Intellectually Our Duty For the Freedom To Read



Professor of Media Law at the University of Florida, Clay Calvert, was a former professor of mine at Penn State University.  I had the privilege to be a part of his Media Law class during my time in Happy Valley (a pseudo-name for the campus).  One quote always stuck with me as a professional teacher-librarian from that class back in the summer of 2000, “Censorship can have a chilling effect on all forms of media.” The term “chilling effect” means that if books are being freely censored and banned, what could be next?

Throughout history, those who have challenged material towards an outright ban have done a disservice to the American public whose fundamental right to free speech as outlined in the First Amendment is being tarnished over reasons stemming from ignorance to a desire for conformity in the name of decency.  One of the most banned authors within the last 40 years has been Judy Blume…..yes…THE..Judy Blume (Superfudge, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret).  According to the 2007 Banned Books Guide by Robert P. Doyle, Superfudge has been challenged in Wyoming due to the “profane, immoral, and offensive” material.  Are You There God…has been challenged due to the themes of “sex and anti-Christian.”

Educators in general have a duty to protect quality works of fiction.  One of the ALA’s (American Library Association) published Bill of Rights protects the shield of censorship.

  • III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment

What does this have to do with cultural competency?  Everything.  If a child is being denied the access to read quality, culturally significant stories.  Fiction builds connections. The concept Intellectual Freedom is vital to the lifeblood of any library program.  The concept can not be seen, touched, or heard, only experienced.  The goal is to protect the right to read.  Censorship takes away that right and then students become disassociated with learning.  We all fail.

The following five part Voki presentation elaborates on the ethics of protecting intellectual freedom.

Intellectual Freedom (Voki-1)

Intellectual Freedom (Voki-2)

Intellectual Freedom (Voki-3)

Intellectual Freedom (Voki-4)

Intellectual Freedom (Voki-5)


Make Beliefs Comix

What could be a better product for assessment of than a comic strip?  Why not create your own?  Through direct observation, students are receptive to comic strips, consequently, equally receptive to reading graphic novels.  For example, a class learning about “genre” could create strips that illustrate a specific genre type (historical fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction), which could tell mini-stories.  The students could share with one another.  Two things are then accomplished:  shared learning, genre comprehension.  Struggling learners are connected with those who are accomplished.

Enjoy a tutorial on how to use the learning tool.


Competency = Understanding

Those who are culturally competent have reached an unseen level of understanding.  An athlete reaches a level of competency on a competitive stage through successful demonstration of talent.  The incompetent individual lacks the understanding of a specific idea, procedure, action, or element of any distinct, specific concept.  This is not necessarily due to a learning deficiency but a lack of discovery interest for a wide variety of reasons.  In the middle lies the struggling individual.  That person is failing to grasp the objectives required to succeed.  The person might engage with interest equal to a competent person, but since No Child Left Behind commenced in 2001, the notion of testing aptitude was seemingly the only strategy to determine whether the student was learning the material. Evaluative procedure is flawed.  The struggling are lost in the shuffle because a test score said so, and therefore, the efficacy of one student can be forgotten, thus opening a door for an apathetic mindset.

Each student CAN comprehend and be competent.  Rich class, middle class, poor class all are susceptible to failure, unless the attention to testing as a major factor is brushed aside, in favor of a comprehensive, personal, empathetic, collaborative, rubrical technique.  In the new real world of technologically based pedagogy that places critical, qualitative thinking onto a higher plateau than the obsession over quantitative analysis, cooperative learning trumps individual comprehension.  Students must learn how to work alongside one another.  The environment of a library program can assist in guiding and strengthening relationships from all class structures.  The library is a place that does not restrict any learner of all styles (visual, learning, kinesthetic). “Cooperative learning also been shown to improve relationships among students from different ethnic backgrounds” (Lyman & Foyle, 1991).  The bottom line is that cultural competency is a skill set that cannot be nurtured from books or online articles, but experiences though cooperative learning.

In 1968, a teacher in Riceville, Iowa, named Jane Elliott conducted a lesson with her third grade class.  After the asssassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee, she devised a plan to teach her students about discrimination and predjuice.  Since the town of Riceville was all white, her students had never associated with any other child of color, or any that resided from a different socio-economic class.  The following video is a summary of that lesson where she separated all the students by eye color.  She treated the blue eyed students better than the brown eyed.  All of the blued eyed students were required to treat the brown eyed students as inferior.  This was a controversial method at the time, but effective.  Since being retired from the classroom, she has taken her lesson to universities and corporate offices to help further the understanding of discrimination.  This is an example of a culturally, cooperative project that would result postively,  in a mixed class structured school.  All participants would have a voice. In relation to the distribution of library material on the shelves, cooperative learning would create a new interest into students wanting to read fiction works from all cultures.  Dialogue continues and flourishes.


Work Cited

Lyman, L., & Foyle, H. C. (1991). ERIC digest: Cooperative learning strategies and children. Emergency Librarian, 1934-35

Manufacturing the Connection



Straight from the core, or heart of the library media center is the constant back and forth movement of personal connections.  The teacher-librarian is responsible for maintaining harmony of those connections, to where the primary mission is to reach every student, faculty, administrative and community member.  Those young citizens from a household that is poverty-stricken are being denied the opportunity to forge connections from the library experience.  Financial hardships in Philadelphia are causing libraries to cease to exist.  Not only is physical space eliminated but the elimination of cognitive relationships is more detrimental to the development of students than any other educational program.

