The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award was established in 1969 by the faculty to honor Robert Downs, a champion of intellectual freedom, on his 25th anniversary as director of the School. Given annually, the award acknowledges individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom, particularly as it impacts 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 in recognition of a particular action or long-term interest in, and dedication to, the cause of intellectual freedom.
With Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, assuming cosponsorship of the award in 2012, ABC-CLIO has been dedicated to supporting the Downs Award for more than thirty years. As a publisher committed to advancing library professional development and independent critical thought, Libraries Unlimited and the entire ABC-CLIO family are strong advocates of intellectual freedom rights and the dissemination of all ideas. The School 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.
Letters of nomination and documentation about the nominee are usually solicited every October. Documents should be sent by e-mail to Associate Professor weech [at] illinois.edu (Terry Weech) with a copy to iSchool Dean ischool-dean [at] illinois.edu (Allen Renear) or in paper form to Terry Weech, Associate Professor, School of Information Sciences, 501 E. Daniel Street, Champaign, IL 61820. Questions should be directed to weech [at] illinois.edu (Terry Weech).
2015—The group HP Kids Read for promoting academic excellence and defending the role of experts, such as teachers and librarians, to select diverse reading materials that challenge their students to think critically, teach them empathy, and prepare them for the challenges of adulthood. Through collaboration with teachers, the group has advocated for policies at the level of the individual student that prevent a small group of parents from altering the curriculum for all students.
Read the press release.
2014—The staff and board of trustees of the Orland Park (Illinois) Public Library for defending the principles of intellectual freedom with regard to their policy of not filtering adult Internet access in the library, which received a great deal of attention in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Read the press release.
2013—DaNae Leu, elementary school librarian, 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.
Read the press release.
2012—Librotraficante, for for its efforts to oppose the censorship of ethnic and cultural studies materials in Arizona.
2011—Marianna Tax Choldin, for her extensive contributions to intellectual freedom over the span of her professional career.
Read the press release.
2010—Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), for its dedication to the preservation of First Amendment rights for members of the comics community.
2009—West Bend Community Memorial Library, for its steadfast advocacy on behalf of intellectual freedom in the face of a library challenge.
Read the press release.
2008—Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive, who successfully challenged a national security letter.
Read the press release.
2007—Barbara M. Jones, in recognition of her extensive work on behalf of intellectual freedom, both in the United States and abroad.
Read the press release.
2006—Michele Reutty, who refused to turn over patron records without a subpoena.
Library director Michele Reutty never realized that following the rules could get her in so much trouble. But when she found herself following library protocol in response to a request for information from the police, she landed in the midst of a controversy. Now, her commitment to upholding privacy laws has earned her the 2006 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award given by the faculty.
In May 2006, area police asked Reutty, then library director at the Hasbrouck Heights Public Library in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, to supply library circulation records to aid in an investigation. Complying with state statutes, Reutty told police she couldn't supply the records without a subpoena. After they returned with one, she provided the information as requested.
Soon after, however, local officials expressed their shock and disappointment, accusing Reutty of putting the library's interests ahead of a police investigation. Reutty faced disciplinary action from the library's board, in part because she consulted a lawyer who was familiar with the statutes regarding state libraries and not the borough lawyer as is required by borough law. After months of disagreement, Reutty resigned on October 2, 2006.
On December 4, 2006, Reutty became library director of the Free Public Library in Oakland, New Jersey. She is currently the vice-president of the New Jersey Library Association.
Read the press release.
2005—John Doe (John Doe v. Gonzales), whose legal challenge to a National Security Letter requesting library patron records represents an important defense of intellectual freedom.
Since the Downs Award was given, John Doe has been identified as The Library Connection's Director and Board, Windsor, CT.
Read the press release.
2004—Whatcom County Library System, in Bellingham, Washington, in recognition of its efforts to defend intellectual freedom by fighting an FBI subpoena requesting patron records.
When a patron at the Deming Public Library, a rural branch of the Whatcom County Library System, discovered a handwritten note quoting Osama Bin Laden in the margin of the book Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War On America , the patron contacted the FBI, who confiscated the original book and served the library with a grand jury subpoena, demanding names and addresses of everyone who had checked out the book. The library—citing the rights of all people who use the library and using a technicality of the location of the library records—filed a motion to quash the subpoena, which was then withdrawn by the FBI, although they reserved the right to file it again. "Libraries are a haven where people should be able to seek whatever information they want to pursue without any threat of government intervention," said Director of Whatcom County Library System, Joan Airoldi, who also notes that if the FBI had requested the patron records using a national security letter made possible by the U.S. Patriot Act, the library would have been violating the Patriot Act's gag order and committing a felony if they'd let anyone know they had been contacted.
Read the recipient's remarks.
