When we talk about library work, librarians may use terms that are not familiar to you, or we may use terms in a way that is different or more specific than everyday use. Sometimes, individuals who are asking for books to be removed from libraries may use certain terms in an unfamiliar or incorrect way. Here are some commonly used terms with definitions. We also include links to more information from organizations like the American Library Association (ALA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
What Does a School Librarian Do and Why Does My Child Need One?
Before we dive into the list of terms, it is helpful to understand what school librarians actually do, and why they are important to the educational landscape:
Read this brief explanation by Dr. Karen Gavigan, a former school librarian and professor the School of Information at the University of South Carolina.
Watch this 5-minute video where school administrators describe the efforts of school librarians and school library programs.
Explore this School Librarian Job Description Guide developed by the American Association of School Librarians.
Watch this 5-minute video by Dr. Joyce Valenza that describes in detail the ways school librarians use social media and content curation to do their jobs.
School Librarians vs. Public Librarians. What is the Difference?
Next, let's explore the difference between school librarians and public librarians, and how their settings determine their job responsibilities, and the way the library collection of materials is developed and managed.
Read this two-page document by the Kansas Library Association that lists the differences between the focus of school libraries and public libraries, and differences between the jobs of school and public librarians.
Explore the following brief video explanations developed by the North Dakota State Library. These will explain collection development and collection maintenance in public libraries:
Explore the NYDE's Collection Development Policy, read a brief article on the First Amendment Rights of K-12 students, and watch a brief, video overview. These will explain collection development and maintenance in school libraries:
Read this brief article by Theresa Chmara, general counsel of the Freedom to Read Foundation. It explains the First Amendment Rights K-12 students have both before and after the age of eighteen.
Special Terms Librarians Use
Below you will find a list of library terms that are frequently used in book challenges, by politicians, and in media. Several are linked to more resources and to video clips that can be easily shared on social media. Familiarize yourself with these terms so that you know when they are being used correctly and incorrectly, to help you advocate for strong library resources and broad collections, and to push back on efforts to defund, ban, or re-direct resources away from children and youth.
Age-appropriateness: Often mentioned in book challenges, this is a term that indicates a belief by the challenger that certain materials should be accessed only by people in specific age groups. However, the challenger often does not identify that age group.
Book challenge/Book ban: “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials” (ALA citation). Dr. Emily Knox breaks challenges and bans into the 4Rs:
Redaction (or expurgation): when specific content in a book is blacked out or covered over, like when a librarian draws diapers on the naked toddler in the book In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak (ALA citation).
Relocation: when books are placed in a separate location to limit access. An example would be putting books with specific content on the shelf behind the librarian so that students have to ask for them. Another example: placing certain books in a different room that only specific readers can access (ALA citation).
Restriction: when access is limited to specific readers by imposing criteria like age or grade level or reading ability, by requiring fees to access information, or by requiring parent or teacher permission (ALA citation).
Removal: when materials are completely taken out of the library collection, denying all readers access.
CRT: often cited as a reason for limiting access to materials in K-12 schools, CRT stands for Critical Race Theory. CRT is a concept developed by academic scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell, to examine the intersections of race, society, and U. S. law, in colleges and in graduate school courses.
Equity of access: The idea that all readers should be able to get materials in a format that allows them to gain information pulling from a wide range of resources. For example, equitable access may mean providing reading materials in Braille, in eBook format with adjustable font, in audiobook format, or in a language other than English. It also may mean providing materials that reflect the experiences of people from different communities or backgrounds. This term is often used when discussing the ability of people who have historically been denied access to information (due to race, ability status, or immigration status, for example) to gain access to library materials (ALA citation).
Filters/filtering: Many school districts are required by law to include filters on internet accessible school-provided devices. Filters are a type of software that restricts or controls what an internet user can access (ALA citation).
