By: guest contributor Wanda Huffaker
Utah librarians and their allies successfully campaigned to overturn a decision by the Utah Education Network (UEN) to block access to EBSCO K12 databases for more than 650,000 elementary and high school students in Utah. Their quick, effective response is an example of how other chapters, library organizations, libraries and schools can address challenges to platforms, databases, and other online resources.
UEN blocked access to the EBSCO K-12 research database on September 21, 2018 after it received an unsubstantiated claim that students could access pornography in the EBSCO database, as reported in the local news article, “Utah mom finds pornographic pics on Utah Education Network database.” The complainant was a conservative activist who was working with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE – Formerly Morality in Media) and other “family values” groups to ban EBSCO from schools. As a result of her complaint, students across Utah no longer had access to curated, age and grade level appropriate resources to support their research.
The Utah Library Association (ULA) began an advocacy effort to get UEN to reverse its decision. Their first effort was reaching out to local media to offer positive messaging that emphasized the educational harms resulting from the loss of access to the EBSCO database; then developed shared messaging that was then disseminated to various channels and coalition partners, including Utah Educational Library Media Association (UELMA) the Utah Education Association (UEA), the local chapter of the ACLU, EveryLibrary, and the American Library Association’s Offices of Advocacy and Intellectual Freedom.
Key talking points emphasized the need to follow policy when determining access to content; how one interest group or individual shouldn’t be able to dictate standards for every person and community; the nature of EBSCO databases as age-appropriate curated resources that allow for administrative access control; the harms that could result from restricting access to a curated resource that forces students to the open internet; the lack of any evidence for the claimed harms raised by the anti-EBSCO advocacy groups; and the need for government agencies like UEN to adhere to legal standards for obscenity, rather than relying on an individual’s or a group’s moral or religious view of what constitutes “pornography,” which has no basis in the law.
These efforts culminated in a vote by the UEN board to restore full access to the EBSCO K-12 database for Utah’s schools and libraries.
There are several key advocacy tools and strategies that supported our success. These include building and being able to call on a coalition of organizations that can amplify messaging; the ability to immediately activate members and others by maintaining a database of local supporters; and to be able to clearly and forcefully articulate messaging about the profession’s core values and its support for intellectual freedom and access to information in response to censors and critics that would block access to library and educational resources.
Joint statements to the UEN Board are below.
Wanda Mae Huffaker is a librarian for Salt Lake County, Utah. She is the chair-elect for ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Round Table and former chair for the Utah Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. She knits, crochets, hangs with her grandchildren, and researches family history. And of course, she reads banned books.