The Roots of an Inclusive Worldview

Chapter 3: Inclusion by Meg Boisseau Allison
and Peter Patrick Langella
Blog post by Meg
"In what ways do school librarians reinforce inequities and injustices by choosing what we remain silent about"

The Roots of an Inclusive Worldview
From a very young age, and because I loved books, I was able to tap into a deep well of inner compassion through the stories and perspectives of some incredible characters. Whether it was Wilbur fighting for his life, because of the indignities of being the runt of the litter, or Cassie Logan confronting the hate and social injustices of the South during Jim Crow.

As I grew as a reader and grew older in life, the set of oppressions under which some of my favorite characters strove for their full humanity, in no small way, shaped my worldview. Not only did life seem heartbreakingly unfair; the systemic injustices that impacted one’s place in the world were something that I instinctively recoiled against, giving roots to a lifelong commitment to equity, justice, and inclusion.

As a sociology major in college, as I came to understand the concepts of power and privilege, systemic oppression, and intersectionality, it gave me an academic foundation from which to position myself in the world. It also provided a framework for my work, years later, as a teacher-librarian. It’s why I strive toward Radical Inclusion in my school library today, and write about it with my thinking partner, Peter Langella.

Undeniably, its roots are within the pages of classic children’s literature. As a young white girl growing up in rural Vermont – surrounded by blue-collar neighbors working hard to make ends meet – books were absolutely my window into a larger and more diverse world. They forever altered my heart and capacity for empathy and understanding. It’s no wonder to me why I am still invested in the fight for justice. It feels full circle to continue to do this work in the container of a library, where the stories and characters from my youth reside and where the voices of new generations of authors continue to expand, mirror, reflect, and shake free identities that have long been marginalized, oppressed, and deemed less than.

Photograph: Amplify Black Voices“Amplify Black Voices” courtesy of Meg B. Allison

Exclusion is Ultimately Unethical
In my work as a teacher-librarian, with Radical Inclusion as a core identity, I strive to be mindful of any number of ways that my role wields power, and then move toward sharing that power, specifically with my number-one stakeholders – young people. In thinking of the role that many school librarians assume as the gate-keepers of our large, collective spaces, I try to disrupt the comfort of my own cisgendered, hetero-normative, able-bodied, college-educated, middle-class identities by interrogating the books that are curated, the programming that is supported, in the topics that are addressed, how the library is organized, and in the many ways our systems and mindsets seek to exclude by default, rather than include.

Because, oh, how easily we exclude!  Any librarian can attest that it is much easier to avoid controversy by making choices about what books not to add to one’s collection, what voices not to include in our programming. Every community is unique, of course, and I live in one that arcs toward progressive and liberal values, but certainly not exclusively. I understand that adding books to our collection that feature LGBTQIA+ characters, for example, will not cause the kind of waves in a state that was the first to adopt civil union legislation in 2000.

But yet there is a kind of gatekeeping that happens on behalf of our student populations, and in Vermont, this was apparent when the book George by Alex Gino was selected to be on our Golden Dome list, igniting a conversation within our Vermont School Librarian Association membership about whether to include this book in elementary school collections. Even though the main character is in the 4th grade, some librarians opted to side-step controversy and simply excluded it from their collections, thus denying the humanity of students whose living experiences mirrored George’s. They were also denying other students the opportunity to grow in compassion and empathy for a character who feels differently than their gender identity assigned at birth. What a missed opportunity for all students, albeit made by well-intended librarians to privilege their own comfort under a misguided attempt to protect students from a tender, emphatic, and ultimately affirming story.

Let me be clear: soft censorship is still censorship. Choosing not to add a book, author, or topic to our collection in the name of protecting our readers or avoiding backlash from our larger community is exclusionary.  It is not an act toward building an anti-racist and inclusive library. It is not an act of courage. It is the path of privilege and comfort, attained by maintaining silence. It is one I have to confront each and every day that I suit up and go into the library and challenge long-entrenched status quos that have privileged my comfort over the dignity and humanity of others.

Peter and I ask in Chapter 3: Inclusion in Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, and have asked at many workshops where we present this idea of radical inclusion to our school library peers, in what ways do you reinforce inequities and injustices by choosing what you remain silent about?  To which I would add: we speak volumes with our actions, and uphold injustice and oppression with our inability – individually and collectively – to take action.

