Administrators, librarians, teachers and parents all want the best for children. That is why the topic of intellectual freedom in school libraries is often emotional and heated. While the Library Bill of Rights clearly states that information access should not be denied because of age, when it comes to children the discussion gets complicated. Parents have the right to decide what materials are appropriate for their children, but the librarian has to be able to safeguard the collection for the rest of the school. During the career of a school librarian, the topic of censorship will undoubtedly arise. School librarians need to be prepared to support intellectual freedom rights when it comes to the issues of filtering, relocating, and removing information from a library collection.
Censors assert that materials that contain inappropriate information are harmful to children. Common reasons for censorship challenges include violent and sexually explicit material. It is feared that adolescents with higher exposure to sexually explicit material will be more permissive. Censors also have concern that overexposure to violent behavior will make children and young adults more aggressive. However, it is impossible to determine what other outside influences contributes to these behaviors. Bowie Kotrla (2007, p. 51) emphasizes that more damage is inflicted upon adolescents when they are restricted from obtaining information. She states that students find the limitations “frustrating and demoralizing, as well as a serious impediment to learning.”
Students are entitled to uncensored access to information. Many schools are adopting the use of internet filters in order to protect students from unsuitable websites. However, the use of internet filters conflicts with the mission of libraries. Most filters work in the background logging information about sites visited without the knowledge of the user. This is a clear violation of privacy. It is also much cheaper to filter an entire school rather than individual computers, which results in limiting of teacher access to information as well (Johnson, 1998, p. 13). Because the nature of the internet is constantly changing, filters cannot be expected to block all inappropriate material. A website that is harmless today may have links to explicit material tomorrow. Instead of trying to filter the information we give our students, it is a much better solution to teach them to be critical evaluators of information. While concern about students accessing inappropriate material online is valid, blocking huge amounts of information because it has the potential to be harmful is in conflict with the Library Bill of Rights. It is more effective to teach students to use the internet responsibly, ethically, and safely (Adams, 2010, p. 48).
A project in the 1990’s examined British and Canadian libraries response to censorship challenges. In the thirty Canadian and thirty British libraries that were...