Dr. Robert Smiley Receives 2010 WLA/WEMTA Intellectual Freedom Award

Posted by Lisa Strand on Tuesday, September 07, 2010 in WLA News

Robert Smiley, PhD, has been named the recipient of the 2010 WLA/WEMTA Intellectual Freedom Award. The award (formerly the WLA SIRS/Proquest Intellectual Freedom Award) recognizes the contribution of an individual or group who has actively promoted intellectual freedom in Wisconsin. It is administered by the Intellectual Freedom Roundtable of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA IFRT) and the Wisconsin Media and Technology Association Intellectual Freedom Special Interest Group (WEMTA IF-SIG). Sponsorship is provided by TeachingBooks.net and the Center for Information Policy Research at the UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies

Dr. Smiley, who recently became Director of Technology for the Waunakee Community School District, has been a powerful and effective advocate for unfiltered access to the internet for school district students and staff. As Director of Technology for the Stoughton Area School District, he responded to federal legislation demanding that schools and libraries receiving e-rate funding filter internet access by weighing the fiscal impact of accepting the funding against the impact on student learning if filters were installed. The result: Stoughton Area School District does not filter.

The principles of intellectual freedom apply regardless of the format in which information is delivered, noted award committee chair Megan Schliesman. “Instead of saying, ‘We don’t have a choice,’ when it comes to filtering, Dr. Smiley’s actions said, ‘We do have a choice, and that choice is to make student learning our first priority.’ The work he has done serves as both model and inspiration for educators in the state and nationally.”

Dr. Smiley took the lead on developing a Telecommunications Use Policy for the Stoughton district that provides the foundation for supporting unfiltered access to the internet. He has educated administrators, community members, legislators and others about the importance supporting open access to information and its positive impact on student learning. In addition to speaking to district staff and community members about the capabilities and limitations of the internet, he has presented at conferences and has attended local, state and national advocacy days for libraries to lobby for intellectual freedom and access for all.

Dr. Smiley has also made it a priority to educate others on navigating safely in an unfiltered world. In her nomination letter, Erlene Bishop Killeen, a library media specialist for the Stoughton Area School District, wrote that Smiley has “upheld the need for educating and proactive supervision of our students so that they are savvy technology users yet safe consumers.”

Additionally, Dr. Smiley has been an advocate and educator on the issue of net neutrality, emphasizing the importance of the internet as a place for the open exchange of ideas and information without restrictions based on content or that would limit or control access. He chaired the WEMTA Legislative committee that developed the WEMTA position on this issue, which states in part, “WEMTA supports the continued access to the Internet as an open forum for the free exchange and dissemination of information and opposes any legislation that would limit or control access . . . . Common carriage is the fundamental principle that supports the Intenet as an open, unbiased medium, and it should not be abandoned.”

The award will be given at the WLA Annual Conference Awards Banquet on Thursday evening, November 4, in the Wisconsin Dells.

The 2010 WLA/WEMTA Intellectual Freedom Award Committee was comprised of three individuals from the WLA IFRT board of directors and three individuals from the WEMTA IF-SIG. Members were Marcia Aas, School Library Media Specialist, Darlington School District; Nancy Biese, School Library Media Specialist, Menasha School District; Val Edwards, Library Media Specialist, Monona Grove High School; Judy Eulberg, retired library media specialist; Joyce Latham, Assistant Professor, UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies; and Megan Schliesman, Librarian, Cooperative Children’s Book Center, UW-Madison.

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