Four School Librarians Discuss the Days Following the Capitol Attack

We checked in with four school librarians to see what role they played for their students and staff during the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2020, and in the days that followed.

As the details were still emerging about the assault on the Capitol, school librarians across the country readied resource lists and book recommendations for teachers preparing spend Thursday and Friday sorting out a domestic terrorist attack with students.

Of course, librarians are trained to respond to the call for better news literacy, which came quickly as so many in the crowd were spurred on by the false accusations of election fraud, along with QAnon conspiracy theories. But staff and students couldn’t address the events leading up to and on January 6, though, without also discussing the country’s racism, which was on full display with Confederate flags, neo-Nazi shirts, and a police response so radically different from that of the Black Lives Matter protests last year.

SLJ checked in with four school librarians to see what role they played for their students and staff on Wednesday and in the days that followed.


K.C. Boyd, library media specialist, Jefferson Middle School Academy, Washington, D.C.

Boyd described last Thursday and Friday as “extremely challenging.”

\“My school is located near the downtown area of D.C. and many of my students were impacted,” she said via email.

Students were scared to leave their homes and under the curfew that followed the riots, according to Boyd.

“Most scary was on Wednesday, one of my students said that her mother, a Capitol Hill employee, was at work for 16 hours,” Boyd said. “Can you imagine being a tween, seeing the mayhem on television and wondering if your mother was ok?”

It was reminscent of the September 11, 2001 stories of so many students, who had to wait to hear if their parents had survived the terrorist attacks. In the days following the Capitol attack, Boyd's school tried to respond to the trauma.

"My school did a 'Community Meeting' to get a temperature check on how the students were doing on Thursday and Friday," Boyd said.

Her principal asked her to give a presentation on using district tools to identify good information. She put together a PowerPoint that highlighted the different types of misinformation, as described by the News Literacy Project, and also sent staff a lesson created by Jayla Parks, librarian and chair of the D.C. Public Schools Librarian Resources Committee— "Storm on the United States Capitol Building," which is an activity for middle schoolers based off of the popular site, Newsela, Boyd said.

Now she, her colleagues, and students wait and worry about more possible violence as the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden approaches.


Anita Cellucci, teacher librarian, Westborough (MA) High School

Anita Cellucci’s poetry group was scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. EST on Wednesday. With the attack still in progress in D.C., she wasn’t sure who would log into the meeting.  Four of the typically 12-member group appeared at the scheduled time.

“Immediately, they said ‘Are you watching, do you see what's happening?'” says Cellucci, who had turned off her television about 10 minutes before.

“One of the biggest things I am always advocating is that we can’t teach or be there in a way that’s healing or empathetic for students if we’re not in a grounded space first,” she says. “So I stepped away from the TV knowing I was going to be meeting with them just to settle myself. I’m a fairly calm person anyway, but just be able to settle myself and be in a mindset to be actively listening to them and not thinking about my own thoughts about it.”

The group of students talked about what they were seeing and feeling then did a free write. Some wrote poetry, others prose.

“It was a great way for them to process in the moment,” says Cellucci who said students wrote about the comparison to Black Lives Matter protests, as well as being “confused and horrified and appalled.” They wrote about the disrespect of the rioters and the lack of police involvement.

Cellucci received permission from two students to share stanzas from their poems. 

One wrote:

“We all move in white skin
Hide in plain sight
Hide in white privilege this nation gave us
Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten now
Don’t tell me you didn’t research your great grand father and find he thrived on black labor
Don’t tell me you don’t thrive on black labor
On black bodies
Don’t tell me you don’t thrive on black struggle”

Another wrote:

"We came here for refuge, a better life
Why is the system built to deny me just that
The blood of my people on your confederate heroes streets
Gunned and shot down like nothing,
You know I think tree people love the trees
More than America loves black people"

On January 7, Cellucci was scheduled to meet with a freshman history class to discuss research. Instead, she joined the class discussion on the Capitol attack.

"I was really impressed with the way the teacher handled it," says Cellucci. 

The teacher put together a slide presentation with images from January 6 and "America the Beautiful" playing in the background.

"So it was that juxtaposition of the song with the visuals," says Cellucci.

The teacher then asked students to choose two of the images, make observations and ask questions about them to share during class discussion. 

