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


8 thoughts on “Free the AASL Standards

  1. Thanks to you and Chris, and others, for bringing this to our attention! I just finished a 10-page research paper/action plan tying the standards to my school’s various initiatives. I used the common beliefs and standards as the impetus for teaching empathy in literature, social learning technologies, and more!
    How can I bring this to the table at my school and make it integral to my program? I’ll ask permissions, but you can be sure it will go down the tubes if it can’t be used in mapping or lesson plans.


  2. That is absolutely ridiculous. It makes the standards worse than useless. What the heck are they for, if they’re not meant to guide lesson plans and be incorporated into state curriculums? Just to sound pretty–or somebody’s idea of busywork for whatever group created them?!


  3. Thanks for your comments. I hope the AASL Group can work this out in a timely manner, otherwise these standards will not be implemented.


  4. The Standards are meant to be used.

    I posted on the AASL Forum about receiving permission to use them with my Mansfield University students in a Word version with absolutely no problem and, of course, no cost. I was given a “used with permission statement” to include. And, of course they can be used under Fair Use guidelines with attribution. The AASL staff and Board are done with the Annual conference and the business of the Association and can look at this to clarify anything that needs to be more clear. The timing of raising this during conference has slowed down the opportunity to deal with this.



  5. Hi Sara!

    While I am glad that you received permission to use the standards in a Word document for your graduate course, you still had to take time out of your busy schedule to go through the request process. While we all know there are guidelines for Fair Use, how people interpret whether or not something falls under Fair Use sometimes varies, so people might feel a little nervous going solely on their own judgment.

    If I am quoting the standards in my lesson plans, which is something I do on a regular basis, I do not want to have to feel compelled to ask to use them/quote them each and every time. If you look at the wording on the permissions page at http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/guidelinesandstandards/learningstandards/permissions.cfm, it states the following:

    Publishing or Posting Excerpts

    “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.

    Requests should include the context of the use as well as what portion of the standards document is being quoted.

    Providing a substantial portion of the text or the entirety of the standards document, whether in print or electronic form, requires a license agreement and may include a fee.

    Derivative Works

    Permission must be requested to use the learning standards document in works or presentations that are derivatives, adaptations, or any work of which the learning standards are the core content.

    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.”

    While you were thankfully not charged a fee, how are we to know that is true in each and every instance? If I am referring to the standards at length in a conference or district presentation, then not only must I ask permission to quote them, but I also must also face the possibility of having to pay to use them in that presentation. I use the standards on a regular basis in my monthly reports which are posted online; according to the verbage on the permission page, I will have to request permission every time I post my monthly reports which include multiple references to the standards. With all of my other responsibilites, I honestly do not have time to go through the process of formally requesting permissions and then documenting those permissions each and every time.

    At the end of the day, should we really have to request permission to quote and use the standards in digital and print documents? The standards that are supposed to be at the core of teaching and learning in our school library programs? I think the real issue here as addressed by others, including Doug Johnson and Joyce Valenza, is that members are asking AASL to put a placing a share-alike, non-commercial use CreativeCommons license on the standards so that it is easier to quote and refer to them in lesson plans and presentations; this solution would meet the needs of all stakeholders. Why not make it easy to clarify the use of the standards by putting the CC license? I think Doug stated it best in his post (http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/) when he said “All membership organizations like AASL will eventually find that they need to give very liberal copyright permissions to their materials if they really want them to be widely used – which in turn increases the power of the organization.”

    With school library positions, budgets, and programs being cut on a ever-increasing basis, I would say we need all the power we can get if we are to remain an integral part of 21st century schools.



  6. No, you don’t have to ask each time you use them in your lesson plans…that is pure fair use. I asked because I had changed the format from PDF to Word. I probably didn’t have to ask but wanted to model asking permission for my students in the Legal Issues and Access course I am teaching at Mansfield University. It wasn’t much work to send an e-mail to Allison Cline at AASL compared to typing up the standards 😀 and now they are freely available for my students (and I) to copy and paste them for their assignments and lesson plans which is also pure fair use and doesn’t require asking for permission.



  7. Hi Sara!

    Thank you for the update—as I said earlier, the wording on the permissions page seems to leave just the slightest open door, but I’m glad AASL is receptive to the application of fair use.

    I still can’t help but wonder if all the gray areas and questions could have been avoided with the inclusion of a Creative Commons license to begin with? Hopefully, future documents from all organizations (not just ours) will be proactive in licensing the content with a Creative Commons license, particularly when it comes to standards. I would still like to see a CC license added in the near future since that seems to be the simplest and most explicit way of letting others use content while protecting the intellectual property. 🙂



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