If you didn’t either attend ALA in Chicago in person or follow it from afar through assorted social media backchannels, then you may be blissfully unaware of an imperfect storm brewing called “Free the Standards.”

In the course of teaching a workshop on using the standards, Chris Harris discovered that our standards, the very ones that are to be our compass in our efforts to infuse information literacy as an integral and seamless part of all curricular areas, are subject to some rather restrictive copyright limitations.   In a nutshell, Harris learned that:

Under the new permissions for use, I actually had to tell librarians that they can no longer quote the standards that they are using within their lesson plan documents! Given the push to spread the standards and the whole Learning4Life initiative, this is surely in unintended outcome of AASL’s attempts to secure the standards. And yet, an over zealous locking down of the standards is unfortunately preventing most use.

As stated on the permissions page: “Permission must be requested for publishing or posting a portion of the text or the original document in a print or online publication or on a Web site as well as linking to the PDF.” [AASL] A lesson plan is a print or electronic document, therefore permission must be requested for quoting the standards as is usually done in a standard lesson plan format. Additionally, a lesson plan could be considered a derivative work under the current wording: “The learning standards document is considered the core content if the publication cannot be written without the use of the content of the learning standards document. Such usage requires a license agreement and may include a fee.”[AASL]

A fee for including the standards in each lesson plan?

Most librarians in the workshop assumed that the permission for educational use granted in the standards document covered use in lesson plans. I did as well…until I read the new permissions page. The permissions page limits educational use to only the pdf document itself. “The PDF versions available on the AASL Web site are intended for personal and educational use. Printing or forwarding copies for your own private use or to share with others for purely informational or educational purposes is acceptable.”[AASL] Any quoting of the document (i.e. listing standards on a lesson plan) would fall under the “Publishing or Posting Excerpts” section and would therefore require permission (and maybe a fee) for each lesson plan. ( July 10, 2009 post)

On July 11, Chris followed up with additional information on just how severely restricted we as school librarians are from even linking to the PDF document:

Under AASL’s current permissions for use, you CANNOT use the language. CANNOT put the standards into Rubicon Atlas (or another curriculum mapping program). CANNOT even link to the pdf document on your website or in an e-mail. I know that Alison Cline wrote back yesterday saying this could be “easily taken care of” but it cannot. We need to change the policy that guides use of the standards.

Your participation in this dialogue is critical in our efforts to freeing the standards for liberal non-commercial use.  Suggestions for a Creative Commons License have been made via various blogs, Twitter, and the AASL Forum discussion list.    I urge you to make your voice heard via one or more of these vehicles for conversation—how can we hope to integrate the standards into district and state curriculum if we are not allowed to even identify the standards in a lesson plan or link to the PDF document?

Here are some resources for getting up to speed and being an active part of the conversation for #freethestandards .

This is a serious issue that is of concern to all school librarians.  What good does it do our profession and organization if everyone is too afraid to reference the standards for fear of violating copyright or being assessed a fee?

As school librarians, we face enough obstacles in trying to go above and beyond our mission of creating lifelong learners and infusing information literacy as an essential literacy for K-12. The current restrictions only make our task even more challenging—should it really be this difficult and worrisome to use our own standards?

Adding a Creative Commons licensing or some kind of compromise that allows more liberal use/referencing of the standards is a “do or die” in my opinion—if the current restrictions stay in place, our standards are sure to go absolutely nowhere in a hurry.   Whether or not you belong to AASL, the use of the standards is of concern to all—please take time to share concerns and possible solutions you may have in a professional and proactive manner.

Buffy Hamilton,
School Library Media Specialist
Creekview High School