The School Library – An Unofficial Refuge

In the late 80s, my family immigrated to the United States. It was the beginning of my 7th grade year and still stand out in my memory as a lonely and difficult time. Two spaces became havens for me: the middle school choir room and the school library. It is no wonder that I eventually became a music teacher and then a school librarian – that is how powerful of an impact a welcoming educator can make on a child. In previous blog posts, BACC bloggers focused on creating a collection that reflects cultural and global diversity. To close out this month’s topic, I’d like to focus on a group of children who are not always welcomed or reflected in our collections.

One group of teens that struggle to feel included, and a group many of us feel unprepared to serve, are LGBTQ youth: “With 82 percent of LGBTQ students reporting verbal harassment, among other forms of bullying, according to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2011 School Climate Report, finding a space to feel safe may be particularly crucial for these students” (SLJ Post). As you develop your library programs and collections, consider ways you can be an unofficial refuge, a safe space for ALL students. Here are excellent resources to help you get started;

1. LGBTQ and You: How to Support Your Students

2. Library: LGBT Youth & Schools Resources and Links

3. The Basics of an Inclusive Library

Happy 2016 Everyone!

Celebrate Diversity in Schools


In early December, Judi Moreillon introduced our focus for the month-diversity and inclusion in school library programs. She shared a number of excellent resources for building school library collections that support the cultural background and interests of students, and also represent perspectives from the broader global world through literature.  Global literature provides a platform for understanding the humanity that connects all cultures.

Last week Karla Collins reminded us in her post that we have to recognize and remove barriers that inhibit equitable access to resources and school library learning spaces for a range of diverse learners.  We need to look at our spaces and collections with fresh eyes as the student demographics continue to change in our schools, if indeed, we are to transform learning for all who come through our doors.

Let us reflect on the wonder and possibility of our educational system that is open to all, and to celebrate the opportunities that exist for the future. Every school is unique, and reflects the hopes and dreams of the local community, from rural areas to suburban and urban neighborhoods.  “It takes a whole village to raise a child,” comes from an African proverb, meaning that a child’s upbringing, or education, is the responsibility of the community, and the message is even more relevant in contemporary times.

Continuing with the December theme, I invite you to come along with me to visit a school here in Northern Vermont to see what diversity and inclusion in a school library looks like here.

C.P. Smith School is a Grades K-5 school of approximately 260 students, located in a Burlington neighborhood that represents a cross section of learners from diverse cultural and and economic backgrounds.  Burlington and the surrounding area have welcomed new immigrants and refugees for many years, and at least 40 different languages are spoken in homes throughout the city. Students and their families are welcomed in the schools, and have achieved academic success over time.

 From the school website:

Since 1959, we have worked hard to build a learning community that is respectful, responsible, and safe for all who come through our doors. We believe we offer equal amounts of academic rigor and joy, as numerous activities and events occur throughout the year at the classroom and whole-school levels to celebrate learning across cultures. We serve a diverse population of students and strive to make sure each one becomes an inquisitive learner and contributing citizen. We engage parents and guardians as vital partners in the education of their children and actively seek ways to reach out to the larger community, as well.

 The Ellie B. McNamara School Library reflects that mission also, and it is a hub of classroom and school wide activities. On the day I visited,  Sharon Hayes, the Library Media Specialist/Tech Integrationist had helped organize a poetry residency with the poet Ted Scheu. He was leading poetry workshops in classrooms all day, and lunching with poets in the library. Parents volunteers were helping with activities. DSCN0747

hr of code2In the meantime, the computer lab was buzzing with groups of students jazzed with the Hour of Code activities that Sharon had planned.  The flexible learning space in the library accommodated varied visitors, from students looking for reading books to parents chatting at a table in a corner.


The collection has been genrefied somewhat to reflect the range of reading levels and interests of students who come from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Sharon asks for student and teacher input for building the collection. Novice readers can access nonfiction books in baskets that have visual clues for topics such as animals, weather, and so on.  Signage helps students find favorite authors and series books.

DSCN0746A set of Chromebooks are new to the school, and Sharon is looking to expand access to technology for students who might not have access to computers at home. Some children have multiple devices, and some have few, or none.  Ereaders are desirable for students who are working to improve reading skills, and they provide privacy for students. Equitable access to technology is critical for all, and schools must fill that need, so Sharon is writing grants to increase capacity for her students.

Sharon enjoys the diversity of the students, and her goal is for them to be independent and successful readers and learners.  She encourages them to turn to each other for help, to be problem solvers, and to take risks and make mistakes.  The library space is an integral spot for learning after school also. The after school program is welcome to use the facility and the resources, and it provides a safe and comfortable place for children who have to stay until parents are finished with the workday.  It is truly a space that reflects the community values of the school.

As I left for the day, the principal came out to say farewell and to be sure to come again.  I’m sure I will, too.



