Dear Fellow School Librarians,
Every day we are confronted with the stereotype of the shushing librarian and the idea that libraries must be quiet places. Librarians fight against that notion on a daily basis. We know that a silent library of rules is not a welcoming environment. Silence is not golden.
It has become clear that we can no longer remain silent. It is essential that we must fight for what we believe is right. Every day students of different races, nationalities, and sexual orientations walk through our doors. Our libraries must be safe spaces for them, since the outside world has become increasingly unsafe.
There are myriad ways to make our schools welcoming and safe.
Make bulletin boards and other displays that reinforce the ideas of empathy, compassion, and standing up for what is right. One school librarian has already made three different book displays, inspired by things she saw online: “Taking a Stand in History,” “Women’s Experience in America,” and “Look for the Helpers.” That same librarian recently worked with her ELA teacher to revamp an African-American History Month unit into a study of diversity as represented in different books. The pair have already Skyped with Gone Crazy in Alabama author Rita Williams-Garcia and are hoping to do the same (or conduct a Twitter chat) with Margaret A. Edwards Award winner Sharon Draper soon. She is also working on arranging for someone from the local NAACP chapter to read her students for World Read Aloud Day. Another librarian from Massachusetts, who works in a Pre K-1 school, put together a kindness display with input from students, who created pictures and described ways they felt people could show kindness.
Diversify your collection by ensuring that your collection reflects all races and nationalities. Include LGBTQ books of appropriate age and interest levels. Many of our LGBTQ students are still questioning their sexuality, and books that represent what they are going through can help them in that process. I urge you to just add them to your collection and steer those students to them, but do not have a separate section devoted LGBTQ books. While a good-intentioned idea, most students will not want to be seen going to “that” section.
Choose books for your read-alouds that highlight the important issues of today. An elementary school librarian in Wisconsin is resisting through read-alouds featuring immigrants, biographies of inventors from other countries, and picture book biographies which mention protesters and women’s equality. Some of the books she recommends are Jairo Buitrago’s Two White Rabbits, Paula Yoo’s Twenty-Two Cents, and Duncan Tonatiuh’s Separate is Never Equal.
But whatever you do, PLEASE do not sit quietly. No matter how small the act is or how subversively you need to conduct it, let your students know they are loved and cared for and that the library is a safe place for them. Quiet is no longer an option.
Write to your Representatives, make phone calls, host postcard-writing parties in your home, or attend one. If you are willing and able to, march with the millions of others who believe that what is occurring is not right.
My favorite slogan from the Women’s March on Washington stated “You know things are messed up when librarians start marching.” We must not only protect our students, but also our profession. When alternative facts become reality, librarianship is under attack. Librarians are the ultimate alternative-fact fighters; we hold the key to helping students learn fact from fiction.
Elissa Malespina is the International Society for Technology president elect and the school librarian at Somerville Middle School in New Jersey as well as a 2014 BAMMY award winner.
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