An Open Letter to School Librarians: Silence Is not Golden | Opinion

Every day students of different races, nationalities, and sexual orientations walk through our library doors. The library must be a safe space for them, since the outside world has become increasingly unsafe.
The oneswho are crazy enough tothink theycan changethe world,are the oneswho do.

We can post signs that make all our students feel loved and safe. I modified this slightly from one posted in the Glades Community High School library.

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.   IMG_5124

Students' stories of kindness

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. IMG_7822Choose 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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Pathetic hysterics. You'll never hear Miz Melispina complaining about women's rights in Muslim countries nor the rape epidemic in India. She's a spoiled child whom has delusions of being a rebel, when in reality she's a pampered house cat. She will never accomplish anything worthwhile nor leave her little comfort zone.

Posted : May 29, 2017 09:33

rosemary king

One reason we have to be more mindful of inclusion and diversity is because students of all ages are hearing the opposite from the leaders of this country who are supposed to keep us all safe. It is not just because we don't "like" this president (even though he doesn't "like" many of us). With the tone set by this administration it is incumbent on those who are aware of it to counter the language that fosters divisiveness among all Americans. However I would add white students to the list. I think it is time to include white students and not assume they know they are included.

Posted : Feb 15, 2017 10:59


Hello! Just wanted to share that I display new books by genre in my HS library and one genre is LGBTQIA. It's been hugely popular with my lgbt readers and has increased circulation for those books. since the article cautions against an LGBT section, I wanted to share an instance where such a section has been successful in case it's helpful to anyone! For my school, creating just such a section has not only made it easier for my students to find the books they are interested in, it's also told them loud and clear that I support and aknowledge their needs. It's encouraged them to talk more openly and comfortably with me, and even to give me lists of LGBT books they'd like to see in the library! So for me, creating the section has been a positive experience. I'm not saying it will work for all school libraries of course, I'm sure the success has a great deal to do with each schools individual needs. We are in a fairly liberal and diverse area, for instance. Also we did have minor tampering with the section by some male students who kept messing with the genre sign. Since then I moved the new books display nearer the circulation desk in a more private area of the library near the front doors. That has made students much more comfortable browsing it. I also arrange the genres so that LGBT is between two other genres, so that a bystander couldn't really tell which genre a student was browsing or choosing from, to allow more privacy. So while it wasn't totally smooth sailing, and while it may not be ideal for all, I would have to say that providing this LGBTQIA section has been a successful way of serving the needs of my students. Interestingly, of the 6 genres of new books currently displayed (realistic, graphic novel, sci fi, fantasy, nonfiction, and lgbtqia), the lgbtqia are by far the most circulated.

Posted : Feb 11, 2017 08:24

Kim Keith

As a librarian in an very diverse community I can only speak for myself. When I read this letter to our new Education Secretary it sums up my viewpoint of teaching in these turbulent times, "More than anything, I want to teach. I want to continue to teach my fourth graders that citizenship means respect for all and a responsibility for each other, to read critically, to value being informed. I want to teach them that a million small efforts will eventually be more powerful than one large campaign check. And I want to teach them that America will always return to freedom, no matter how much corruption tries to reign. So, thank you, and good luck to you. You have no clue what you just signed up for." I would also caution against generalizing about school librarians by what you read on social media.

Posted : Feb 11, 2017 06:30

Kellie Piekutowski

Yes, let us promote kindness. However, let's also please remember our role in the public education system to promote democracy. In the U.S. our students have the liberty to determine on their own what is "right." It is our job, as school librarians in a public setting, to teach them how to think but not what to think. We must provide them with diverse information so they can form their own opinions about current issues (regardless of our own personal bias and the apparent bias of many professional library organizations). Through my recent observations on social media, I'm increasingly concerned that public school librarians are encouraging students that only one viewpoint is correct.

Posted : Feb 08, 2017 08:23

Mary Clark

Kellie, it looks to me like Elissa is saying exactly that--promoting diversity certainly does not encourage "students that only one viewpoint is correct." Helping students see that there are different perspectives on issues has always been part of our job. We also have been tasked with helping students find reputable resources and act as critical thinkers and creators of information, so fighting alternative facts is just part of the job. Like Elissa, my middle school library has always been a safe haven for students. Whether it's the current political climate or just the students I have this year, I have heard stories from children in the past few months that have brought me to tears. Surely we all can agree that every child deserves to feel safe, to feel cared for and to feel that she belongs at her school?

Posted : Feb 08, 2017 09:28

Kellie Piekutowski

Mary Clark, I appreciate the dialogue! Thank you for responding, and Elissa, thank you for starting the conversation. Mary Clark, yes, we can certainly agree to that. Elissa's post truly is filled with great ideas to make (most) students feel like they belong in the library and can feel safe there. I'm at the high school level, so please understand that my perspective is a little different. In a high school, the appreciation of political diversity also needs to be addressed. I believe Elissa's article is slanted and, if she were a high school librarian, I would hope she (and other librarians who agree with her on political matters) would strive to make students who hold opinions opposite of her own feel safe and welcome, too. The messages she values certainly belong in a school library, but we also need to be aware that not all students and their families believe our country is "messed up" politically — at least not in the same way that Women's March marchers do. Additionally, some students might think a "wall" is a good idea. Again, I appreciate Elissa's message but just hope that those also extend to political diversity.

Posted : Feb 09, 2017 03:52

Sharon Davis

This is a wonderful dialog, and it calls to mind something I've been thinking of since the election and the repeated calls to make libraries "safe", "inclusive", and "welcoming". My reaction to that sentiment is that before the election, if your library wasn't safe, inclusive, and welcoming, what kind of a library were you leading? As school librarians, we should always be welcoming and inclusive. Just because we've had an election and have a president that some don't like, why has that changed the message of who we are and what we believe, and how we treat children? I think all librarians, but especially high school librarians, need to be mindful that when finding materials for students, that they're not directing students to materials where, as Kellie Piekutowski so correctly points out, "only one viewpoint is correct". There is political diversity as well as cultural and racial diversity--be sure to welcome all. (I mention HS students because they more commonly are conducting research that has more polarizing pros and cons. Of course this message resonates throughout K-12.)

Posted : Feb 10, 2017 01:37

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