2003—June Pinnell-Stephens, Collections Services Manager for Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Library, Fairbanks, Alaska, for her active participation in intellectual freedom activities in the Pacific Northwest Library Association, Alaska Library Association, and the American Library Association; and Mainstream Montgomery County, a Montgomery County Texas organization that has championed intellectual freedom.
June Pinnell-Stephens joined the profession in 1972 after receiving her master of library science degree that year from the University of Washington. Since 1976, she has served in various intellectual freedom and officer roles in the Washington Library Association, the Pacific Northwest Library Association, the Alaska Library Association (AkLA), and the American Library Association (ALA). Most notably she has served as chair of the AkLA's Intellectual Freedom Committee from 1984–1985 and again from 1989 until the present; as President of the Freedom to Read Foundation from 1995–1998; and as an ALA Councilor-at-large from 2001–2004. In 1997 she chaired a group that produced Libraries: An American Value, an intellectual freedom statement that was adopted overwhelmingly as policy by the ALA Council in 1999. Pinnell-Stephens was honored as the Citizen Activist of the Year by the Alaska Civil Liberties Union in 1998, and has given countless papers and presentations on intellectual freedom at library association meetings around the country. In the words of Ann K. Symons, the 1999 Downs Award recipient and a supporter of Pinnell-Stephens' nomination, "June is the 'official' IF [Intellectual Freedom] guru in Alaska and has mentored many new librarians. Her expertise has been critical on numerous occasions and there has never been a time when June has not had time to answer a question, participate in a discussion, provide information from her encyclopedic IF background."
When a group known as the Republican Leadership Council (RLC) succeeded in efforts to remove two award-winning, sex education books from the Montgomery County Memorial Library System (MCMLS) despite established procedures for the reconsideration of challenged materials, a group of more than 100 county residents and 40 high school students formed Mainstream Montgomery County to fight back. The RLC first persuaded County Judge Alan B. Sadler that It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health was obscene and promoted homosexuality, and at a later Commissioners' Court hearing It's So Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families was targeted for removal. Mainstream Montgomery County responded immediately, circulating and later presenting petitions with several thousand signatures that declared their support of the books, the library system's selection procedures and reconsideration process, and the MCMLS Director Jerilynn A. Williams, whose integrity had been questioned by the RLC, in one case by a claim that her allowing the books to remain on the shelves was tantamount to her support of child abuse, thereby making her a child molester. Thereafter, Mainstream Montgomery County was instrumental first in ensuring that an expanded Materials Reconsideration Committee and revised selection policy required members of the committee to have formal training in child development or work experience with the age group for which a book was intended, and also that a $10 million bond issue for library construction was passed by voters.
2002—retired librarian Zoia Horn for a lifetime of defending intellectual freedom, and Ginnie Cooper and the Multnomah County Library Board of Trustees (Portland, Oregon) for their stand on the Children's Internet Protection Act.
Thirty years ago, when Zoia Horn was subpoenaed to appear at the trial of the "Harrisburg Seven," she refused to testify, was found in contempt of court, and jailed for three weeks. This jail sentence effectively ended her library career, but she used her information skills in her work for both the Center for Investigative Reporting and DataCenter, both of Oakland, CA. She has also remained active in intellectual freedom issues over the years, chairing the Intellectual Freedom Committees of ALA, New Jersey Library Association, and the California Library Association, sponsoring resolutions affirming the confidentiality of the relationship between libraries and their users. In 1986, Horn brought her Right to Know project from DataCenter to ALA, who then formed the Coalition on Government Information, a group of about 50 organizations that are interested in stemming the trend toward less public access to government information.
Ginnie Cooper—Director of the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, and who recently accepted a position as executive director at Brooklyn Public Library—is known as being committed to the principles of intellectual freedom, even providing ongoing and systematic intellectual freedom training for all staff, volunteers, and board members of the Multnomah County Library. Cooper's commitment, along with that of the Multnomah County Library Board of Trustees, led to the library's serving with the ALA as plaintiffs in the case against the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). In May, the plaintiffs received a unanimous lower court ruling that CIPA is unconstitutional because the mandated use of filtering technology on all computers will result in blocked access to substantial amounts of constitutionally protected speech. The Court found that filters both overblock (block access to protected speech) and underblock (allow access to illegal or unconstitutional speech). The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on CIPA in late winter or early spring 2003 (for the eventual ruling, visit the ALA's Quick Summary of CIPA Decision).