"It gave them an opportunity to not only talk but ask questions and hear their classmates and what they were thinking," says Cellucci. "[The teacher] talked about how history is about asking good questions, and I talked about how research is about getting to the truth."  


Tyler Sainato, school librarian, Cane Ridge High School, Antioch, TN

Sainato is the Project LIT chapter advisor. Because the school was returning from winter break last week and the schedule was changed, she had canceled last week’s meeting, but when she looked at the Microsoft Teams app at the designated time last Thursday, she saw two students signed in.

A senior and a freshman had logged in looking for a place to talk about what had happened on Wednesday. Sainato joined them for what turned into a two-hour conversation where they asked questions, expressed confusion, cried at times, and discussed the disinformation, conspiracy theories, racism, and the oft-ignored truth about this country.

It was not an easy discussion. When addressing Joe Biden's remarks that this isn’t who America is and that America is a great country, Sainato's students took issue. “My kids were like, 'What are you talking about. It’s not great at all,'" Sainato says.

They were focused on the disparity between the protests of the spring and summer, and despite very public declarations by attendees about the attack, the lack of police and National Guard members at the Capitol on that day.

“We were talking about the differences in the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred in the same space and what the police presence was, how the narrative would be different if it were anything other than a bunch of white nationalists that were there, and wondering why they were being helped down the stairs after instead of shoved,” says Sainato.

Before winter break, her Project LIT group chose Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi as their next read, and it seems even more necessary now, the students said. The freshman, a Black student, shared some experiences she’d been through, according to Sainato, and said she feared one day becoming another Breonna Taylor.

Sainato and the senior, who are both white, told the freshman that they were there to listen and have “no idea what that space feels like,” says Sainato, who admitted she often wakes up and wonders if she is equipped to handle these moments with her students. “What is my school doing to prepare me for those conversations?” she says.

On Thursday, Sainato did her best, choosing to be as open as possible with the two students. “In a moment like yesterday, I was pretty transparent,” she says. “I said, ‘I’m hurting, I’m struggling, I’m questioning. Let’s just kind of go through it together and know that I do not have an answer, never mind all of the answers.’”


Courtney Pentland, school librarian, North Star High School, Lincoln, NE

Pentland took to Twitter on Thursday to remind teachers everywhere to seek out their school librarians for help. 

"If you are unsure how to approach #disinformation with your students, staff or school community, please remember that #SchoolLibrarians are teachers who have had specific training to provide students & teachers with resources & instruction that supports #InformationLiteracy @aasl."

She was already scheduled to work with civics teachers at the school soon on information literacy and finding and evaluating the sources. Those collaborations came about because of events of last year, not last week.

"The information called into question about the pandemic, protests, and election," says Pentland of what precipitated her plans to work with teachers this semester. "All of the components that have made information literacy and news literacy really apparent as things that as citizens we should have those skills."

She created a document of resources for those teachers and, after Wednesday, she shared it in a newsletter that goes to the entire staff. She also offered to assist in gathering any needed additional resources or collaborating on instruction about the insurrection. She tweeted about how she is confronting systemic racism by educating herself through nonfiction and fiction, sharing a booklist that included Stamped, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam.

Pentland also teaches a class for future librarians on research and inquiry at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. She stresses to them the need for information literacy, and the librarian's role in instilling those skills in students.

"If we want our students to be responsible citizens that starts now, not when they turn 18 and can vote," says Pentland. "If we can give them the tools and the skills to be able to look at what they are encountering in whatever format it may be, when they get to voting age and are making choices about who they would like to see in political office or bills they would like to see passed or those kinds of things, they have the ability to evaluate what is going on for themselves."

This goes beyond elections, she says, these skills are needed for every day life.

"Yes I want them to vote with their conscience that is well informed, but I also want them to be able to apply for a loan and understand what’s going on or if they want to buy a car or [research] what college they want to attend or neighborhood they want to live in or a diet. Yes, we want civic-minded citizens, but we want them to be healthy, happy, well-informed citizens too."




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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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Paula McClung

An all important topic and event that outlines the critical need to teach information literacy to students starting an an early age. Thank you for representing librarians around the world as we seek to provide lessons that help all of us learn to look for accurate information and clarify information that presents only one point of view.

Posted : Jan 14, 2021 03:52



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