2020 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award given to Amy Dodson

Amy Dodson

For supporting the value and necessity of equity, diversity, and inclusion as a part of her library's mission and service, Amy Dodson has been named the 2020 recipient of the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award. The award is given annually by the faculty of the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and cosponsored by the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), a nonprofit legal and educational organization affiliated with the American Library Association (ALA).

Dodson, director of the Douglas County (NV) Public Library, faced enormous public criticism last year for posting a diversity statement on the library’s Facebook page that included the line, "We support #Black Lives Matter." The Douglas County sheriff equated this statement with the Black Lives Matter movement and perceived it as support for violence against law enforcement. He posted a letter on the sheriff office's Facebook page stating this and adding that library staff should no longer call 911 for help with disturbances.

The sheriff's letter led to national media coverage and protests in Douglas County, and Dodson was told to take down the diversity statement by county officials. Some of her most strident critics were members of the library's board of trustees, which voted to investigate Dodson's actions using $30,000 of the library's budget to pay for a third-party investigation. The law firm conducting the investigation found that the library, Dodson, and her staff had not violated any laws or policies in introducing the diversity statement.

According to the letter of nomination, "Throughout the investigation, Dodson steadfastly supported the need for diversity initiatives while working to assure the safety and comfort of her staff."

The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award acknowledges individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom, particularly as it affects libraries and information centers and the dissemination of ideas. Each year, the recipient is recognized at the ALA Annual Conference. 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.

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