Accountability
All of which makes me consider how we can collectively hold ourselves accountable. And hold ourselves accountable to our values we must. We can do this through building strong networks and seeking support. So often, teacher-librarians make decisions of import in a vacuum, largely due to the fact that we are the only ones in our buildings. But I would urge each of us, that anytime we choose to exclude a book – or idea – or program – from our libraries, we get second and third opinions. That we bring our decisions to our library advisory boards. That we pose the question on Twitter and other places where teacher-librarians from diverse backgrounds gather. That we push through our discomfort and get closer to being more open to experiences and identities that differ from our own, and accept that while we might not always get it right, we are cowardly for not trying. We are not doing our students with the most privileges any favors, and at worse, we are harming historically marginalized students by moralizing and patronizing their identities.

Compassionate-Action
Holding ourselves accountable will help each and every one of us move closer to a place of Compassion-Action. Peter and I explore this framework within our chapter, positing that it levels-up empathy, by igniting action. We believe that it’s not enough to have a change of heart: that if true equity and justice is to be realized, those of us with positional power and intersectional privilege must combine empathy with action and move toward compassionate action. That in the words of Dr. Lilla Watson, an Australian Aboriginal elder and activist, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come here because your liberation is wrapped up in mine, then let us work together.”

We can ignite this power within our spheres of influence – within our libraries – by sharing power, sharing space, building containers for compassionate action, and being transparent to our stakeholders about our decision-making processes.

To which I say, in order to achieve Radical Inclusion, be it in your school library, your district, and in your statewide or national memberships, we must share power with those who have been historically excluded and marginalized, starting with our students. Anything less than this ensures that systems of oppression will remain firmly entrenched, not just in our hearts, but in our collections, policies, practices, and pedagogies. The school library must be an active site of liberation in the co-creation of conditions for freedom, liberty, and justice for all.

Reflection Question
Peter and I invite school librarians to join in our ongoing reflection and discussion about Radical Inclusion on Twitter. We ask:

“In what ways do school librarians reinforce inequities and injustices by choosing what we remain silent about?” (Allison and Langella 2021, 51).

You can follow the discussion using the hashtags #SLCoreValues and #Libraries4Action.  Additionally, join us at AASL in Salt Lake City for our workshop on Radical Inclusion.  We look forward to leaning in and learning with you!

Additional Resource
Butler, Sarah Lorge. 2018. “Parents Are Divided Over a Book in a Popular Student Reading Program in Oregon.” New York Times, May 8. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/books/george-alex-gino-controversy-oregon.html. Accessed September 18, 2021.

Works Cited
Allison, Meg Boisseau, and Peter Patrick Langella. 2021. “Diversity.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 37-54. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Watson, Lilla. 2004. “Recognition of Indigenous Terms of Reference,” Keynote Address at “A Contribution to Change: Cooperation Out of Conflict Conference: Celebrating Difference, Embracing Equality,” Hobart, Tasmania (September 21-24). Available at https://uniting.church/lilla-watson-let-us-work-together/. Accessed September 19, 2021. Note: Lilla Watson prefers that the words be credited “Aboriginal activists group Queensland, 1970s.”

Image Credit: “Amplify Black Voices.” Vermont State Capitol, Montpelier Vt. June 2020. Courtesy of Meg B. Allison.

 

Collaborating for Diversity and School Library Programming

Chapter 2: Diversity by Julie Stivers, Stephanie Powell,
and Nancy Jo Lambert|
Blog post by Judi Moreillon

“Books that reflect our students and our world need to be intentionally and seamlessly displayed, promoted, personally read, and incorporated into the classroom curriculum.” Julie Stivers (36)

Collaborating with Others to Build the Collection
The goal of building and maintaining a culturally responsive school library collection is for diverse resources to be used for learning by students, educators, administrators, and families. School librarians who have diligently developed such a collection must collaborate with others in order to ensure that the library’s resources are integrated into the reading and learning lives of students and broaden the perspectives in the classroom curriculum. Collaborating with students and other educators is essential for the librarian and the library to reach their capacity to transform learning and teaching.