Lea Elementary School is a Pre K-8th grade building in West Philadelphia, a section of the city where 92 percent of its students qualify for a free lunch.  The west side is known for its high rates of violent crime.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, West Philadelphia rated 7th worst out of all the neighborhoods in the entire city of incidents of violent crime so far in 2016 (51 cases).  Positivity is sorely needed in this community.  The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) has partnered over the last 50 years with schools in West Philly to build relationships through funding and educational guidance.  Since the Lea library closed in 2012, the partnership called WePAC (West Philadelphia Children’s Alliance) has filled the library on a temporary basis with volunteers to provide the students in Pre K-3 with a library activity twice a week.  Unfortunately, those in 4th-8th are not receiving instruction in library skills.  Those in 7th and 8th are not gaining any information retrieval method skills (research).  Lea Elementary-UPenn Partnership.

There are numerous studies attributing student success to a fully functioning library center.  For example, Gavigan and Lance discovered that in South Carolina, there were convincing factors that translated into student success as a result of the proactive library program.  A presence of a certified librarian and staff, increased expenditures, a substantial print collection of diverse material, a high level of librarian-faculty collaboration, wide access to computers and other instruments of technology, and full, flexible schedules with a revolving door of activity, all increase student success on state assessment exams, compared to those schools who lack in those areas.

Christopher Harris writes in School Library Journal that partnerships for the good of cultural competency must include literature and discussion forums on the subject of cultural competency.  “Consider urban schools where teacher shortages are solved by using uncertified, untrained teachers” (Harris, 2014).  Teachers who come into an unfamiliar territory of poverty are hit with a cultural shock and are unable to adapt.  The librarian needs to step up and lead that assistance to aid in that teacher adapting to the surroundings.

What UPenn is providing is an opportunity for communal relationships.  Students at UPenn are sharing the love of reading with those who have been denied access.  Library professionals in schools MUST manufacture the connection.  Use the community and reach out, in order to foster relationships.  The link at the bottom is a short clip with Dr. Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) from Rutgers University.  She is the Director of the Masters of Information Science program.  She was a K-12 librarian for 40 years.  She instills on the importance of teacher-librarians building relationships as professionals, by harnessing in on taking literacy and technology, for objectives centered around meaningful learning experiences.

Works Cited

Gavigan, K., & Lance, K.C. (2016). SC study shows link between school librarians and higher test scores. Retrieved from

Harris, C. (2014). Diversify Your Worldview. School Library Journal, 60(2), 14

Add “Mentor” to the List

Researcher of library program inner-workings and professor at San Jose State University, David Loertscher, published a book in 1988 titled, Taxonomies of the School Library Media Program.  The book reads more like a manual, identifying the key players that encompass the success of a well functioning school library, along with methods and evaluative additives to legitimize the many purposes of the facility.  Loertscher takes the third chapter and elaborates on the role of the media specialist.  He lists in bullet form, an array of “human qualities that characterize successful library media specialists” (p. 16).  The point labeled, “views self as leader in curriculum development” is applicable for this post.

Education in itself is a mechanism to build leaders, learning how to  solve problems in a nutshell.  In the 21st Century world of learning problem solving, the library is the main arena for problem solving.  A library curricula is not about a playbook of facts and figures, but a non-linear field of conflict and multiple solutions.  The use of the library is the answer to those solutions.  Critical thinking is the pulse, a universal skill set to proactive, real world thinking and communication.  The librarian is a mentor for not only students but teachers and administrators.  We as librarians, push the envelope for conversation starters.  A library curricula is meant to be a document of doing and independence.  Standard #2 of the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner states:  Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge.  That statement is a representation of what teachers expect of their students, from K-12.  The library is, can, and will always be THE place to where this standard is rooted and nourished.

No more useful can this assist in the library becoming culturally competent facility, and where the mentor librarian can mold new mentors is school library in an environment with a majority of poverty stricken citizens.  The adolescent age is heavily influenced from environmental factors.  Drugs, prostitution, violent crime, financial woes can negatively influence a child’s positive well-being.  He or she is more likely to follow the path of those influences more regularly than a child that does not consistently experience poverty.  Erik Erikson says that adolescents experience an “identity vs. role confusion” phase.  This is a major stage in development where the child has to learn the roles of an adult. It is during this stage that the adolescent will re-examine identity and try to find out exactly who he or she is.  Students yearn for a purpose in the world.  With all the ills surrounding a child in such a neighborhood, school is the last motivator.  However, the library can provide that purpose.

One way the library can build leaders is through makerspaces.  The ideology is built from the 21st learning model.  Project-based educator Chris O’Brien writes about the effectiveness that a makerspace can have on the makeup of today’s student learner, and as an uplifting factor towards the collective emotional desire to learn on an entire school.  This program can bring back the fun in learning.  “By helping bring the maker movement into their school, educators can help usher in the future of education. Through planning curricula-aligned projects, school and community makerspaces can help once again to democratize education and build learning communities where all students have a chance to grow into thoughtful, confident leaders of tomorrow,” says O’Brien in his online article in Edutopia.

Works Cited

Loertscher, D. V. (1988). Taxonomies of the school library media program. Englewood, CO:      Libraries Unlimited Inc.

O’Brien, C. (2016). Makerspaces lead to school and community successes. Retrieved from