Aurora Nicol (junior) and Holland Duggan (senior), students at North Kansas City High School, are the recipients of the 2021 Intellectual Freedom Award, given by the Missouri Association of School Librarians.
The MASL’s aims are to “advocate for school library media center services and resources for Missouri’s children,” to “enable the use of information technologies in Missouri schools,” and to “recognize significant contributions to the profession and to the improvement of school library media programs in Missouri,” according to the MASL website.
“[The award] is awarded to those who are recognized for fighting for student’s first amendment rights and against censorship,” said Katie Pospisil, one of North Kansas City High School’s librarians, and a member of the MASL.
Recipients of this award are nominated and chosen based on their contributions to upholding the principles of intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom is essentially the freedom every U.S citizen has, as guaranteed by the first amendment of the constitution, to learn about, hold, and share ideas and information.
Nicol and Duggan are receiving this award for their work in advocating against the NPA’s attempted banning of a selection of books, which contain controversial topics such as race and sexuality, in NKC Schools in late 2021. The students’ efforts to keep the books in school libraries included starting a petition advocating for the books to remain on shelves, speaking about the issue at NKC school board meetings, and forming the Northland Students Association.
“I feel really grateful to be offered this award,” said Duggan. “It is really cool to see all of the work and effort I put out into something resulting in so much good and change.”
Both Duggan and Nicol will be attending the Missouri Association of School Librarians Conference at Osage Beach on Monday, April 11th to receive the award.
“I feel very lucky that Holland and I get to be recognized for our work, ” said Nicol. “The feedback we’ve gotten from teachers and peers feels enough, the fact we’re getting an actual award and have gotten so much media attention is crazy.”
The two students were nominated for this award by Elizabeth Ferguson, a librarian at Staley High School, who first heard of the students’ attempts to protect the books from a news story discussing the censorship efforts. As Ferguson learned more about the students’ fight to protect childrens’ access to media within schools, she decided to submit a nomination for Duggan and Nicol for the Intellectual Freedom Award.
“It has been an enormous relief to know students like Holland and Aurora, and everyone else who helped, are willing to take on this responsibility, ” said Ferguson. “If no one stands up in defense of democratic principles like free speech, rights will be stripped away without anyonenoticing.”
Duggan and Nicol are the first students to ever be given The Intellectual Freedom Award by the MASL.
“I think it’s very significant that Holland and Aurora are the first student recipients of the award. Youth are change-makers, and this generation has massive potential for shaping what America, and the world, becomes,” said Ferguson. “It’s one thing for me, as a librarian, to say these books are valuable; it’s even more valuable coming from the voices of students advocating for themselves.”