In Chapter 2, Stephanie Powell describes how she and her library partner work with students and classroom teachers. When a group of students approached the library staff to support them in starting a digital literacy magazine focused on students’ responses to the pandemic, the librarians and library were reaffirmed as students’ allies and further built relationships. The library staff also attends educators’ planning meetings and Professional Learning Team meetings to discern and solicit students’ and educators’ library collection development needs. Stephanie notes, these activities give “librarians the opportunity to be visible in and supportive of the needs of our students” (35).

Building Inclusive Programming
Julie Stivers charges school librarians to be literacy leaders who work to diversify the literature canon in schools.

“Diverse library programming cannot exist in a school where classroom texts for language arts are overwhelmingly White” (26).

Collaborating with classroom teachers and encouraging them to incorporate books and resources written by underrepresented groups and diverse perspectives is a leadership responsibility of school librarians.

Advocating for all students with their diverse identity markers will require commitment and perseverance. It will require critical self-examination and honest assessments of one’s own role and the role of the library program in breaking through the status quo. This charge requires courage on the part of school librarians.

Diversity Reflected in Library Programming: Vignette by Gabriel Graña
Gabriel Graña, middle school librarian at RD & Euzelle Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, contributed one of the two vignettes in Chapter 2 titled “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop—Building and Promoting an Inclusive Collection(32-33). Gabriel notes that “representation is a verb” (32), meaning librarians must be proactive in seeking out and representing the stories of all students, including those who do not frequent the library space. Thinking about and taking action for the voices that are unheard is powerful.

One way Gabriel accomplishes this is through talking with all students and encouraging them to make suggestions for library purchases. He also critically examines books under consideration for their attention to multiple identity markers. He gives the example of Kacen Callender’s King and the Dragonflies (Scholastic 2020), a fantasy novel that is a Black Queer story, as the kind of book he remains alert to reading, purchasing, and promoting.

Shared ownership in the library space, collection, and program is key. Gabriel writes, “I’ve been in my library for six years. As the years have progressed, I’ve seen more self-selected, self-formed study groups, organic clubs of students of color who just want to come in and celebrate their interests” (32).

Gabriel recommends following other librarians on social media to stay up to date on the latest in literature and library programming. He uses Instagram to reach out to students to promote books and share his own reading lifestyle. At the time the book went to press, he was organizing a library initiative to involve students and educators to join him in #30SecondBookTalks that would be shared via social media, the library website, and promoted via in-person classes.

Curriculum and Community
As the co-authors note, “For our students, seeing themselves in the library is not enough—they need to see their rich and whole selves in the curriculum and school community, too” (34). Readers will find many additional ideas for diversity in collection development and library programming in the Diversity chapter in Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage.

Reflection Question
“What steps can you take to affirm diversity beyond the library and reflect on how you can influence stakeholders—and especially other educators—throughout your school?” (34).

Work Cited

Stivers, Julie, Stephanie Powell, and Nancy Jo Lambert. 2021. “Diversity.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 19-36. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Diversity in a Culturally Responsive School Library Collection

Chapter by Julie Stivers, Stephanie Powell, and Nancy Jo Lambert|
Blog post by Judi Moreillon

Chapter 2: Diversity Co-authors
Since I, Judi Moreillon, have the privilege of writing this post, I am beginning by introducing Core Values in School Librarianship readers to the co-authors of the “Diversity” chapter.

Julie Stivers, MLIS, (she/her) is the librarian at Mount Vernon Middle, an alternative public school in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a 2018 ALA Emerging Leader, Julie helped develop AASL’s Defending Intellectual Freedom: LGBTQ+ Materials in School Libraries and she is the author/editor of Include (ALA, 2021). Julie’s research and practical interests include culturally sustaining pedagogy, building inclusive library spaces, and exploring the power of manga and anime with her students. She connects on Twitter at @BespokeLib.

Stephanie Powell, MEITE, is a librarian at Green Level High School in Wake County, North Carolina. A National Board-Certified Teacher and lifelong learner, she has been a classroom teacher and now librarian for nearly 28 years. She earned a Master’s in Instructional Technology from UNC-Chapel Hill and her Master’s in Library and Information Science from UNC-Greensboro. Stephanie is invested in promoting equity and being an advocate for underrepresented voices through library services. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter @spowel15.

