For immediate release | April 15, 2020

Martha Hickson receives AASL Intellectual Freedom Award

CHICAGO – Martha Hickson, school librarian at North Hunterdon High School in Annandale, New Jersey, is one of two recipients of the 2020 American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Intellectual Freedom Award. Established in 1982 and sponsored by ProQuest, the award is given to a school librarian for upholding the principles of intellectual freedom as set forth by AASL and ALA.

In January 2019, Hickson received challenges from district administrators to the graphic novel “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel. Bypassing board-approved selection and reconsideration policies, administrators ordered the book removed from library shelves. Hickson alerted intellectual freedom organizations, library associations, and community members to mobilize support. After receiving calls and letters demanding students’ right to read, administrators agreed to return the book to the collection in February. Immediately thereafter, however, the board of education changed its selection and reconsideration policy, giving the superintendent sole control over the selection and maintenance of the library collection. Once again, Hickson alerted community supporters, who sent letters and spoke in protest at the April 2019 board meeting. Ultimately, the board restored the library's original selection and reconsideration policy, and "Fun Home" remains on the school library’s shelves.

“For the first time in the history of the Intellectual Freedom Award, the committee decided upon two winners,” said Valerie Ayer, award committee chair. “Both exemplified outstanding efforts in managing the challenges they faced in their libraries and community. Their professionalism and wisdom are models of best practices and fine examples for all school librarians. As stated in one of the letters submitted in her support, ‘Martha displayed tremendous courage and perseverance throughout this long ordeal. Her commitment to intellectual freedom is without question.’”

“I want to thank Valerie Ayer and her committee for their work on the Intellectual Freedom Award Committee this year,” said AASL President Mary Keeling. “That Martha is one of two awards in this category affirm that intellectual freedom is the right of all learners. I’m excited that this award recognizes school librarian activism on behalf of learners and in defense of the printed word in two distinct categories: picture books for elementary students and graphic novels for young adults.”

The AASL award winners will be honored during a virtual AASL Awards Ceremony during the fall of 2020. The virtual ceremony will replace the live ceremony traditionally presented during the ALA Annual Conference. Out of concern for the health and safety of all members of the community, the ALA Executive Board felt it was important to cancel the 2020 conference taking place in Chicago. Details for the virtual ceremony will be shared as they are finalized.

The American Association of School Librarians,, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), empowers leaders to transform teaching and learning.


Jennifer Habley

Manager, Web Communications

American Association of School Librarians (AASL)