ON LIBRARIES: The Many Layers of Diversity

An unquestioned tenet of librarianship is that the library collection will encompass diverse materials to meet the needs of all users.  Sounds good, but in practice this is not always easy to accomplish. There are challenges librarians must face along with difficult choices.

On the surface, a diverse collection contains fiction and non-fiction and all genres are represented in as many formats as possible. While it took a while in some places for graphic novels to be accepted, they now are in most if not all libraries. But there is far more to diversity.

As the liaison to ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) from ALA’s Committee on Professional Ethics, this topic is on my mind frequently. Currently, IFC has a draft resolution in the works on Library Bill of Rights Interpretation – Equity, Diversity, Inclusion. In fully defining what those terms encompass, the draft is a strong reminder of what libraries stand for—and the challenging decisions implicit in this stance.

Here are some highlights of the document:

  • Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. In a school library, this means you can’t be limited to what the jobbers make available. If you need books in languages other than English (and Spanish), you need to seek out those publishers who have books for whatever ethnics are represented in your school. Fortunately, this information is becoming more widely available. Your collection should also include materials representing difficulties many students face such as homelessness, a parent in prison, a parent serving the military, foster homes, learning and physical limitations of self or siblings, and the stressful situations.  It’s important they see themselves reflected in the collection.  Those who have more traditional lives benefit from being made aware of their good fortune as well as developing empathy for their classmates.
  • Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. Although those working in parochial schools which have a strong doctrinal view on certain subjects do not have to adhere to this, public school libraries are expected to follow this principle. Among the “current” issues that can cause a school librarian to pause before ordering would be climate change and evolution. In some places a sizable group does not accept the general scientific viewpoint.
  • Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment. This another area where it gets difficult for librarians, particularly those who are the sole librarian in their school. You are charged with meeting the needs of everyone in the school.  This means those who have same sex parents or are LGBTQ.  In some communities these topics are a red flag and are likely to bring forth challenges. It is easy to just not purchase them.  Who would know?  Your budget is limited in any case.  You can’t afford to put your job at risk.  All true statements. Each librarian needs to make a personal decision between doing what our ethics and philosophy require or taking the safe route. I can’t condemn their choice. But I do applaud and acknowledge those who face this head on.  We are supposed to create a safe, welcoming atmosphere for all our students.  Our LGBTQ students struggle to feel safe, in and out of school.  Countless adults have told stories of how important their school library was in giving them a measure of security and acceptance.
  • A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views. This is one is obvious, but it harkens back to the days of segregation. It’s important for students to know our history – the bad as well as the good- so they see injustice can be corrected. There is much nonfiction on the subject, but it’s in fiction—including picture books –that students can discover what it was like in those days, and develop empathy for those who lived then and extend it to those now who are targeted as being “other.”

It’s incumbent on every librarian to be familiar with the ALA Code of Ethics, the Library Bill of Rights, and the Access to Library Resources and Services for Minors. Protect yourself and your students by having a Selection Policy approved by your Board of Education. You can get help in doing so from the Workbook for Selection Policy Writing.

Also, celebrate Choose Privacy Week May 1 -7, and Banned Books Week September 24-30.

Have you been faced with a difficult choice in purchasing a book for your collection?  What did you do?  How do you make your library a safe, welcoming environment? What help do you need or can you offer to others?

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ON LIBRARIES: Advocacy – Results and Next Steps

signingOn December 10, President Obama signed the ESSA (Every Child Succeeds Act) into law. It was an historic moment, years in the making.  We have come close many times, with different variations but at the last moment Congress would keep the bill from coming to the floor.  It has finally happened and it took a lot of work to achieve.

A quick review is needed first so you can appreciate how we reached this stage.  You are probably familiar with previous laws such as ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) the first manifestation of which occurred in the early 1970s. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) which replaced the different version of ESEA soon was called No Child Left Untested, and most of you have been dealing with Common Core and the extreme testing which resulted.  We now move into a new phase.ala - ola

In addition to NEA working for a re-authorization of ESEA (which is what the first target was), ALA’s Washington Office, specifically its Office for Library Advocacy has been lobbying to get a bill through that would recognized the importance of school libraries and librarians, trying more than once to get what was then called the SKILLS Act Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries) passed, without much success.

This was partly our own fault.  I kept hearing from people in the Washington Office that Congress pays little attention to our lobbyists unless the message is supported by a strong outpouring of support from voters –like us.  Unfortunately, despite sending delegates to Legislative Day in Washington, D.C. and some attending virtually, there really weren’t rousing responses to calls for action.

This time, working along with NEA, and many, many librarians on social networks exhorting others to make calls, and Tweet or email legislators, the message got heard.  I suspect in part this was due to the widespread frustrations with Common Core.  So, in addition to sending thanks to the Washington Office for a job well-done, and to your legislators if they support the bill, give yourself a pat on the back if you were among those who responded to the call to action.  This took more than a village.  It took a country.

advocacy heartAs with any bill, it isn’t perfect.  Compromise is part of the process so you never get everything you want. But we did get libraries written into it. As Washington Dispatch explains the bill includes the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program allowing the Secretary of Education  “award grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements, on a competitive basis” to promote literacy programs in low-income areas, including “developing and enhancing effective school library programs.”  The money can be used both for purchasing library materials and for giving school librarians PD.

Moreover, Title II funds can now be used for “supporting the instructional services provided by effective school library programs.”  The part I really like is that the bill “encourages local education agencies to assist schools in developing effective school library programs, in part to help students gain digital skills.”  In an Education Week article on the bill, AASL President Leslie Preddy noted that school libraries and librarians as “critical educational partners.”

