2023 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award given to Missouri Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee

For its educational programming and advocacy work in support of the right to read, the Missouri Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) has been named the 2023 recipient of the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award. The award is given annually by the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and is co-sponsored by Sage, a global academic publisher of books, journals, and library resources.

Around five years ago, the IFC created an Introduction to Intellectual Freedom Workshop. The free workshop covers the basics and history of intellectual freedom and the rights of patrons and the values of library workers. It can be modified from one to three hours and offers scenarios from events that have occurred in Missouri libraries. These workshops have been presented to libraries and at board meetings and conferences across Missouri and in several states. Members of the IFC spend significant time—often vacation time—traveling to locations that have requested training.

"The IFC is the epitome of what it looks like to endeavor to offer freedom of access and reading. Its members work hard to make sure that libraries, organizations, and individuals who need support have it. This group wholeheartedly deserves to be recognized for its past and continued efforts," wrote Missouri Public Library Directors President Jeana Gockley in her letter of nomination.

In addition to the workshops, the IFC has generated content for the association's social media accounts, offered table talks and other sessions for library works at the Missouri Library Association (MLA) conference, sent letters of support for keeping proposed banned books on shelves, talked to news outlets about book banning, and worked with students to ensure their voices are heard. The IFC collaborated with the MLA's Legislative Committee to develop the Right to Read Coalition, a group of nonlibrary Missouri residents, religious groups, educational associations, law firms, and more.

MLA Intellectual Freedom Committee
MLA Intellectual Freedom Committee members Rachelle Brandel, Colleen Norman, Cindy Hohl, Casey Phillips (2024 chair), Sarah Whalen, and Joe Kohlburn. Not pictured: Kris Dyer, Otter Bowman, Kimberly Moeller, and Krystal Smith.

"The volunteers who make up this committee have gone above and beyond any possible expectation, dedicating their talents, energy, and time to developing and providing educational opportunities in addition to relentless advocacy at a time when intellectual freedom in our state is constantly threatened," wrote MLA President Kimberly Moeller in her letter of support.

A reception to honor the IFC will be held during the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Diego, California. The event will be held on June 29 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom, Section 11, of the Marriott Marquis.

The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award is presented annually to individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom, particularly as it affects libraries and information centers and the dissemination of ideas. It 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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