Nancy Jo Lambert, MLS, is a Google Certified Trainer with friEdtechnology and high school teacher-librarian at Reedy High School in Frisco, Texas. She advocates for libraries by telling the story of the learning happening in her library. Named TCEA Library Media Specialist of the Year, Nancy Jo was AASL Social Media Superstar Curriculum Champion in 2019. She is a cisgender, white, bisexual educator and co-founder of #TeachPride and EduPrideAlliance. Connect with her on Twitter @NancyJoLambert and on her websites: reedylibrary.com and nancyjolambert.com.

“Building, maintaining, using, and promoting a diverse, inclusive collection and library program takes both passion and purpose-driven work.”Julie Stivers, Stephanie Powell, and Nancy Jo Lambert 2021, 19.

Culturally Responsive Educators
The co-authors make many references to culturally responsive collection development, maintenance, promotion, and teaching throughout this chapter. As Stephanie notes, “Through (their) three points of view, the lenses of our varied perspectives allow (them) to better understand how librarianship plays an important role in meeting those who we serve where they are and what they need” (20). Bringing their individual experiences as well as their collective thoughts together in this chapter makes it an especially powerful read.

One point all three co-authors make is that school library collections must reflect the multiple identity markers of school populations as well as reflect the diversity of experience and perspectives across the country and around the globe. As Julie notes: “Even if—especially if—your school population is mostly or solely White, you should build a collection that is racially diverse and not restrict students to a single lens” (21). This can be a particular challenge because our predominantly White and female profession must have self-knowledge and engage in critical reflection that causes school librarians to take action to diversify the library collection and ensure its use to normalize diversity in all of its manifestations.

This challenge also calls on librarians to consider authors from underrepresented groups and texts with diverse characters in books published for youth. As Julie points out, statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center continue to spotlight the fact that the number of books featuring animals and inanimate objects are more commonly published and even exceed the sum of the number of books featuring all underrepresented groups combined. (See the 2019 stats at https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/the-numbers-are-in-2019-ccbc-diversity-statistics.)

Commitment to Diversity
Readers will find support for their own self-education about various lenses for examining texts. The co-authors cite and describe five frameworks that can help school librarians deepen their knowledge regarding diversity:

  • Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors—Rudine Sims Bishop
  • #OwnVoices—Corinne Duyvis
  • Danger of a Single Voice—Chimananda Adichie
  • Plot-Driven Adventures across Identities—Malinda Lo
  • Black Joy—Many Writers!

The value of auditing the library collection using each of these frameworks is discussed in this chapter.

Diversity Audits
One way librarians’ values are manifest in the library collection is the understanding that the library is not a neutral space; what is included in or excluded from the collection makes a “political” statement. As co-author Nancy Jo notes: “By offering youth a free, public education where they have access to information and all sides of issues, we equip them with the skills they need to navigate learning and to form opinions of their own” (24). In the process, issues related to prejudice, discrimination, and injustice will arise.

In order to build a collection and library program that is relevant to students and that prompts their critical thinking, school librarians can use diversity audits to evaluate the inclusiveness of the collection. This requires librarians to use an equity and diversity lens. Initial audits may focus on aligning the collection with the school’s demographics. Additional analysis of the collection involves searching for gaps related to additional identity markers as well as taking a more global perspective on ideas and information.

Audits are not simple nor are they a one-time exercise. In order to maintain a culturally responsive, inclusive collection, librarians must continuously assess both the fiction and informational texts available to students, classroom teachers, and families. Involving students and other educators in developing, auditing, and maintaining the collection not only builds a stronger more useful collection, it also builds relationships. And relationships are key to a successful school library program that ensures that the collection is used in the service of student learning.

Reflection Questions
“How as your own cultural context influenced the books you’ve read—both within school and personally? How has this shaped your collection development framework as a school librarian?” (34)

Addendum:
Access to Joyce Valenza’s Toolkit: Inclusive Collection Collections and Diversity Audits.

Work Cited

Stivers, Julie, Stephanie Powell, and Nancy Jo Lambert. 2021. “Diversity.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 19-36. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.