CHICAGO – Dee Venuto, school librarian at Rancocas Valley Regional High School, is the 2011 recipient of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Intellectual Freedom Award. Nominated by Hilda Weisburg, Venuto researched the motivations behind the challenges of three books on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues and upheld the principles of intellectual freedom in a presentation made before the district’s reconsideration committee.
The three titles challenged were included in a reading list compiled by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Venuto found “reason to believe this wasn’t just a parent who was upset but was much more organized.” Research proved Venuto right. Venuto discovered the book challenge to be part of a well-organized strategy, part of TV personality Glen Beck’s 9/12 Project, to discredit Kevin Jennings, GLSEN founder and director of the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.
Posts on 9/12 Project message boards led Venuto to “see that they were systematically planning to target school libraries in the county, and if this is happening in New Jersey, there is probably a good chance it could happen in other places.” She notes that “our profession requires us to provide information that reflects all the varied needs and interests of our patrons, and I will continue to do so.” Working with the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom, she documented her findings and presented it to the district’s reconsideration committee.
“The Intellectual Freedom Awards Committee applauds all school librarians who, on a daily basis, seek to uphold the principles of Intellectual Freedom. This year’s award winner was chosen for her determined efforts in facing a challenge,” said Bonnie Grimble, committee chair. “Dee is an excellent model in demonstrating the teaching opportunities educators should grasp when faced with challenging hurdles. From the questions and doubts raised in the challenge, our winner created lessons that brought forth understanding and growth.”
While the reconsideration committee eventually ruled to return only two of the titles to the school library’s shelves, Venuto’s efforts to uphold intellectual freedom moved beyond the walls of her school library. A New Jersey resident was inspired to host a series of readings from one of the banned books, and the New Jersey Education Association published an article about teen literature, censorship and banned books. The National Coalition Against Censorship also recognized Venuto for her work.
Venuto and other AASL award recipients will be honored at AASL's Awards Luncheon during ALA's 2011 Annual Conference in New Orleans. The luncheon will be held Monday, June 27 and Lauren Myracle, best-selling young adult author and national spokesperson for intellectual freedom, will headline. Ticket information can be found on the AASL website at http://www.ala.org/aasl/annual.
Established in 1982, the AASL Intellectual Freedom Award is given for upholding the principles of intellectual freedom as set forth by AASL and ALA. The recipient is awarded $2,000 and $1,000 is awarded to the school library program of the recipient's choice. The award is sponsored by ProQuest.
The American Association of School Librarians, www.aasl.org, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), promotes the improvement and extension of library services in elementary and secondary schools as a means of strengthening the total education program. Its mission is to advocate excellence, facilitate change and develop leaders in the school library field.