The First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791, The Supreme Court and other courts have held conclusively that there is a First Amendment right to receive information as a corollary to the right to speak. Justice William Brennan elaborated on this point in 1965: “The protection of the Bill of Rights goes beyond the specific guarantees to protect from Congressional abridgment those equally fundamental personal rights necessary to make the express guarantees fully meaningful.I think the right to receive publications is such a fundamental right.The dissemination of ideas can accomplish nothing if otherwise willing addressees are not free to receive and consider them. It would be a barren marketplace of ideas that had only sellers and no buyers.” Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965).
Freedom to read: "The freedom to read and write is almost the only means for making generally available ideas or manners of expression that can initially command only a small audience. The written word is the natural medium for the new idea and the untried voice from which come the original contributions to social growth. It is essential to the extended discussion that serious thought requires, and to the accumulation of knowledge and ideas into organized collections." The ALA statement on Freedom to Read explains this concept further.
Information literacy: "a set of skills that help people navigate through information overload. This video by the Vanessa Garofalo, MLIS, explains information literacy and its principles in plain English. It also provides great examples of how information literacy is used in the real world. The video is about 5 minutes long.
Intellectual freedom: the rights of library users, including students, to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment (ALA Citation). This is a great video explainer.
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“Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored”
Inquiry and Inquiry-Based Learning: a process people go through to when they choose a topic they are interested in learning more about, they study that topic in detail, and then they share what they learned with others. Inquiry-based learning is when students “form their own questions through experiences, reflection, conversation, and writing [and] gain a sense of ownership and accomplishment in the work they are producing that gradually leads to competence, independence, and expertise” (Article citation). Inquiry-based learning is well-integrated in K-12 curriculum, but classroom teachers are not as well trained in the process of inquiry. This is why they are encouraged to co-teach inquiry lessons, projects, and activities with school librarians. Inquiry learning helps students develop the abilities to voice clear questions, identify answers, and sharpen their critical thinking and communication skills.
Library Bill of Rights: a document created by the ALA that outlines all of the rights library users have when they access information at a library. This document has been interpreted to apply to students as well as to adults. Access and read the Library Bill of Rights.
Privacy in Libraries: Library users of all ages have a right to privacy. When students enter a school library, two expectations of privacy should be guaranteed: 1) The right to read and borrow library materials free from scrutiny regardless of age, and 2) The right to seek information and have the subject of academic and personal research remain private. However, library workers in K-12 schools are bound to federal laws that those in public libraries may not be. In addition to state laws on the confidentiality of library records, library workers who serve students and minors need to have an understanding of the federal privacy laws. For example, laws such as the Family Educational Rights Act (FERPA) give parents or caregivers rights to access the educational records of their students in K-12. FERPA also denies parents or caregivers access to their student’s records when students reach 18 (ALA citation).
Request for reconsideration: in many school district and school library policies, this is a document that anyone challenging a book must complete to start the formal process of reviewing the material and determining whether it should remain in the library.
Right to read: the idea that students should have “access to a broad range of ideas,” including ideas that the librarian and/or parent may not agree with (ALA citation).
Selection (or materials selection): the process by which librarians evaluate and choose materials to include in a library collection based on considerations relevant to that library. One consideration is typically the library’s purpose. For example, an archive with a primary goal of preserving materials for academic research would likely contain different materials than a library with a primary goal of circulating books for reading. Another common consideration is the characteristics of the library’s patrons. Children often read different materials from what adults read. College students need different resources than kindergarteners. School librarians may look at providing a wide range of materials based on reading ability and topic. Also referred to as collection development.
SEL: Social-emotional learning is the idea that topics related to children’s social and emotional well-being should be included in (often embedded within) school curricula. An SEL curriculum typically covers topics like bullying and inclusion, goal-setting, building confidence, and communication and relationship skills (more information from CASEL).
Self-censorship: when librarians decline to select or purchase materials due to concerns over potential book challenges or complaints. To learn more about this phenomena, you may want to read this article published in School Library Research, the flagship research journal of Submit a resource suggestion!
the American Association of School Librarians.