“C.P.Smith Elementary School.” C.P.Smith Elementary School – Index. 2015. Web. 18 Dec. 2015. <>.

Hayes, Sharon. “Welcome to Our Library.” Ellie B. McNamara Memorial Library. 2015.  Web. 18 Dec. 2015. <>.

Healey, Rev. Joseph G., M.M. “African Proverb of the Month, Nov. 1998: ‘It Takes a Whole Village to Raise a Child.’ “ 2015. Web. 18 Dec. 2015. <>.


Photos: Judy Kaplan Collection

Barriers in your school library

Paul Gorski says it is imperative that we need to remove barriers to learning for all students, not fix the student or teach them to be resilient. (Gorski, 2015).

In Empowering Learners, one of the Common Beliefs is “Equitable access is a key component to education. (AASL, 2009).

Identifying barriers in your libraryimage

Organization of the library space

  • Take a good look at the signage in your library. Are the signs accurate? Are they easily readable from a distance? The signs should be large and have strong contrast.
  • If you use color coding on your book labels, is this information provide in another way? Remember, not all people see colors in the same way. There are likely students who cannot see the difference between the blue and purple labels, for example.
  • Teach them your organization and how to use the library catalog. As more librarians join the genrefication bandwagon, it becomes more important that students know how to use the catalog and how to figure out the system. It used to be the case that all libraries had the same system so if a student went to a new school he/she could find the sports books without asking anyone. As organization systems change, it is imperative that students know how to independently find what they need in your library.

Universal design of library instruction

  • Research is the perfect differentiation activity. Students can choose their topic, their essential question, and their sources on their own reading/understanding level. They can take notes in their own way, report in their own way. (Woodring, Woodring, & Hall, 2015) What is most important – the process or the product?
  • Whole class read-alouds: Can all students see the pictures? What about those sitting in the back of the room or those with vision issues? Can everyone clearly hear you read? Are there words used in the book that require some background knowledge? How can you be sure all students understand the vocabulary before you read the book?
  • If your activity requires movement, how will you ensure that all students can participate, even if someone in the class has limited mobility?

What are some possible barriers to success in your library space and instruction? Take a fresh look through the eyes of your students. Where can you make simple changes to break down the barriers?


AASL. (2009). Empowering learners. American Association of School Librarians, Chicago, IL.

Gorski, P. (2015, October). Equitable learning environments for low-income students and families. Presented at Teaching, learning and poverty: Meeting the needs of a new demographic. Farmville, VA.

Woodring, A., Woodring, A., & Hall, A. (2015, November). Innovative research process with interactive technology. Presented at AASL Fall Conference. Columbus, OH.


Global Picture Books that Portray or Could Inspire Social Justice Activism

wow1The mission of the Worlds of Words (WOW) is “to build bridges across global cultures through children’s and adolescent literature.” WOW hosts a physical library collection of international children’s and young adult literature on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson. In addition, WOW’s online presence includes book reviews (WOW Review), articles about integrating global literature into the classroom and library (WOW Stories), the WOW Currents blog, My Take/Your Take Book Dialogues, and an Author’s Corner.

This month on the My Take/Your Take Book Dialogues, Deborah Dimmett from the University of Arizona and I are sharing global children’s literature picture books that portray or could inspire social activism. Our list of books is at the end of this post.

In their book For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action (Heinemann, 2001), Randy and Katherine Bomer note that the ways an educator uses literature, designs activities, and prompts questions are part of a classroom (or library) discourse. When educators share their values and read texts that continually and consistently focus on values, students can naturally and openly discuss values as well.

Our first post this month is focused on the book In A Cloud of Dust (Fullerton/Deines). I wrote the introduction to the book and responded. Deb then wrote her response to the book. It is clear to me that Deborah and I will provide examples this month that demonstrate the nature of readers’ responses.

As Louise Rosenblatt’s transactional theory (1978) attests, each reader brings her own feelings, personality, and experiences to the reading of a text. Our responses to and interpretations of these texts will be different based on our background knowledge, values, and beliefs as well as the literal content of the text and the authors’ intentions.

Engaging in these types of discussions—whether in the face-to-face or online environment—can help educators prepare to share these texts with students. These five books provide jumping off places for students and teachers to engage in critical conversations. We invite you to check on our discussions and contribute your responses, interpretations, and comments this month.


Bomer, Randy and Katherine Bomer. For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.

Rosenblatt, Louise M. The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University, 1978. Print.

Word Cloud created at

Books to be Discussed in December, 2015

1. In A Cloud of Dust by Alma Fullerton, Art by Brian Deines (Pajama Press, 2015)

2. The Soda Bottle School: A True Story of Recycling, Teamwork, and One Crazy Idea by Seño Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Aileen Darragh (Tilberry House 2015)

3. The Promise by Nicola Davies illustrated by Laura Carlin (Candlewick, 2013)

4. Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammed Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2014)

5. My Heart Will Not Sit Down by Mara Rockliff (Knopf, 2012)