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2021 Downs Intellectual Freedom Awards given to #FReadom Fighters and ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom staff

16 May 2022 22:47 | iSchools News (Administrator)

The School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, together with co-sponsor SAGE Publishing, have announced the results of the 2021 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award. Two winners were named this year.

The first award recipient, #FReadom Fighters, is a grassroots effort co-founded by Texas educators and librarians, Becky Calzada, Carolyn Foote, and Nancy Jo Lambert. Its mission is to fight back against the wave of book challenges in the state and create a supportive space for school librarians. Using the hashtag #FReadom, the group started tweeting about challenged books, describing their positive impact on students. Following the successful social media campaign, #FReadom Fighters created a website to curate resources and promote positive steps to support readers, reading, books, school libraries, and librarians. #FReadom Fighters has amassed thousands of supporters, both at the state level and across the country, and influenced other likeminded groups to take action. 

The second award is presented to ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom staff Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director, and Kristin Pekoll, assistant director, for their contributions in the defense of intellectual freedom. The upsurge in book challenges last year led to a substantial increase in Caldwell-Stone and Pekoll’s workload, as they assisted libraries and librarians, handled media requests, gave presentations, and wrote and issued statements. According to nominator Wanda Mae Huffaker, librarian at the Salt Lake County Library in Utah, “Their efforts in informing us, supporting us, having our back—even when entirely overwhelmed—is the reason I think they deserve applause.”

The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award is presented annually to individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom, particularly as it affects libraries and information centers and the dissemination of ideas. It was established in 1969 by the faculty of the School of Information Sciences to honor Robert Downs, a champion of intellectual freedom, on his twenty-fifth anniversary as director of the School.

According to the Award sponsors, 2021 was an especially challenging year for libraries and librarians in terms of the increase in attempts at censorship. The Sponsors cite statistics from the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom showing the number of challenges to library materials more than tripled from 2020 to 2021. In addition, current estimates show that 82 to 97 percent of challenges go unreported, suggesting that the total number of challenges could be significantly greater. 

Perhaps reflecting this increase in attempts at censorship of library materials, the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign received more than the usual number of nominations for the 2021 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award. 

A reception for the 2021 award winners will be held June 25 during the ALA conference. Read the Illinois iSchool news story for more information.

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