School Library Media Centers and Intellectual Freedom
School library media programs play a vital role in promoting intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom issues arise in many broad areas of school library administration and operation. School library media specialists should consider the intellectual freedom implications of their role as a resource specialist; how they provide intellectual and physical access for students; how their collection development policies address intellectual freedom; procedures for handling challenges to school library resources and services, including student access to the Internet; professional practice; and how they might appropriately promote intellectual freedom as an aspect of a free and democratic society.
As views on schools and schooling evolve, so does the role of the school library media specialist in preK-12 education. The notion of textbooks as the only major resource used in teaching has been replaced in many learning environments with a resource-based teaching approach. In resource-based teaching, a recognition of individual student learning styles, as well as student variation in background, ability, and interests, results in a multi-faceted, multiple resource approach to learning.
The school library media specialist promotes access to a wide variety of resources, including materials in the school library media center, as well as nearby schools, public libraries, academic libraries, and networks.
In the school, the library media specialist works closely with classroom teachers to make school library media center (LMC) resources an integral part of daily instruction. In so doing, intellectual freedom is promoted for students.
Thus, today, the presence of a professionally staffed, appropriately budgeted, and physically accessible school LMC takes on increased importance. All preK–12 students, regardless of age or grade level, have information needs that can be met through the library media center. All classroom teachers can benefit from collaborative planning and teamwork with the library media specialist.
Students’ right to access to information includes the right to develop skills necessary to locate and obtain materials and to examine critically and interpret the information that they find. Library media specialists should examine the nature of information skills instruction. They need to work with administrators and teachers to assure the integration of information skills into the instructional curriculum, and the full use of resources available at the school as well as electronically for maximizing student learning.
School library media center collections focus on a direct relationship to the school’s instructional curriculum. However, the collection should also be reflective of student needs and interests. These include recreational interests of students, and may include the fiction collection of the library media center, in particular. The collection development policy, therefore, should reflect a recognition of student’s personal, information, recreational reading, listening, and viewing needs and take into account their varying skills, interests, abilities, and backgrounds.
Policies and Procedures
Collection Development Policy
Public school districts are governed by school boards that are legally responsible for the materials available to students. They delegate selection of materials to certified library media specialists and administrators under whom the library media specialist works. A well thought out, written collection development policy, approved by the school board, establishes the climate in which, and the criteria by which, library media collections are developed.
The procedures for the evaluation and selection of materials are central to the development of the library media center collection. Procedures employed by library media specialists include: wide use of professional, reputable, selection resources in combination, where possible, with first-hand examination of materials; and consultation with school faculty to ascertain their instructional needs and involve them in the selection and review of materials. The strengths and weaknesses of the existing collection, access to other resources, and educational goals at the district and school level also are important considerations in the evaluation and selection of library media center collections.
Once developed, the collection development policy should be used regularly as the basis for the evaluation and selection of materials. It should be reviewed and revised at least every three years. School policies and guidelines should also address the electronic resources available to teachers and students through the library media center.
Professional practice, in terms of rules and regulations that govern student access to school library media centers, should be scrutinized to ascertain the promotion of intellectual freedom. The over-riding question is whether rules encourage or inhibit intellectual freedom for students. Specific questions to be asked include: Where electronic resources are available, are all students given the opportunity to use them? Are certain groups of students unfairly favored in the use of electronic resources? Is student confidentiality respected? Are lists of students with overdue materials or other library infractions posted for all to see? Are students unfairly denied access to library resources because of rule infringement such as overdue materials? Is access to the library media center restricted to rigidly scheduled classes? Are rules governing access to the LMC by students in study halls appropriate? Are students permitted and encouraged to use the LMC before school, during lunch, after school, and at other times during the school day? Are students discouraged from using non-print materials?
In addition to rules and regulations, professional practice in the selection and evaluation of materials requires examination from the standpoint of intellectual freedom. Library media specialists must assure that access to information is promoted, not only in the English language but, where appropriate, in the languages that accommodate students for whom English is a second language.
The criteria for selection of library media center materials, as set forth in the board-approved collection development policy, should be followed in the selection of materials. Decisions about selection or reevaluation should not be based on perceived notions about the controversial nature of materials.
In summary, access to information for children and young adults must include an examination of their opportunities for intellectual and on-site physical access. The presence of an LMC alone is not sufficient to guarantee intellectual freedom for students.