2018 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award given to Iowa Library Association

Iowa Library Association logo

The Iowa Library Association (ILA) has received the 2018 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award for taking a leadership role in several highly visible challenges to intellectual freedom. The award is given annually by the faculty of the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and cosponsored by Libraries Unlimited.

The ILA and its Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) were cited for their sustained commitment. Three recent examples are:

  • 2015: For working with the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom to reinstate Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in the Waterloo (IA) Community School District curriculum.
  • 2017: For defending the retention of Peter Chbosky's Perks of Being a Wallflower in the AP English curriculum of Hempstead High School in Dubuque after the book was challenged.
  • 2018: For offering support and guidance to the Orange City Public Library following challenges to the inclusion of LGBTQ books in the library's collection and a subsequent burning of those books by a nonresident that was shared on YouTube. 
Iowa Library Association board of directors
ILA Board of Directors (individual members listed below)

In addition, the ILA and IFC have taken a proactive approach to meeting threats to intellectual freedom and the First Amendment. They have partnered with the ACLU of Iowa to raise awareness of intellectual freedom issues and sponsored a session with trustees of Iowa libraries to discuss the importance of being proactive in a challenge-prone environment and how to respond when challenges occur. Terry Weech, a member of the Illinois iSchool faculty, noted that it was especially appropriate to honor the ILA's sustained commitment to intellectual freedom, given the historical role of Iowa libraries in establishing the profession's commitment to the principles of intellectual freedom.

"The American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights is based in part on the proclamation adopted in 1938 by the Des Moines Public Library Board to resist pressures to censor materials in their library," Weech said.

A reception to honor the ILA will take place during the Midwinter Meeting of the ALA in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday, January 26, 2019, from 5:30 - 7:15 p.m. in Room Willow A at the Sheraton Hotel. Libraries Unlimited provides an honorarium for the recipient and cosponsors the reception.

The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award is presented 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. The award was established in 1969 by the iSchool's faculty to honor Robert Downs, a champion of intellectual freedom, on his twenty-fifth anniversary as director of the School.

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 iSchool at Illinois is 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.

ILA Board of Directors

Back row (l-r): Jillian Rutledge, Information Services Librarian, Waverly Public Library (incoming Director); Dara Schmidt, Director, Cedar Rapids Public Library; Brianna Glenn, Director, De Soto Public Library; Samantha Helmick, Public Services Librarian, Burlington Public Library (ALA Councilor); Cara Stone, Instruction Librarian, Iowa State University; Zach Stier, Children's Librarian, Ericson Public Library in Boone (incoming Director); Ryan Gjerde, Director, Preus Library at Luther College
Front row (l-r): Dan Chibnall, STEM Librarian, Cowles Library at Drake University (Vice-President/President-Elect); Tom Kessler, Professor Emeritus of Library Services, University of Northern Iowa (Treasurer); Mike Wright, Director, Dubuque County Library District (President); Misty Gray, Library Consultant, State Library of Iowa (Secretary); Mara Strickler, Director, Algona Public Library (incoming Vice-President/President-Elect)