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/

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

School Librarians and Digital Learning

Digital Learning Day 2017 (#DLDay) will be held this Thursday, February 23rd. School librarians from across the U.S. will be participating and showcasing the digital learning that’s happening in their schools. This annual event was mentioned in last week’s “Future Ready Librarians: What’s Not to Love?” Webinar.

On Digital Learning Day (DLD), the Alliance for Excellent Education is sponsoring a free Webinar: Digital Learning Day 2017: “The Value of a Connected Classroom.” You can sign up on their site.

On the DLD homepage, there are four highlights listed from the 2016 event:
1.    Digital Equity and Access
2.    Digital Equity and Leadership
3.    Digital Equity and College and Career
4.    Digital Equity and Instructional Quality

School librarians especially appreciate the consistent focus on digital equity. School libraries are one place on school campuses where all students should be able to gain access to the digital tools and resources they need to be successful.

Several data points in National Education Association’s just-released “Library/Media Centers in U.S. Public Schools: Growth, Staffing, and Resources: Full Report” suggest that our nation’s schools have not yet achieved equity.

I include Arizona’s data because I was a long-time Arizona school librarian and school librarian educator; I currently live in this state.

In her article “Teacher-librarians as Champions of Digital Equity,” Dr. Carol Gordon makes a case for recognizing that “information education” is an essential aspect of digital equity. Citing two researchers’ list of the expertise school librarians offer students and colleagues, she notes: “Teacher-librarians play an important role in each of these areas: connectivity, content, content creation, technological support, and research on digital technology and learning. However, the role of teacher-librarians in information education, which should be at the top of this list, is not there” (Gordon 2016). (Emphasis added)

Digital Learning Day offers a snapshot of every day of the school year. This year, I will be looking for the ways Future Ready Librarians are forming instructional partnerships that ensure that students are effective users of ideas and information and proficient in knowledge creation as they appropriate digital tools and devices to meet their learning and presentation needs – all year long.

Works Cited

Gordon, Carol. “Teacher-Librarians as Champions of Digital Equity.” SLAV, vol. 14, no. 1, 2016, www.slav.vic.edu.au/synergy/volume-14-number-1-2016/research-into-practice/607-teacher-librarians-as-champions-of-digital-equity.html. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.

Tuck, Kathy, D. and Dwight R. Holmes. “Library/Media Centers in U.S. Public Schools: Growth, Staffing, and Resources: Full Report,” 2016, NEA.org, http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/Trends%20in%20School%20Library%20Media%20Centers%20Full%20Report.pdf. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.

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