For its defense of the First Amendment rights of incarcerated individuals, the Education Justice Project (EJP) has earned the 2019 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award. EJP is a social justice and academic community of incarcerated students, educators, formerly incarcerated individuals, family members of the incarcerated, and others. Based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, EJP offers educational programs to eligible individuals incarcerated at Danville Correctional Center (DCC), a men’s medium-security state prison 35 miles from the Urbana campus.
During the past year, more than 200 books were removed, censored, or banned from the EJP library at the DCC. Among these titles were Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington; Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and The End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy; "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" And Other Conversations About Race, by Beverly Daniel Tatum; and Visiting Day, a children's book by Jacqueline Woodson about visiting a parent in prison.
According to EJP Director Rebecca Ginsburg, the books on race were removed from the library because prison staff considered them to be “divisive.” Members of the EJP community, including EJP/DCC librarian Holly Clingan (MS ’16), worked to inform the public that these materials had been removed, following unsuccessful meetings with DCC staff and Department of Corrections officials to have materials returned. Ultimately, their efforts led to a state legislative hearing, and all the books that EJP submitted to be returned to the library were placed back on the shelves.
"Education Justice Project has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that the incarcerated individuals it serves have the fullest access possible to materials that will afford them new opportunities," wrote nominators Associate Professor Kathryn La Barre, Associate Professor Carol Tilley, and Associate Professor Kate Williams. "For that reason, we believe EJP is deserving of this year's Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award."
A reception to honor EJP will take place during the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, January 25, 2020, from 5:30-7:00 p.m. in Room Liberty C at the Philadelphia Marriott. 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 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.