Elementary school librarian DaNae Leu is the recipient of the 2013 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award given by the faculty of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Leu is being honored for her efforts to defend the picture book In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco against her school administration’s decision to remove the book from the library shelves of the district.
In April 2012, a committee from the Davis School District in Utah voted to place the picture book, which features two lesbian mothers heading a household, on restricted access after concerns were raised about its age appropriateness. The decision to place the book behind the counter—meaning that any child who wanted to access it would need a signed permission slip from a guardian—was based on a state law that bars school curricula from advocating homosexuality.
Leu played an active role in bringing national media attention to the case, which ultimately resulted in involvement by the Utah Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). These efforts spurred school officials to return In Our Mothers’ House to the shelves this past summer. In September, Leu was spotlighted as a Banned Books Week Hero.
“It’s not a little overwhelming to be singled out for such an honor,” said Leu. “I was but one player in an entire troop of committed actors who stepped up and fought for the idea that the freedom to keep one book on a library shelf protects the very foundation of the basic liberties our country needs to thrive. There is much gratitude to spread around, from the Utah Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, the ACLU, Melinda Roger at the Salt Lake Tribune who broke the story, and ultimately to my school district who found a way not only to repair a mistake but to ensure that freedom from censorship is now policy. Thank you to the Robert B. Downs Award Committee for your continued focus on the most cherished truth that our country will only survive when information, thoughts, ideas, and our stories are available to all.”
A reception to honor Leu will take place during the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, January 25, 2014, from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. Libraries Unlimited provides an honorarium for the recipient and co-sponsors the reception.
The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award is given annually to acknowledge individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom, particularly as it affects libraries and information centers and the dissemination of ideas. Granted to those who have resisted censorship or efforts to abridge the freedom of individuals to read or view materials of their choice, the award may be given in recognition of a particular action or long-term interest in, and dedication to, the cause of intellectual freedom. One of the earliest of its kind, the award was established in 1969 by the GSLIS faculty to honor Robert Downs, a champion of intellectual freedom, on his twenty-fifth anniversary as director of the school.
Greenwood Publishing Group became a co-sponsor of the Downs Intellectual Freedom Award in the early 1980s, and when Greenwood became an imprint of ABC-CLIO, it continued to provide the honorarium to the awardees and co-sponsor the award reception. With Libraries Unlimited, an ABC-CLIO imprint, assuming co-sponsorship of the award in 2012, ABC-CLIO imprints have supported this prestigious award for more than 30 years. GSLIS is very honored to share sponsorship with Libraries Unlimited and appreciates the contributions it and the other imprints of ABC-CLIO have made in defending intellectual freedom through the years. For a list of the prior award recipients, visit the GSLIS website.