecting on three positive matters involving intellectual freedom and school librarians from 2017 that will continue in 2018.

  • Intellectual Freedom & the AASL Standards: In November 2017, AASL introduced its new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries at its national conference in Phoenix. One of the basic assumptions on which the standards are based is “Intellectual freedom is every learner’s right” (Mardis 51). Weaving intellectual freedom into the standards highlights its importance for every school librarian. For a colorful explanation of how intellectual freedom is integrated into the standards, read Kate Lectenberg’s blog, “Intellectual Freedom is Central to the National School Library Standards.”
  • Selection Policy Assistance: After nearly two years of work by a small group of school, public, and academic librarians, the “Selection and Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, and Academic Libraries” is nearly completed. It is based on ALA’s Workbook for Selection Policy Writing, but it has been updated and significantly expanded to include not only guidance for school librarians but also public and academic librarians. The toolkit will be introduced at a Symposium on the Future of Libraries session during Midwinter in Denver. Watch for my February blog for details and links to the online toolkit.
  • 50 Years of Protecting the Freedom to Read: The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. Established in 1967, its mission remains the same: protecting and preserving library users’ intellectual freedom in all types of libraries. With the majority of library resource challenges occurring in schools, any school librarian or other educator can contact OIF staff for support with book challenges or concerns about filtering and privacy issues. One need not be an ALA or AASL member. Here’s to another 50 years!

2017 also had its intellectual freedom concerns, and I selected three that impacted school librarians and their students. These concerns do not have an “end date”; their impact will continue into 2018 and beyond.

  • Net Neutrality: Despite vocal opposition by the public and the library world, on December 14, 2017, FCC commissioners voted 3-2 to repeal the 2015 net neutrality protections that guaranteed Internet service providers (ISP) must treat all Internet traffic equally and “not engage in paid prioritization” of content and services (Shepardson). The full impact of the end of net neutrality for schools and school libraries is unknown, especially for rural school districts that often have few choices of ISPs. There will certainly be legal challenges to the FCC’s action, and New York State’s attorney general already announced that he will spearhead a multi-state lawsuit to fight the elimination of net neutrality rules (Schneiderman). ALA and other advocates will continue to work toward restoration of net neutrality rules.
  • Concerns about K-12 Databases: Most school libraries provide students and teachers with access to periodical and other research information databases. In the past year, there have been complaints in several locations about EBSCO databases alleging they contain sexual content inappropriate for K-12 students. Frederic Murray’s recent blog, “Responding to Database Challenges,” explores the controversy and is well worth reading. This is a new area for challenges, and school librarians need to be aware of this national campaign.
  • Fake News—Threat to Democracy: Combating “alternate facts” and “fake news” continues to be the subject of much discussion and many articles such as Linda Jacobson’s article aimed at school librarians. Of particular concern to school library professionals is the critical need for students to learn to analyze sources and discern fact from opinion. In a democracy, citizens need authoritatively sourced factual information to make wise decisions. Joyce Valenza’s News Literacy Toolkit provides an excellent resource for this continuing educational priority.

What else will 2018 hold for intellectual freedom in school libraries? What may become the new chief concerns or the shining moments for school librarians? I asked Jamie LaRue, executive director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, to check his crystal ball. His forecast for 2018 is based on events and trends that have a basis in 2017. He forecasts, “Emerging challenges are about ‘more than books.’ The EBSCO attack is one example; there will be other attacks on digital databases. OIF is tracking hate crimes in libraries. We’ve seen an uptick in disinvited speakers at all kinds of libraries. Librarians are grappling with trolls on Facebook and Twitter. We’ve seen some new categories of challenges: now, it’s not just about titles, it’s about whole subjects or minor language regardless of subject. In several schools, following Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, librarians have been instructed to remove all materials about suicide. In a Florida school, the superintendent announced the intent to remove all materials in which there is profanity. I think the pressures for self-censorship in school libraries will continue to mount. The selection (and reconsideration) policy work referred to above will be very important in the next year” (LaRue).


LaRue, James. Email to author, December 21, 2017.

Mardis, Marcia A. “On the Horizon: New Standards to Dawn at AASL 2017.”  Knowledge Quest. 46 (1): 51. https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/KNOW_46_1_OntheHorizon_48-54.pdf/ (accessed December 15, 2017).

New York State, Office of the Attorney General. Press Release. “A. G. Schneiderman: I Will Sue to Stop the Illegal Rollback of Net Neutrality.” December 14, 2017.  https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-i-will-sue-stop-illegal-rollback-net-neutrality/. (accessed December 15, 2017).

Shepardson, David. “U.S. Regulators Ditch Net Neutrality Rules as Legal Battles Loom.” December 14, 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-internet/u-s-regulators-ditch-net-neutrality-rules-as-legal-battles-loom-idUSKBN1E81CX (accessed December 16, 2017).


Flakstad, Kim Marlus. “Reflections.” September 17, 2008. Used under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License.https://www.flickr.com/photos/flakstad/2865877149/sizes/m/

Lienhard, David. “Merry Christmas.” December 25, 2007. Used under Creative Commons Attribution License. https://www.flickr.com/photos/blacklord/2134951313/sizes/l

Verblest, Mauritis. “One of the Universes.” July 29, 2016.  Used under Creative Commons Attribution License. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mauritsverbiest/37719508351/sizes/l/.



Author: Helen Adams

A former school librarian in Wisconsin, Helen Adams is an online senior lecturer for Antioch University-Seattle in the areas of intellectual freedom, privacy, library ethics, and copyright. A member of the AASL Knowledge Quest Advisory Board, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, and a KQ blogger, she is the author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library (Libraries Unlimited, 2013) and contributor to The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2nd edition, Libraries Unlimited, 2017). Email: hadams1@centurytel.net.

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