In essence it means the ball is now in your court. It is now up to you do advocacy work on the building and district level to ensure you have an effective library program.  What do you need? Why? What will you be doing?  How can the change be measured?

So take time to celebrate an achievement ten years in the making.  Then get down to work.  If you need it, look to your colleagues in your state association or in your district.  Reach out to your PLM for ideas if you need them.  Don’t waste this great opportunity.  Your students need it.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Grassroots Advocacy

library_word_cloudYour biggest supporters are right in front of you.

Many of you are uncertain about advocacy, feeling you don’t have the time and/or it’s too big a job. But doing it in a grass roots way – person-to-person – is quick, easy, and you get better the more you do it. Advocacy is a responsibility of all of us. You don’t have to do it every day, but you do need to get it into the habit. The future of our students is at stake.

Administrators and many teachers often don’t realize what you do; the general public is even more clueless. You can begin to educate them.

Start with your friends. Do they know what you do?  Yes, they are aware you are a school librarian, but do they have any idea what your job entails?  Make a point of sharing a story about a student (not giving names) and how you made a difference for the child that day. Or a project in which minds were stretched, curiosity nurtured, and a more sophisticated approach to searching online was learned.busy library 4

Some recommendations:

  • Always be positive. Focus on what is great about your job and why you love it. If you mention job cuts discuss how that will impact students, not you.
  • Don’t go on and on about your job. One story at a time is sufficient. You want to plant a seed and help it grow, not inundate and bore your listener.
  • Do include the public library in your conversations. I was recently talking with a friend from another state and mentioned how all libraries are being affected by budget cuts. I pointed out the services the public library provided from free internet to help with finding jobs. My friend was stunned. She had no idea, and shared that her boyfriend was out of work and becoming frustrated. Now, she is sending him to the public library. The two of them are likely to become strong library advocates.

And then there’s your elevator speech. Always be prepared for a quick library promotion. I usually focus mine on school libraries. Someone mentions local budget cutbacks and I say something like, “The cost to students has been drastic and it is will have a negative impact on their success on high stakes tests as well as their readiness for college and careers.”  With that bold statement, I usually get their attention and follow it up with, “Countless research studies have shown the relationship between student achievement and a school library with a certified school librarian.”  These days I close with, “Eliminating a classroom teacher is bad enough since it increases class size, but getting rid of a librarian eliminates the entire library program.”  When I still worked in a school I would also invite the person to come in and see a school library program in action.

Click for blog: Partnering for student success
Click for blog: Partnering for student success

One more way to build grassroots advocacy is by going to District Dispatch from ALA’s Washington Office. Sign up for their Legislative Alerts so you are aware of any pending legislation which will affect school and/or public libraries. You will be able to quickly contact your legislators to ask them to support important acts. It takes under a minute to complete. Your state association’s legislative chair will also send out messages about it on your association’s listserv. If you have parents or friends who have become library supporters, give them the link for when you want them to reach out to legislators. Legislators listen very closely to people who are not in the profession as they logically see us as having a vested (read: biased) interest.

One-on-one advocacy can be the most impactful, particularly if a relationship already exists between you and the other person, but even with a stranger it’s a great way to get the message out about libraries.

Reach Out – Find Your Larger Community

libraries transform learning
From ALA – click image for article

More and more of you recognize that no matter how busy you are in the library, the vital advocacy work that has administrators supporting your program happens outside it. While showing your own tech skills is a critical part of demonstrating how libraries have transformed over time, you still need to add a personal touch to make a true impact.

You know—or should know—your own town or city best.  Start thinking about ways you can reach beyond the educational community to send the message about how school librarians transform learning, boost student achievement, and prepare students for college, career, and lifelong learning in a constantly changing world.

In a world where so much communication is asynchronous, being with someone in person, in real-time adds much more meaning.  What this means, is that you have to get out of your library – and it’s on your own time. Up until now, your outreach for the most part is only directed to the school community including parents.  But you need to communicate with the much larger community.  They are voters and their attitudes toward school libraries is likely to be far more dated and entrenched than those of parents.facetime

Start by reaching out to your natural partners. Visit the public library. Introduce yourself to the children’s or YA librarian depending on the grade level of your school. Checking in advance with your principal to insure it is OK to do so, invite him or her to come to your library.  At the elementary level, you can work together on a story time with one or more classes.  At the middle and high school levels, you can get a cooperative English teacher to bring a class to the library and have your guest discuss upcoming programs at the public library.

Offer to promote public library programs in your library – and on your website.  See if the children’s or YA librarian is open to have you share student work in a display case or bulletin board at the public library.  This will reach community library users who don’t have children in the schools.

If you are a high school librarian, consider connecting with librarians in any college in your area.  An after school visit from a college librarian discussing college-level research with students (and possibly parents) will draw interest.  Try to get coverage from local press or cable TV station. High schools with TV stations can report on it as well.

special eventSome communities have a special day with various merchants contributing money and/or merchandise and food to bring out people.  The high school football field is often one of the venues for the day. Other places with a town green use that.  See if you can have a booth or table for the day.  Have flyers to hand out.  Display work by students and pictures you have taken showing library activity.  If possible, have students spend some time at the book talking with passers-by about what they love to do in the library.

Alternatively, or in addition, consider inviting community members into your library for special events.  Read Across America is a time when you can invite local officials to come and read to students. (Prepare them well –and prepare your students.)  Guests from Kiwanis or Rotary can talk to high school students about what they want to see and hear from those seeking part-time or summer work.

Your school library is part of a larger community that you need to be a part of. Get creative and have fun with these audiences you’ll find new resources and connections for your indispensable program.