March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

University of Illinois and Freedom to Read Foundation Offer Intellectual Freedom Course

Emily Knox-resize

Professor Emily Knox will be teaching the “Intellectual Freedom and Censorship” course that is part of an effort through the Freedom to Read Foundation and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All images courtesy of UIUC.

From August 26 until October 10, 2014, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is teaming up with the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) to offer an online course called “Intellectual Freedom and Censorship,” through the foundation’s Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund. This will be the first time that money from the memorial fund will be used for an education-related project.

Emily Knox is an associate professor at GSLIS who will be teaching the online course—as she has twice before.

“I love teaching this course—it really helps me think about new paths for research,” says Knox. “My primary research area is intellectual freedom and censorship.  The research [from my dissertation on the arguments that challengers make to justify removing, relocating, and restricting books] will be expanded in a forthcoming monograph from Rowman & Littlefield.”

The class will cover topics including the historical roots of intellectual freedom, pro- and anti-censorship arguments, access and privacy, and free speech versus hate speech. Students will also discuss policies and handling patrons. A press release from the FTRF mentioned that guest speakers and videos will be part of the lessons. Students will be required to build what Knox calls a “challenge portfolio” which includes a letter to the governing board, a community plan, and a short reflection paper, along with other documents.

“It really helps the student think through the importance of policy and how they will respond to a challenge in their institution,” Knox said. “Members of the information profession are on the front lines of providing access to information to everyone.  Supporting intellectual freedom is one of our core ethical principles. This course gives both a framework for understanding that support and a methods for putting our values into practice.”

University of Illinois-reszieSixteen students are currently enrolled, though Knox is hopeful that the number will increase. The course is open to any student enrolled in a Library and Information Science program. Students who don’t attend the university can partake in the class as well.

Registration information: Those at Illinois and other institutions in the WISE consortium ( are able to register via the WISE system. For those at non-WISE institutions, please contact Tonyia Tidline, GSLIS director of professional development, at (217) 244-2945 or

“I hope students are able to explain why supporting intellectual freedom is important and feel prepared to handle a challenge,” Knox said.

Although Knox says she’s never experienced any censorship personally—though she’s certainly had some discussions over controversial material acquisitions—she’s a fan of reading banned books, including J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series (Scholastic) and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little Brown, 2009).

“I’ve always loved thinking about censorship, access, and banned books,” Knox said.  “My mom was a high school librarian for over 30 years and she always brought home Banned Books Week literature and encouraged me to read banned books.  Several of my elementary school essays were on banned books.”

Now, as a professor rather than a student, Knox hopes for lively discussions in the classroom and will have to wait for the future to judge whether her teachings were successful or not.

“One of the hardest things about teaching is that it’s sometimes difficult to know if a course has been successful,” she said. “You hope that the students have achieved the learning objectives but often you don’t know that you’ve been successful until many years down the road.  I hope to hear from one of my students in the future that going through the challenge portfolio exercise helped them successfully defended a challenge.”

Carly Okyle is a freelance journalist who has written for,, and Guideposts magazine. Her blog “The D Card” is candid look at living with disability issues.

Carolyn Sun About Carolyn Sun

Carolyn Sun was a news editor at School Library Journal. Find her on Twitter @CarolynSSun.

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