The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award

Given annually, the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom 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 or to hear or express ideas, the award may be in recognition of a particular action or a long-term interest in and dedication to the cause of intellectual freedom. The award was established in 1969 by the iSchool’s faculty to honor Dean Emeritus Robert B. Downs, a champion of intellectual freedom, on the occasion of his twenty-fifth anniversary as director of the School.

During the height of the McCarthy era, Downs led an effort against what he called "the current wave of anti-intellectualism, manifesting itself in attacks on books, on freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, freedom to teach and all those rights we have long held to be guaranteed by the 1st Amendment." His strong public statements against censorship, made while president of ALA from 1952-53, led to President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1953 "Don’t Join the Bookburners’" speech.

Sage provides an honorarium to the Downs Award recipient and, with the iSchool, co-hosts the reception held in honor of the recipient. The reception and award ceremony for the 2023 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award will take place in June 2024 at the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Diego.

Letters of nomination and documentation about the nominee should be sent by April 8, 2024, to Emily Knox, Chair of the Nominations Selection Committee, by email at with a copy to

Please email any questions to Emily Knox at


2022New College of Florida Defenders for their tireless efforts to support academic freedom.

2021#FReadom Fighters and the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom staff for their contributions in the defense of intellectual freedom.

2020Amy Dodson, director of the Douglas County (NV) Public Library, for supporting the value and necessity of equity, diversity, and inclusion as a part of her library's mission and service.

2019Education Justice Project, for its defense of the First Amendment rights of incarcerated individuals.

2018—The Iowa Library Association (ILA) for taking a leadership role in several highly visible challenges to intellectual freedom.

2017—The Kansas City Public Library for its defense of library patrons' First Amendment rights.

2016Wendy Campbell, director of the Darby (MT) Community Public Library, for her efforts in demonstrating the importance of libraries as safe places for community education and communication in preparation for the “Perspectives on Islam” lifelong learning cultural program.

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.

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.

2013DaNae 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.

2012Librotraficante, 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.

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.

2008—Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive, who successfully challenged a national security letter.

2007—Barbara M. Jones, in recognition of her extensive work on behalf of intellectual freedom, both in the United States and abroad.

2006—Michele Reutty, who refused to turn over patron records without a subpoena.

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.

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.

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.

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.

2001—Deloris Wilson, librarian, West Monroe (LA) High School, for her response to an order to remove books from her library's shelves; and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization committed to defending intellectual freedom on the World Wide Web

2000—Nancy Garden, for her efforts to keep her book, Annie On My Mind, on library shelves;and Bennett Haselton, creator of

1999—Ann Symons, librarian at Juneau Douglas High School in Alaska and past president of the American Library Association (ALA), for her long-term efforts to resist attempts to censor information. 

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