The library must be a safe, welcoming environment.  We all say this and mean it.  But how is that translating into reality? Having furniture appropriate in size for students?  Featuring student work? Rules that are positively stated? Do you have students who choose to stay in the library during lunch because they feel different or unaccepted by their classmates?  All this is important, but there is more to creating a safe, welcoming environment for all. Those last two words are the key and to create it we need equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Creating a welcoming environment is behind the call for more diversity in our collections. A great website for this is We Need Diverse Books. Under the Resources tab, in addition to a downloadable Booktalking Kit, there is “Where to Find Diverse Books” which gives links for sources for African, African American, Disabilities (only one). American Indian, Islam, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+.

Take the time to look at your current collection.  Do most of your diverse books fall within Sonia Nieto’s description of foods, festivals, fashion, folklore, and famous people?  For students of these diverse backgrounds, this is merely the tip of the iceberg in capturing who they are.  Is your African American collection heavily tilted toward slave days and the civil rights movement?  Certainly, there is much more to present.

As mentioned on the website We Are Teachers, we need to provide Mirrors and Windows.  Mirrors allow students to see themselves in the books in our collections. The same titles provide Windows for other students to see the bigger picture, helping them become the global citizens necessary in our world.  Hopefully, these Windows become Sliding Glass Doors, creating comfort and ease with others who are different from us.

It’s important to see diversity in a somewhat larger setting.  The phrase used in business, education, and especially for our libraries is Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion or EDI.  The three words are obviously related, but there are substantive differences among them.

ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee just completed the process for further defining the Library Bill of Rights.  The document, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights is one you need to be familiar with.  Among other explanations, it presents definitions of these three key areas.

Equity, according to the document is: “{Takes} difference into account to ensure a fair process and, ultimately, a fair outcome. Equity recognizes that some groups were (and are) disadvantaged in accessing educational and employment opportunities and are, therefore, underrepresented or marginalized in many organizations and institutions. Equity, therefore, means increasing diversity by ameliorating conditions of disadvantaged groups.”

Equity should not be confused with equality. Equality means everyone gets the same.  Divide the pie into equal portions.  But should the toddler get the same size piece as the teenager?  Obviously not.  Equity is about giving more to those who need more.  A graphic, attributed to the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette (left), shows 3 children of different heights behind a fence watching a baseball game. Equality is giving all three a box of the same height to see over the fence.  Equity is giving them boxes of different sizes.

My favorite version goes beyond even equity. When the planks covering the fence are removed, nobody needs assistance.  The assistance can make students feel different which is not what we want.  For example, if you charge fines for overdues and forgive those who can’t afford them or let them work off their fines in some ways, you are making the situation equitable, but differences are still felt. Eliminating fines eliminates differences.

Diversity according to the ALA document, “can be defined as the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different. When we recognize, value, and embrace diversity, we are recognizing, valuing, and embracing the uniqueness of each individual.” The words “valuing” and “embracing” are what contribute to making the library a safe and welcoming space.

Diversity shows up throughout the National School Library Standards. The standard for C. SHARE III. Collaborate states: “Learners work productively with others to solve problems by: involving diverse perspectives in their own learning process.”  It’s not just your book collection that should be diverse. Integrating diversity within research projects makes it a part of students’ lives.

Inclusion, as stated in the document, “means an environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully; are valued for their distinctive skills, experiences, and perspectives; have equal access to resources and opportunities; and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”  To me, this is the welcoming statement.  All belong, all contribute.

The National School Library Standards identifies Include as the second of the Shared Foundations, stating that it “Demonstrates an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community.”  As part of what we do as school librarians, we need to recognize the diverse range of our student population.  In addition to ethnicity, gender identification, and disabilities, we need to be aware of those who are homeless, have an incarcerated family member, a parent serving abroad, or other ways their lives may make them feel different.

It’s not easy. It won’t happen overnight.  It’s an ongoing process of learning for us as well as the communities we serve, but the bottom line is the library must be a safe, welcoming environment for ALL. The work we do with this has a far-reaching – even unlimited – impact.

 

 

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