2001—high school librarian Deloris Wilson and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for their following efforts:
When the principal of Louisiana's West Monroe High School ordered librarian Deloris Wilson to remove Heartbreak and Roses: Real Life Stories of Troubled Love; Gays In or Out of the Military; Everything You Need to Know About Incest; and Everything You Need to Know About Abstinence from her library shelves on May 2, 1996, Wilson protested. When she was then told to remove all books with sexual content, she responded by pulling over 200 books, including several Bibles. The principal rescinded that order, but Wilson filed a formal grievance and a complaint with the ACLU of Louisiana protesting the removal of the four titles and was eventually named plaintiff in a suit the ACLU filed on October 3, 1996 against the Ouachita Parish School Board. It wasn't until August 17, 1999 that a settlement was reached and all four banned books were returned to the library. In the meantime, Ms. Wilson endured hostility and professional isolation at West Monroe High School, where she continues to serve as a librarian today.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), based in San Francisco, was founded in July 1990 to defend our rights to think, speak, and share ideas, thoughts, and needs using new technologies, such as the Internet and the World Wide Web. EFF identifies threats to basic rights online and advocates on behalf of free expression in the digital age.
2000—Nancy Garden, author of Annie on My Mind, and Bennett Haselton, creator of Peacefire.org, for their following efforts:
When Annie on My Mind—a young adult novel about two teenaged girls who fall in love—was removed from the Olathe, Kansas school district's libraries in 1993, Nancy Garden became a high-profile spokesperson on behalf of intellectual freedom for young readers. Although the book was ultimately returned to the library shelves after a successful civil lawsuit brought by a group of parents and students, Garden continues to volunteer her time to speak at libraries and conferences in an ongoing demonstration of how to quietly, strongly, and successfully defend intellectual freedom on behalf of young readers.
Peacefire.org, a website dedicated to "Open Access for the Net Generation," was created by Bennett Haselton in August 1996 to represent the interests of people under 18 in the debate over freedom of speech on the Internet. Since its inception, Peacefire.org has focused on revealing the limitations of Internet-filtering software.
1999—Ann Symons, librarian at Juneau Douglas High School in Alaska and immediate past president of the American Library Association (ALA), for her long-term efforts to resist attempts to censor information. During her 1998—99 ALA presidency, Symons promoted intellectual freedom with her theme of "Read, Learn, Connect @ the Library." In a January 1999 article in American Libraries, Symons wrote "It is clear to me after being ALA president for half my term that if I hadn't chosen an intellectual freedom theme for my presidency, it would have chosen me." She has championed open access to the Internet for library patrons and hosted a meeting in March 1999 at which librarians and filtering software manufacturers came together to seek solutions for the free-speech issues raised by filtering. Symons served as Chair of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee from 1996 to 1997, and is coeditor of Speaking Out! Voices in Celebration of Intellectual Freedom (ALA Editions, 1999).
1998—Mainstream Loudoun, for the group's commitment to defending against attempts to censor access to information, specifically their activities in challenging the imposition of mandatory Internet blocking software at Loudoun County (VA) Public Library.
1997—Bruce Ennis, Lead Counsel, for his representation of the coalition of organizations in the Communications Decency Act case as heard before the U.S. Supreme Court
1996—Sanford Berman, Head Cataloger, Technical Services Division, Hennepin County Public Library, Minnesota
1995—Eleanor and Elliot Goldstein, founders of Social Issues Resources Series, Inc. (SIRS)
1994—Maggie Breen, collection coordinator, Jefferson County Public Library, Lakewood. Colorado
1993—Nat Hentoff, writer and journalist
1992—Mary Jo Godwin, former editor of Wilson Library Bulletin
1991—Dennis Barrie and the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center
1990—C. James Schmidt, President of the Freedom to Read Foundation
1989—Cooperative Children's Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison
1988—Paula Kaufman, Dean of Library Services, University of Tennessee
1987—Gene Lanier, Professor, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina
1986—Dorothy Broderick, author, educator, Virginia Beach, Virginia
1985—Donald Miedema, Superintendent of Springfield Illinois Public Schools
1984—Marie Bruce, Oneonta, New York, Huntington Memorial Library
1981—Dr. E. B. Stanley and the seven other members of the Washington Country (Virginia) Library Board of Trustees
1980—Jeanne Layton, Director, Davis County Library, Farmington, Utah
1979—Ralph McCoy, Dean Emeritus of Library Affairs, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
1978—Judith F. Krug, Director, Office of Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association, Chicago
1977—Irene Turin, Librarian, Island Trees High School, Levittown, New York
1976—Eli Oboler, Director, Idaho State University Library, Pocatello
1974—Everett Moore, author of Issues of Freedom in American Libraries (1964) and instrumental in the organization of the Freedom to Read Foundation
1973—Alex Allain, President of the Freedom to Read Foundation
1972—John J. Carey, Librarian, Groton (Connecticut) Public Library
1971—President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography
1970—Orrin B. Dow, Librarian, Farmingdale Public Library, Farmingdale, New York
1969—LeRoy Charles Merritt, Dean, School of Librarianship, University of Oregon, and editor of the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom