Inequitable Access During School Closures

“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Credited to William Gibson (circa 1990-92).

When so many K-12 students and educators are not participating in face-to-face learning in schools due to the CDC’s social distancing recommendations, it seems like an opportune time to, once again, reflect and wrestle with equity… or rather with inequity of opportunity… The technology gap that has plagued schools since the 1990s is tragically still alive and well. School districts are scrambling at this time to provide remote learning opportunities; at the same time, educators know that access to online learning will be inequitable.

Charge to Provide Equitable Digital Access
Digital equity for school librarians means that all of the students. educators, and families we serve have free access to digital resources and technology devices. Access is necessary if they are to reach their capacity for learning. Digital equity is also necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.

One of the American Association of School Librarians’ common beliefs is “information technologies must be appropriately integrated and equitably available” (AASL 2018, 11.) Similarly, Future Ready Librarians® are building-level innovators who believe in “equitable learning opportunities for all students” (Future Ready Schools). And yet…

There are students who do not have access to computers or tablets in their homes. While cell phones may be adequate for consuming information or posting to social media, they are inadequate tools for writing and producing new knowledge. There are schools that lack enough devices to loan them out in order to ensure that every student has one to use. When public libraries are closed or overcrowded, students who use them will not have access.

Online Resources
School and public librarians, state libraries and advocacy groups have been using distribution lists and social media to share online resources that may be helpful to some students, families, and educators during closures. Here is a brief list of some of the ones I’ve seen (with a national rather than state-level focus).

Amazing Educational Resources, a crowd-sourced list created by people who’ve responded using a Google form.

Paige Bentley-Flannery, Community Librarian, Deschutes Public Library, created a webpage “Children Authors Read Aloud and Other Facetime Events.”

(As a side note, it is a violation of copyright for individuals to record and distribute read-alouds of copyrighted works. No, you will likely not be sued by the creator(s) or the publishers if you do so, but that’s not the point. The point is to model respect for the rights of the copyright holder.)

Every Library’s webpage with an alphabetical list of links to state libraries’ online resources.

Unplugged Ideas
According to a Twitter thread started by Jennifer LaGarde, some school librarians had the opportunity to encourage students to check out books from their libraries before schools were closed to reduce the spread of the virus. Others reported they had little or no warning or were already on spring break when their school closing was enacted. Some are hoping they will be allowed to open their libraries for a brief check-out window.

School librarians who are able to communicate with students’ and families’ smart phones via social media have the opportunity to suggest activities that do not require laptops or tablets. School librarian Ashely Cooksey posted some outstanding “unplugged” ideas for students and families.

(I suggested some additional activities under her post to the Maximizing School Librarians Facebook Group.)

After the Crisis
Access to paper print reading materials during this crisis should be guaranteed, and we have learned it is not. The barriers to accessing digital information may be even more pronounced during school closures.

As we assess our service during this crisis, I believe it is critical for school librarians to stand up, give testimony, and advocate for equitable access for all K-12 students to paper print and electric information and devices not only during school hours during the regular school year… but 24/7 year-round.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2018. National Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA. https://standards.aasl.org/

Future Ready Schools. 2018/2020. “Future Ready Librarians.” FutureReady.org. https://futureready.org/thenetwork/strands/future-ready-librarians/

Image Credit

Wokandapix. “Equity Fairness Equitable Letters.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/photos/equity-fairness-equitable-letters-2355700/

District-Level School Librarian Advocacy

This month I contributed an article focused on our effort to restore school librarian positions in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) to School Library Connection (SLC). If you are an SLC subscriber, you can find “We Need You! Forming Effective Advocacy Coalitions” in the “Political Literacy 101” section of the site. (The article will be publicly available until the next SLC issue is published.) If you are not a subscriber, you can always access and read other articles on the “Community” page, which is the splash page for the magazine, and consider subscribing. (I hope you will.)

Too often school librarians find themselves alone in speaking up for their work. Creating the context and conditions for library stakeholders to speak for our essential role in today’s education is a top priority for school librarian leaders. (See Chapter 8: Leadership and Advocacy in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership).

When we collaborate with classroom teachers and support the initiatives of our principals, they can (and will!) become some of our staunchest allies. When families are aware of how we are contributing to their children’s literacy learning, they, too, will join the ranks of our advocates. When central office administrators, school board members, and community members speak up for our work, we have the advocates we need to realize our goals for school library programs.

The Context: Arizona
A series of poor decisions made by the Arizona Legislature for more than a decade have denied district public schools of the necessary funding to meet the needs of K-12 students and families. School districts lacking local bond and budget override support have been in the position of making difficult decisions in terms of allocating meager resources for staffing, infrastructure maintenance and improvements, learning materials, including library resources and technology tools, and more.

In addition, the continual expansion of publicly funded charter schools has siphoned off monies that would have gone to district public schools in the past. To add insult to injury (and labeled “choice”), open enrollment has allowed parents the option of leaving their neighborhood schools to attend schools in more affluent districts. The lack of funding and support for district public schools that accept all students within their boundaries and open enrollment students, too, is dire.

The Context: Tucson Unified School District
TUSD is a high-needs, urban school district. Seventy-two percent of TUSD students are from federally identified minority families. Seventy percent receive free or reduced lunch and many are eating three meals a day at school sites across the district; most schools have clothing closets. The Educational Enrichment Foundation, which was created to provide academic support for TUSD students and educators, has responded by meeting the physical needs of students with personal hygiene products and struggles to achieve its original academic mission.

I served as an elementary school librarian in TUSD from 1992-2001 and in a high school until 2003. That year, our district-level library supervisor’s position was eliminated, and my high school second librarian position was cut to half time. (About twenty other site-level librarian positions were reduced that year.)

At the time of these cuts, there were 96 state-certified school librarians serving 59,250 students, a ratio of 1 librarian to 617 students. Today, there are 13 state-certified school librarians serving (about) 44,000 students, a ratio of 1:3,385.

It is clear TUSD students, educators, and families suffer from a lack of equitable access to the literacy opportunities of a well-resourced school library led by an effective state-certified school librarian.

Central Administration Advocates
Like many urban school districts, TUSD superintendents have not remained in their positions for sufficient time to make structural improvements in the district. Since I left the district, I have been unable to connect with a superintendent who was open to considering rehiring librarians and supporting library services as a high priority in a cash-strapped district.

That was the case until 2017 when Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo was hired. Dr. Trujillo came to TUSD having had the experience of full-time, state-certified school librarians in the Phoenix Union High School District. I met with him in the summer of 2018 to convince him it was long past time to restore TUSD school librarian positions and revitalize its libraries.

Dr. Trujillo did not need convincing. Instead, I learned that he was seeking advocates to work with him to convince the school board of the necessity of effective school librarians and library programs to students’ success. “We found common ground in focusing this effort on the district’s Middle School Improvement Plans in the area of reading. (While there was no need to conduct market research to begin our project, it was critical that we established shared goals on which to build this effort)” (Moreillon 2020).

TUSD School Librarian Restoration Project and Community Advocates
I reached out into the community to form a small but mighty advocacy group. Beginning in the fall of 2018 to the present, we met with and continue to communicate with school board members; we speak at governing board meetings during the calls to the audience. Based on a recommendation from a school board member, we connected with the TUSD School Community Partnership Council. We made presentations at the Arizona Library Association conference.

Most recently, we worked with the human resources (HR) department to revise the school librarian’s job description. Five middle school positions will be advertised this spring (2020), and our advocacy group will support HR in attracting the most qualified candidates. We have offered to meet with principals of these and other schools that are considering restoring their school librarian positions.

We are encouraged by our supporters and the progress we have made. We have been surprised by some literacy organizations that informed us they do not “do advocacy.”

We believe as past ALA President Jim Neal wrote that “libraries constitute an ecology of educational, research, and community services. In this environment of inter­dependency, we, as a family of libraries, must embrace advocacy for school libraries as foundational to the success of our collective work for students who love to read, as we prepare them for college, career, and life” (Neal 2018). And so, we carry on this work.

This Visme infographic summarizes our communication strategy and is fleshed out in the SLC article. If you are in a similar situation in terms of eliminated school librarian positions, we hope you will use what we have learned to take up the call, identify advocates through points of shared purpose, and work together to restore state-certified school librarian positions in your communities.

Works Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2020. “We Need You! Forming Effective Advocacy Coalitions.” School Library Connection (February).

Neal, Jim. 2018. “Fight for School Libraries: Student Success Depends on Them.” American Libraries Magazine (March 1). https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/03/01/fight-for-school-libraries/

Gifts of Windows and Mirrors

“Humans don’t make our stories, it’s stories that make us human (paraphrasing Amiri Baraka). It’s not until we know the stories of each other that we embrace our humanity. When I know the stories of my people and my culture, that’s when I become human myself” (Hyland 2016).

I was fortunate to publish my first book written for children in 1997. After three years in the submission-rejection cycle, the contract for Sing Down the Rain seemed like a miraculous gift. Kiva publisher/owner Steve Hill mentored me through the publishing process, and I, in turn, mentored our illustrator Tohono O’odham artist Michael Chiago through the illustration process. I had the critical and additional blessing of being mentored by respected Tohono O’odham elder Danny Lopez who ensured cultural accuracy in my poem.

This collaboration resulted in a book that shares the saguaro fruit harvest and rainmaking ceremony of the Tohono O’odham (Desert People) in the context of the ecology of the Sonoran Desert, where I’ve now lived for thirty years. The book is dedicated to the children of the Tohono O’odham Nation for whom it provides a mirror of their cultural traditions and the beauty of our desert home. The book also offers a window into a culture that is little-known outside of the Southwest.

Sing Down the Rain was in print for fifteen years. During that time, O’odham students performed the choral reading of the poem on and off the reservation. Some of their audiences were family and tribal members; some of their audiences were non-O’odham people. Non-O’odham students also performed the poem in schools and communities. Michael and/or I attended these performances, signed books, and celebrated with choral readers and their families. When publisher Steve Hill retired, the book went out of print in 2012.

The Window: Walden School, Louisville, Kentucky
Last spring, I received an email from an art teacher in Louisville, Kentucky. The Walden School is an independent K-12 school. A first-grade student and his mom had selected Sing Down the Rain as a read-aloud to share with his class. The art teacher followed up the reading with a weaving art activity. She sent me photos of the reading and students’ artwork. As it happened, I was planning to be in Louisville in November to attend a conference. I asked if the Walden School would be interested in an author visit.

On November 12, I had the gift of sharing Sing Down the Rain and oral storytelling with K-4 Walden students. I met Ben and his mom and learned that he had repeatedly requested she read the book at bedtime; he described it as a lullaby. Sing Down the Rain offered Walden students who had never met an O’odham child a window into O’odham culture. They had the opportunity to “see” another culture and a desert environment through Michael’s illustrations and the words in my poem.


The Mirror: Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School, Tucson, Arizona
Just a few weeks later, I had an email from two high school teachers who asked me to meet with their students who were preparing to perform Sing Down the Rain. The Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School is a bicultural, community-based school that infuses elements of Tohono O’odham language, traditions, and Native history in the curriculum. I was able to share with the teachers that Regina Siquieros and Angie Saraficio published a version of the poem with O’odham words.

On December 12, one month after the visit to Walden School, I had the gift of sharing with Ha:san students how Sing Down the Rain came to be—the process of writing, publishing, and sharing the book. I shared how I worked with Tohono O’odham artist Michael Chiago to design the illustrations. I gave examples of how Danny Lopez helped me correct errors in my understanding of O’odham cultural traditions in order to portray the rainmaking ceremony as authentically as possible.

The students asked me questions, including why I wrote the book. I showed them the books that had been on our library shelves in 1991 when children were bused from the San Xavier District of their reservation to an elementary school where I served as the librarian—books written by anthropologists or books that perpetuated stereotypes of Native peoples. The poem I wrote and later the book we created was intended to offer all O’odham youth a positive reflection of their culture.

“Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books” (Bishop 1990, ix).”

#OwnVoices
Sing Down the Rain was intended to be a seed. At the time it was published, I hoped that other books would be written and illustrated by Tohono O’odham and traditionally published. Then, these windows could help O’odham youth see their culture reflected in many books. And children living in other parts of the country and around world would learn about the O’odham and their culture.

When families, librarians, other educators, and publishers are considering the critical importance of mirrors and windows, I hope they will support the #ownvoices movement and infuse children’s worlds with the grand diversity of humanity—written and illustrated by people who have first-hand knowledge of the culture and experiences being described.

As the author of four books for children and families, I am grateful for the mysterious and miraculous ways my writing can touch the hearts and minds of others. At Ha:san, one student asked me why I didn’t write about his experience as an O’odham teen living in Tucson today. In all of my author visits with middle and high school students, I invite future published authors and illustrators to pursue writing and drawing—specifically for children. I hope this is the story this young man will write.

I have faith that more books will be published until one glorious day all voices are heard—and all people are seen as essential to our shared human experience.

Works Cited

Bishop, Rudine Sims. 1990. “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Perspectives 1 (3): ix–xi.

Hyland, Ezra. 2016. The African American Read in from NCTE: Podcast, https://www.blogtalkradio.com/edutalk/2016/01/27/the-african-american-read-in-from-ncte

Photographs of Author Visits Used with Permission

Reading Dangerously

At the June, 2019 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., I attended the Freedom to Read Foundation’s (FTRF) 50th Anniversary Celebration. I wrote about the celebration on my blog on July 1, 2019. The FTRF is a non-profit legal and educational organization affiliated with ALA. Supporters helped crowdfund the event by purchasing tickets and the FTRF’s book. Reading Dangerously: The Freedom to Read Foundation Marks 50 Years (2019) in advance of the event. I jumped at the chance and am so happy I did.  This post is about the book and the work of the FTRF.

I can still remember my excitement during my very first class in my first course as a library science graduate student. The course was “Foundations” and the First Amendment and the Library Bill of Rights were the topics for the opening class session. I remember the satisfaction I felt knowing that activism would be part of my everyday work as a librarian. I also remember telling my husband and daughter that night at the dinner table how deeply pleased I was to learn that librarianship was political.

Reading Dangerously opens with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. As Gaiman writes, the First Amendment means that we will be called upon to “defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don’t say or like or want said” (v). But as he also notes that willingness to defend free speech means that your own speech commands defending, too. The next section of the book is a powerful statement by the FTRF’s founder Judith Krug: “We were trying to develop a total program in defense and support of the First Amendment, and that’s basically what we’ve done… The Freedom to Read Foundation is the last step…. When all else fails, then we can go to court.”

The Foundation has three primary activities:

  • The allocation and disbursement of grants to individuals and groups for the purpose of aiding them in litigation or otherwise furthering FTRF’s goals;
  • Direct participation in litigation dealing with freedom of speech and of the press.
  • Education about the importance of libraries and the First Amendment to our democratic institutions (https://www.ftrf.org/page/About).

And go to court they have… In collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations, the FTRF has supported plaintiffs and defendants across the U.S. as they seek legal remedies for upholding the First Amendment. The book includes a timeline and brief summaries of selected cases held over the past fifty years. With my lens as a librarian focused on young people’s rights, these are some of the highlights from that timeline. (Note: There are several interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights that relate to the rights of youth.)

Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District V. Pico (1978): In this case, a student challenged the school board for removing nine books from school libraries, including Soul on Ice and Black Boy. This case went all the way to the Supreme Court where the student prevailed. (*This one was on the test in the Foundations course!)

Selected other challenges to children’s and young adult literature included Sund V. City of Wichita Falls, Texas (2000) resulted in returning Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate to library shelves. Counts V. Cedarville (2003) required the school board to return the Harry Potter books to school library shelves. The FTRF has provided many grants to librarians who are fighting censorship; fortunately, in most instances, books are returned to library shelves and cases do not end up in court.

Other cases that jumped off the page for me involved a grant to fund the legal defense “Pentagon Papers” authors Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony J. Russo, Jr. (1973). U.S. Department of Justice V. American Library Association (1997): ALA prevailed in a case that struck down the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that sought to limit First Amendment rights on the internet. The U.S. government and ALA went to court again (2001) regarding the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) that required public libraries to employ blocking software that both over-blocked and under-blocked websites deemed harmful to children. The ruling gave libraries leeway in finding less restrictive ways to protect children’s online safety.

But the cases closest to home made me especially proud to be part of this profession and a supporter of the FTRF. After a five-year battle, the FTRF and the Tucson Unified School District Mexican American Studies program prevailed (2018) over the Arizona Superintendent of Instruction and other state officials. This case successfully challenged an Arizona statute that “prohibited the use of class materials or books that encourage the overthrow of the government,” or “promote resentment toward a race, or class of people,” and are “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of people as individuals” (53-54). This academically focused program had successfully motivated at-risk students and kept them in school. Although the legal battle took its toll, the district’s (renamed) Ethnic Studies Program was able put the contested materials back on the shelves in classrooms and school libraries.

The FTRF supports Banned Books Week through grants to libraries and others who sponsor public events and discussions centered on intellectual freedom. The book includes excerpts from nine of the most frequently challenged books between 2013 and 2017; seven of which were written for children and young adults.

The final section of Reading Dangerously was contributed by James LaRue, Director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. His chapter should be required reading for every librarian and library science student in the U.S. Many of the intellectual freedom challenges that have faced our patrons, our librarian colleagues, our communities, and our country in the last fifty years continue today. It is imperative that the FTRF and librarians across the country remain vigilant and true to our core values. As LaRue writes: “FTRF is now, and should continue to be, a principled and focused voice for the rights of all to explore the ideas within and around us” (179)—emphasis added.

Thank you, Freedom to Read Foundation. When we go about our daily practice of librarianship, we are true to our values and supported by the FTRF when we keep First Amendment rights and intellectual freedom foremost in our minds as we:

  • Competently select materials for libraries that offer multiple perspectives and worldviews;
  • Design displays and programs that meet the needs of all library stakeholders;
  • And educate our patrons through resources, programs, teaching, and the example we model as engaged global citizens who uphold democratic rights and responsibilities as we serve our communities.

Considering joining the FTRF today! https://www.ftrf.org/page/Membership

 

Work Cited

The Freedom to Read Foundation. 2019. Reading Dangerously, The Freedom to Read Foundation Marks 50 Years. Chicago: ALA.

Advocacy: A Long-term, On-going Process

Chapter 8: Leadership and Advocacy Podcast: Virtual Interview with Dr. Ann Ewbank

When advocacy becomes a regular part of a school librarian’s daily practice, then the long-term, on-going nature this work becomes clear. School librarians must always serve stakeholders in such a way as to engender their support for the professional work and leadership of the school librarian and the role of the library program in student learning. The history of school librarianship is clear. School librarians can never rest on their laurels and assume that their positions, library budgets, and programs are safe from cuts when budgets get tight, district deficits loom, or national trends in education shift.

Readers of Ann Dutton Ewbank’s book Political Advocacy for School Librarians: Leveraging Your Influence (2019) can find additional support for stepping out of one’s comfort zone and developing persuasive messages. School librarians can also use the American Library Association’s Library Advocate’s Handbook (2008), which includes guidelines for telling the library story, successful speaking tips, including a speaker’s checklist, and tips for talking with the media and dealing with tough questions.

Advocating for the Program
When school librarians have formed a solid base of support for the contributions of the library program to the school community, they are able to mobilize support from stakeholders when the need arises. Keeping the library program in the spotlight through consistent services and public relations are essential. The school or library website and social media, the school or library newsletter, principals’ communications to families, and local broadcast media outlets are all venues to share the library story.

In her article “Tales of the Crypt,” elementary and middle school librarian Kelly Klober from Danville (AR) shares an exciting Living History project and event that involved students in researching the lives of people buried in the town cemetery. Adult participants in the project included classroom teachers, family members, and other volunteers from the community. Kelly included this as one of her tips for success: “Make friends with the press. We always have incredible coverage from our local newspaper, and our high school’s senior seminar class has always been kind enough to video the event” (Klober 2019, 20).

Advocating for the Position
While some argue that school librarians should not advocate for their own positions, I whole-heartedly disagree. If there were a proposal on the table in your district to eliminate all kindergarten teachers, you can bet that kinder teachers (and their first-grade colleagues, families, and more) would be frontline advocates who could clearly state the need to retain these positions. State-certified school librarian positions are no different. There is research-based evidence that supports the value of having a state-certified school librarian on every school faculty. School librarians should know this research. The following examples are from an article published in Phi Delta Kappan Online by Keith Curry Lance and Debra Kachel (2018).

Given the emphasis on literacy and reading in many schools and districts, it makes intuitive sense that students’ reading and writing scores would be better in schools with a strong library program. In a Washington state study, graduation rates and test scores in reading and math were significantly higher in schools with high-quality libraries and certified librarians, even after controlling for school size and poverty (Coker 2015). Reading and writing scores tend to be higher for all students who have a full-time certified librarian. The Pennsylvania study (2012) found that reading scores for Black students (5.5%), Latino students (5.2%), and students with disabilities (4.6%) where higher when the school had a full-time librarian. Even higher academic gains were evident among student subgroups if their schools had more library staff, larger library collections, and greater access to technology, databases, and the library itself. The 4th-grade NAEP reading data supported the Pennsylvania findings. In states that gained librarians between 2004-05 and 2008-09, average reading scores for poor students, Black students, and Latino students improved more than in states that lost librarians. In states that lost librarians, English language learners’ scores dropped by almost 3% (Lance and Schwartz 2012).

School librarians must advocate for their own positions based on research, on their own practice, and on locally collected student learning data.

Advocacy-at-Large
Inviting print and broadcast media to library program events and writing letters to the editor and op-ed pieces for local newspapers are ways to take the school library story out into the community. School librarians and their advocates can keep school libraries in the minds of the general public as preparation for advocacy appeals and initiatives that will require the support of school boards, families, and voters.

Here are two recently published op-eds that I wrote on behalf of Tucson’s school librarians, libraries, students, educators, administrators, and families.

Missing School Librarians Means Lost Literacy Learning,” Arizona Daily Star, November 3, 2017.

Literacy Matters Every Day,” Arizona Daily Star, March 6, 2019.

And as part of a School Librarian Restoration Project in Tucson Unified School District, TUSD board liaison Kristen Bury of the School Community Partnership Council and I were briefly interviewed by a local news station KGUN9.

Restoration Project Aims to Employ More Librarians for TUSD,” KGUN9 video interview and article.

This letter to the editor was published on April 18, 2019 during School Library Month. “The Library Ecosystem.”

Strategic school librarians engage and enlist others in long-term, on-going advocacy efforts to ensure that school library stakeholders will have equitable access to the resources, instructional and other services, professional expertise, and leadership school librarians and libraries provide. Keeping the public informed is essential when the time comes to seek their support for specific advocacy appeals.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How are you engaged in long-term, on-going advocacy?
  2. Who do you need to ask to join you in this effort?

Works Cited

American Library Association. 2008. Library Advocate’s Handbook. 3rd ed. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advocacy-university/library-advocates-handbook

Coker, Elizabeth. 2015. The Washington State School Library Study: Certified Teacher-librarians, Library Quality and Student Achievement in Washington State Public Schools. Seattle: Washington Library Media Association.

Ewbank, Ann. 2019. Political Advocacy for School Librarians: Leveraging Your Influence. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Klober, Kelly. 2019. “Tales from the Crypt.” Knowledge Quest 47 (4): 16-20.

Lance, Keith Curry, and Bill Schwarz. 2012. How Pennsylvania School Libraries Pay Off: Investments in Student Achievement and Academic Standards. PA School Library Project. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED543418.pdf

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan Online. http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/

Educating Young and Future Voters

This month op-eds and letters to the editor in the Arizona Daily Star and other news sources have called for seasoned voters to encourage and support young voters, especially Millennials, in exercising their right to vote. This is especially true in midterm elections when many “mature” voters opt-out of participation in our country’s electoral process. For educators, this is two-pronged responsibility.

Educators Must Vote
Educators must commit ourselves to work for and vote for candidates that support district public school education. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the projected 2018 public school enrollment was 50.6 million students. Nationally, about nine out of ten students rely on publicly funded schools for their education. (That is why I vote for Arizona candidates who are #RedforEd and support #SOSArizona.)

The illustration for this blog post was created by Authors and Illustrators for Children member R.W. Alley. I agree that “v-o-t-e” is the way to spell “future….” and so is “e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n.” As a children’s book author, I am a member of AIforC. This organization is dedicated to a “free, truthful, and safe America for ALL children.” Our members are children’s book creators and associates “committed to vote, campaign, and speak out for candidates and policies to create a safe, healthy, and inspired future for children everywhere.” (You can view a list of members on the website.)

Educators Must Educate Young and Future Voters
Educators must also support young voters in accepting and cherishing the right to vote. I have been phone banking in Arizona. Many of the voters I have talked with are passionate about exercising their right to vote. As educators, we must share that passion with the young people in our care. Whether or not they are yet eligible to vote, we must teach students the history of enfranchisement in our country and instill in them the importance of participating in all elections—local, state, and national.

Last month, Common Sense Media posted an article by Regan McMahon in their “Parents, Media, and Everything In Between” section called “17 Tips to Steer Kids of All Ages Through the Political Season.” Many of these strategies can be used by school librarians and classroom teachers as well.

Last summer, I posted resources to support classroom teachers and school librarians in teaching and coteaching civics education. (See below.) This week and next are ideal times to take up this topic in classrooms and libraries across the U.S. Integrating real-world and current events into the curriculum can help students find relevance in their schooling. Focusing reading, research, and discussions on voting can also help strengthen our democracy.

Let’s work together to ensure that all current and future voters know how to spell “future.”

“V-O-T-E” and “E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N” !!!

Previous 2018 Posts Focused on Election 2018

7/16/18 – Planning for Election 2018

7/23/18 – Election 2018 Resources, including The Center for Civic Education

7/30/18 – Election 2018 and Digital Literacy

 

Image Credit: R. W. Alley “Spelling Bee.” Used with Permission

#Election 2018 and Digital Literacy

I had intended to review one more #Election2018 resource, iCivics, in this three-post series. However, Connie Williams did an outstanding job sharing this site in her “Got Civics?” post on the Knowledge Quest blog in June so I will simply reinforce her post here. Connie spotlighted the Drafting Board and civics learning games. As Connie noted, educators can expect to find a new game on the iCivics.org site this fall. iCivics is partnering with the Annenberg Public Policy Center to develop this game. Look for it. Educators can set up free accounts in order to access all of the resources on the site.

Digital Literacy
Connecting #Election2018 with digital literacy presents a leadership opportunity for school librarians. “Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate digital information, an ability that requires both cognitive and technical skills” (ALA 2013). The technical skills involve the use of various information and communication technologies. #Election2018 presents an opportune time to coteach digital literacy with educators in every content area. Here are some promising possibilities.

Published Lesson Plans
Common Sense Education offers outstanding lessons including this one: “News and Media Literacy.” Lessons are targeted to four grade bands: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. One newly added resource that English Language Arts and Reading (ELA-R) educators may find useful is a one-page piece on “Misinformation.” It includes definitions for key vocabulary such as “clickbait,” “extreme bias,” and “hate news.”

As previously noted, The Center for Civics Education Project Citizen offers lessons for upper elementary through post-secondary students. Taught alongside the Stanford History Education Group’s resources, educators can help students develop the critical thinking and information/digital literacy skills they will need to be informed, active citizens.

The advanced questioning lesson (for approximate grades 9-10) in my book Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (ALA 2012) uses editorial cartoons as prompts. In the lesson, educators teach and students apply the Question-Answer-Relationships questioning strategy. “The Editorial Cartoons of Clay Bennett” is one of the resources I recommend for this two-part lesson. (Since the publication of my book, this site has been thankfully archived by the Library of Congress.) Of course, your hometown newspaper (in print or online) is likely an outstanding resource for your students.

Other Published Texts
Both ELA-R and civics/social studies/history classroom teachers often assign students op-eds as writing activities. (See Sarah Cooper’s post on The Middle Web blog: “An Op-Ed Project Based on Personal Choice.”)

The election season presents a perfect opportunity to analyze published texts for persuasive techniques and for students to compose persuasive texts of their own. School librarians can support classroom teachers’ curriculum by identifying op-eds and letters to the editor in local or national newspapers and news outlets. Here is an example written by Paul McCreary and published in the Arizona Daily Star on July 27, 2018: “What can we do? Vote!

The New York Times The Learning Network offers a wealth of participatory and real-world learning experiences to prompt student learning and support educators’ teaching. During the academic year, the site posts an article of the day, a news quiz, and a student opinion section. The Learning Network offers lesson plans for students in grades 7 and up in core content areas and lessons on topics that build technology skills, too.

Research to Support Teaching Digital Literacy
In conversations with administrators and classroom teachers, school librarians may want to share popular or scholarly articles and research studies that make the case for teaching digital information literacy. These are three recent articles that are well worth reading, discussing, and applying in our professional work.

Gooblar, David. 2018. “How to Teach Information Literacy in the Era of Lies.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-to-Teach-Information/243973

Taylor, Natalie Greene. 2018. “Middle-Schoolers’ Perceptions of Government: Intersection of Information and Civic Literacies.” Journal of Research on Libraries & Young Adults 9. http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/2018/07/middle-schoolers-perceptions-of-government-intersection-of-information-and-civic-literacies/

Weaver, Brilee. 2018. “From Digital Native to Digital Expert.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/06/digital-native-digital-expert

Preparing for and Teaching #Election2018
Connie Williams also noted in her KQ post that classroom-library collaboration for civics teaching and learning should not be relegated to civics and government departments only. This and my previous two posts on this blog have focused on ELA-R and social studies/civics connections.

What about reaching out to mathematics teachers to study polling or other data that is published during this election cycle?

How are candidates talking about topics related to science, such climate change, fossil fuels, and alternative energy sources?

What about connecting candidates’ positions and promises related to health care with health or P.E. teachers’ curriculum?

How will you use digital texts to strengthen students’ literacy during this election cycle? What are your plans for collaborating with classroom teachers to engage students in digital literacy – locating, comprehending, evaluating, creating, and communicating digital information – in Fall 2018?

Work Cited

American Library Association. 2013. Digital Literacy, Libraries, and Public Policy: Report of the Office of Information Technology Policy’s Digital Literacy Task Force. www.districtdispatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/2012_OITP_digilitreport_1_22_13.pdf.

Building Connections for Learning in the Neighborhood

In my blog post last week, I recommended that people see Emilio Estevez’s film The Public when it is available in their community. This week I MUST follow up that recommendation with another. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?—a film about the life, work, and empowered positive impact of the amazing Fred Rogers—is a touching, sweet, emotional, and illuminating film about a man who made an incredible difference in the lives of countless young children and their families.

I have always remarked that one attribute that separates educators from (many) other adults is that we care about other people’s children. School librarians whose “kids” are all the young people in their schools must have expansive hearts to accommodate the personal and academic needs of all the youth we serve.

Effective and caring school librarians create a climate of welcoming acceptance in the library that extends out into the school and into the surrounding community. We achieve that through library programs that affirm diversity, insist upon equity, and strive to help all learners (students, educators, and parents) achieve their capacity to think, create, share, and grow.

This film made so many connections for me with our work in school libraries. These are just a few of them.

In the themed episodes for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred addressed children’s feelings about war, divorce, race, and other timely topics. He did not talk down to children. He did not shield them from the realities of their lives because he respected their intelligence. Fred Rogers was a courageous educator and friend to children. Today’s educators should be as courageous in helping learners express their feelings and deal with real-world problems and issues.

Our daughter watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood is the 1980s. I distinctly remember the pace of Mr. Rogers’ show compared with other children’s programming at the time. It was slower, in many ways more thoughtful, and allowed viewers thinking and feeling time. With today’s focus on academic, social, and emotional learning in many schools and districts (see CASEL), there is much for educators to consider in terms of a slower pace. We can carve out the necessary time students need to integrate their learning into their lives by making time for reflection and time for sharing with others.

The Guided Inquiry Design Framework (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012) that includes sufficient time for students to immerse themselves in questions of their own making acknowledges the emotional aspects of learning. As Carol Kuhlthau (2013) found in her research on the information search process, inquirers pass through various emotions as they pursue learning. If Fred Rogers had known about inquiry learning, I believe he would have agreed that such a process is respectful of learners’ emotions as well as their intellect.

One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Fred Rogers testified at a Senate hearing regarding funding for the Public Broadcasting System. At the hearing, Senator John O. Pastore promised to read Fred’s prepared statement but asked him to talk extemporaneously in his oral testimony. Mr. Rogers began his response by telling the senator that he trusted him to keep his word and read the statement, which Fred has so carefully prepared. Then, he sang him a song about children feeling fearful and developing trust—a song sung from Fred’s heart that went straight to Senator Pastore’s heart. At the end of the song, the senator simply said, “You got the $20 million.”

This is a vivid reminder that when we are advocating for school library programs that help all learners succeed, our knowledge and data do matter. But it’s our stories that touch the heart; they are most often the aspect of our advocacy work that helps people make difficult decisions. Changing people’s minds through their hearts works.

These are some of the quotes from the film that made powerful connections for me and may serve as words of wisdom for today’s educators.

“’Won’t you be my neighbor?’ Well, I suppose it’s an invitation. It’s an invitation for somebody to be close to you” (Fred Rogers).

“Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become” (Fred Rogers).

“Someone smiled you into smiling; sang you into singing; read you into reading” (Fred Rogers paraphrase from the film to the best of my memory).

I believe that educators can care students into caring about their own well-being, the health of our/their country, and the future of our planet. When we care for our “neighbors,” we model the empathy that is essential for living, working, and succeeding in a global society.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers, film director Marvin Neville, the film’s producers, and others who brought Fred Rogers’ knowledge, perspective, and heart to the screen. I also believe we become what we see and hear on the screen. I want Won’t You Be My Neighbor to be part of my becoming.

References
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. “CASEL: Educating Hearts. Inspiring Minds.” www.casel.org.

Kuhlthau, Carol Collier. 2013. “Inquiry Inspires Original Research.” School Library Monthly 30 (2): 5-8.

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. 2012. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Image Credit: Sign distributed by Peace Centers across the U.S.

Question to the Internet Movie Database: What does it take to earn a ten?

 

Libraries and Neutrality

The June, 2018, American Libraries magazine is one of the most thought-provoking issues ever. I believe the summary and links from Jim Neal’s Midwinter President’s Program on librarianship and neutrality should be required reading for every library science graduate student and used as a discussion starter in classrooms and libraries everywhere. From serving the literacy needs of patrons in prison and those of Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program families, to using visual data to activate middle school readers, to addressing Melvil Dewey’s legacy, this issue is a treasure trove of information, knowledge, and wisdom. It’s also a rich source of topics for this blog.

ALA President Jim Neal’s session at Midwinter in Denver featured a debate with two speakers in favor of neutrality (James LaRue and Em Claire Knowles) and two speakers against neutrality (Chris Bourg and R. David Lankes). A panel of four speakers responded to the debate: Emily Drabinski, Emily Knox, Kathleen de la Peña McCook, and Kelvin Watson. The full program video is available online to Midwinter attendees at bit.ly/mw18-pres.

These are some of my takeaways beginning with the pro-neutrality debaters. James LaRue offered three dimensions for neutrality: service, access, and collections. In his view, neutrality is “enshrined in (library) values” and can be summarized as “everyone gets a seat at the table” (34). Em Claire Knowles noted that libraries/librarians have social goals but believes “an active, engaged, continually reaffirmed neutrality is just the first rung on the ladder to advocacy and social justice” (35).

On the other side of the debate, Chris Bourg noted that “neutrality, by definition, is not taking sides” (34). Operating from that definition, he notes “decisions like how much funding a library gets, who should have access to a library, and even where a library is located are not neutral decisions” (34). R. David Lankes further unpacks the “myth of neutrality” (35) and gives this example: “a poor child needs a different level of service to meet our mission than college-educated adults in terms of literacy” (36).

Emily Knox’s comment reproduced in the image above rings true for me (37).  Libraries, and school libraries in particular, cannot collect every book published for youth. In our decision-making, our goal is to provide access to all sides of issues. But with limited budgets and the charge to provide resources aligned with school curricula, school librarians must pick and choose. We do so in the displays we create, the literacy programs we offer, and the ways we collaborate with classroom teachers and specialists and involve students and families in the library program. As the article in this issue by school librarian Kelsey Cohen demonstrates (see next week’s blog post), the library cannot be neutral and simply serve the students who are eager to read.

To be honest, the decisions we make reflect our shared librarianship values, the values of our communities, and our own personal values as well. In the types of outreach and the target audiences for our outreach activities, whether in school, public, or academic libraries, librarians who adhere to our value of “access” seek to be fair rather than equal. A neutral library would simply exist and serve the patrons who come. The library/librarian that assesses the community and determines how to best help people achieve their goals will, of necessity, do more for some than for others.

As Kelvin Watson noted: “We can’t be neutral on social and political issues that impact our customers because, to be frank, those social and political issues impact us as well” (38). In schools, our English language learners and their classroom teachers may need more literacy support than our gifted and talented students and their classroom teachers. Youth living in poverty may need access to literacy and technology resources more than our affluent students who have access in their homes. Inviting an author from an underrepresented group to provide a literacy event may speak in more personally meaningful and impactful ways to some of our students and families than to others. In my opinion, the ways school librarians address academic, social. and political inequities is not a neutral stance.

Since I was unable to attend Midwinter, I especially appreciate the excerpts available in American Libraries magazine and the links to some of the presenters’ full remarks. As noted above, I believe this article can spark a lively and critical conversation in libraries across the country and around the world. I hope you will make time to seek out, read, and discuss the issue of neutrality in librarianship in your professional learning networks.

Work Cited

American Libraries 49 (6). June, 2018.

Image credits:
Quote from Emily J. M. Knox

Youngson, Nick. “Decision-making Highway Sign.” http://www.creative-commons-images.com/highway-signs/d/decision-making.html

National Library Legislative Day and More

A photograph on the Arizona Daily Star opinion page on May 3, 2018, struck a chord with me. If you have been following the national news, you know that Arizona’s teacher walkout and #RedForEd movement has been called a “Norma Rae moment.” Long underpaid and undervalued educators working with large class sizes and antiquated technology in crumbling buildings, Arizona educators and advocates have held Governor Ducey and his majority-Republican legislature’s feet to the fire. Activists are vowing to keep the momentum for improving education for Arizona’s students going through the November election.

The photo on the May 3rd opinion page was of a #RedForEd group in which one of the protesters was a woman holding this sign: “Even LIBRARIANS can’t keep QUIET anymore!”

To my way of thinking, NO ONE who is passionate about youth, learning, and teaching should ever keep quiet about what kind of education today’s young people need to succeed—especially not school librarians.

In that context, I am delighted that hundreds of librarians, library trustees, library patrons, and advocates are in Washington, D.C. for the American Library Association’s annual National Library Legislative Day (#NLLD18).

I have never had the opportunity to meet face to face with lawmakers during #NLLD, but I am signed up to participate virtually today, May 7th and tomorrow, May 8th.

I will be emailing, phoning, and Tweeting Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake and  Representative Martha McSally during this two-day event to remind them that Arizona’s students, educators, and families need the expertise of school librarians and the services of school libraries.

U.S. school and public libraries have a vital role to play in the health and prosperity of our country. Literacy learning and programming are critical services. From cradle to grave, libraries help patrons and communities meet their life goals. Access to technology tools is one essential service libraries provide. Since one in four households in the U.S. are without Internet connection, school and public libraries help level the playing field by providing students, families, and adults equitable access to the tools of our times and the digital resources that impact daily lives.

Other Library National Advocacy Efforts
ALA members and supporters advocate for their patrons all year long. The ALA Advocacy page provides a rich resource of support. This year, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Advocacy Committee launched AASL Connection (#AASLcxn), a quarterly advocacy and information sharing effort that includes webinars, Twitter chats, and more. The Association for Library Service to Children Everyday Advocacy page provides resources as well.

In addition to these, I highly recommend the work of EveryLibrary.org. Every Library helps school and public libraries organize and sustain advocacy efforts. Signing petitions or tweeting out information for these efforts is a way for librarians to support advocacy initiative across the country. Every Library has also started a peer-reviewed journal called The Political Librarian. As an Every Library monthly subscriber, I am proud to support the activism of my colleagues.

Advocating Closer to Home
I have made a long-time commitment to write as often as possible for Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star newspaper. I believe it is important to speak up locally as well as nationally about school librarianship, particularly in a state like Arizona where so few preK-12 students and educators are receiving the support of state-endorsed school librarians.

Although my letters do not always get published, my passion for our profession and what access to literacy learning means for students keeps me submitting. These are a few of my published letters to the editor and an opinion piece published within the last year.

One Million Arizona Students at Risk.” Arizona Daily Star (Apr. 4, 2017)

Missing School Librarians Means Lost Literacy Learning.” Arizona Daily Star (Nov. 3, 2017).

Early Childhood Education: A First Step that Requires Follow-Up.” Arizona Daily Star Online (Apr. 11, 2018)

I Know Who Goldwater Can Sue.” Arizona Daily Star Online (May 2, 2018).

If school librarianship is to survive, each of us must find our way to speak up and out for our profession. Yes, it is ideal and rewarding when our administrators, classroom teacher colleagues, families, and students raise their voices in support of our work. Yet, there are many who do not have first-hand experience of what school librarians contribute to students’ learning and to other educators’ teaching. It is only by educating the larger community and speaking up for our work that we can expect to change the outdated stereotypes and under valuing of our school librarians and libraries that persist today.

Please join our librarian colleagues, library advocates, and me today and tomorrow for National Library Legislative Day. Think nationally for #NLLD18 and act locally every day. Together—we can make a difference.

Image Courtesy of the American Library Association