Intellectual Freedom and Kids
So many aspects of life are enhanced through appreciation for free access to information on topics that interest us. This is a critical consideration in library services to children, since these young patrons are full of curiosity about their world. Bolstering their understanding of the facts around intellectual freedom nurtures their inquisitive nature and encourages exploration. Not only that, but when they see the value of these rights we have, they become vigilant stewards of those rights.
In addition, access to materials reflecting a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds is important to a child’s social-emotional development. Engaging with a variety of perspectives builds empathy and helps children feel comfortable with diversity. The benefits of this sort of learning touch all areas of a child’s life, enhancing their relationships, academic performance, and emotional health.
Hand in hand with an understanding of intellectual freedom is the development of information literacy skills that enable children to become critical users of information, spotting inconsistent or misleading information from various sources.
Information literacy helps kids sort through the information they encounter, compare opinions and outlooks, and build their own solid, considered opinions and approaches to life.
So… no pressure, children’s librarians..!
Getting kids to engage with these concepts can be tricky, and youth services librarians who are already juggling a full calendar may find it difficult to add engaging programming on topics like intellectual property or website evaluation for their young patrons.
What to do? Multi-task!
The ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee has just released their Intellectual Freedom Programming Toolkit. Intellectual freedom is not just for Banned Books Week, and this toolkit offers ways to provide bitesize servings of important IF concepts at any time of year. Rather than replacing existing programs with IF-centered activities, we can embed those ideas in popular programming that’s already being done.
For example: use Brenden Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat to spark a discussion of how our perspective on things can shape perception. This is an early step toward understanding that other people sometimes see things differently than we do. Other themes or concepts include: “don’t believe everything you hear” and dealing with mixed messages -Get the picture?
Users of this toolkit will find information about enhancing existing programming for storytime, book clubs, STEAM activities, and outreach. Each entry focuses on a specific age group and includes sample programs that are easy to implement. Most sample programs include adaptations for older children and extension activities. Many incorporate popular children’s books that are already in most collections. These are fuss-free and ready to go. Kids need to start building these skills and an appreciation for the rights to access and free expression we enjoy at an early age.
The intent in creating this tool is to help children’s librarians to address this critical aspect of healthy development without having to abandon popular programs. Once you start looking at programs with Intellectual Freedom in mind, you may find that opportunities to incorporate those ideas pop up at every turn. It all depends on your perspective.
Allison G. Kaplan and Liz Hartnett are Co-chairs of ALSC’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Allison is Distinguished Faculty Associate in the Information School at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Liz is Program Coordinator for the SC Center for Children’s Books and Literacy at the University of South Carolina.
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, is driven by 4,000 members dedicated to the support and enrichment of library service to children. Our members include youth librarians, literature experts, publishers and educational faculty. To learn more about ALSC and how to join, please visit our website at www.ala.org/alsc.