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

Advocating for Authenticity and Diversity in Children’s Picturebooks

If I were in charge of this holiday, all U.S. students be would studying the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy of social justice. They would be reading, discussing, marching, or otherwise working in their communities to bring about positive change.

Students and classroom teachers would also have access to diverse library collections – and most especially school library collections – that provide students with books and resources that represent the diversity of human experience. Since most librarians do not have the opportunity to actually read the print resources they select before they purchase them, they must rely on published book reviews. This means that children’s and young adult book reviewers are mediators between readers and their literature.

During the month of December, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Margaret Mercado, Pima County Public Library children’s librarian who reviews children’s and young adult literature for two well-known review sources. Mary Margaret and I are advocates for diversity and live in a community where Latinx students and families are the majority in the largest school district. We walk and talk most weekend mornings and have often shared our concerns and frustrations with the content, quality, and quantity of books that reflect Latinx culture.

To formalize our blog interview conversation, we created a framework for evaluating the cultural components during our discussions. We adapted our framework from Critical Multicultural Analysis of Children’s Literature: Mirrors, Windows, and Doors by Maria José Botelho and Masha Kabakow Rudman and WOWLit’s “Evaluating Literature for Authenticity.”

Publication Practices
1. Who are the author, illustrator, and/or translator?
2. What are their backgrounds?
3. Who was the original publisher?

Authenticity in the Story
1. From whose perspective is the text written?
2. Are characters, plot, and setting authentic, or are stereotypes presented?
3. What do the review sources say, and how have cultural “insiders” responded to this text?

Authenticity in Visual Elements
1. How does the illustrator’s background or research influence the visual elements in this book?
2. What meanings are communicated through the images?
3. Do the visual elements authentically and accurately portray cultural information?

Authenticity in Sociopolitical and Historical Context
1. What kind of first-hand experience or research informs the text?
2. What current or historical factors shape the story or information in the text?
3. How are current or historical power relations reflected in the text?

We posted once each week in December on the WOW Currents blog. The links below lead to each week’s post. With each link, I have shared a comment and my biggest takeaway(s) or remaining question(s) from that week’s post.

Part 1: Goals and Process for Children’s Book Reviews
In the introductory post on December 4, 2017, Mary Margaret shared her background, how she got started as a children’s literature book reviewer, and her reviewing process. In reading this post, you will note that it was from giving a book review editor critical feedback on a particular review that resulted in Mary Margaret being invited to review for that source. She answered a call for reviewers for the other source for which she reviews.

For the most part, Mary Margaret reviews children’s picturebooks and Spanish language or Spanish/English bilingual books. She constructs book reviews in three parts: 1. the story or information, 2. illustrations for visual incongruities or strengths, and 3. cultural components of the book with her recommendation. She believes it’s her job to “to find any negative, inauthentic or inaccurate elements and point them out in (her) review.” Mary Margaret’s cultural insider knowledge for Mexican themed books gives her  a distinct advantage when reviewing Latinx themed books.

Part 1: Further Questions
1. When librarians read book reviews, do we notice whether or not cultural information is included in the review?

2. Do we consider or question the reviewer’s knowledge in terms of assessing cultural authenticity in the work?

Part 2: Publication Practices
In this post, Mary Margaret provides one very clear example of a book in which the author’s and illustrator’s cultural knowledge (or research) was lacking. In her review, she justified her “not recommended” rating with specifics from the story and the illustrations. She also shared information about the importance of language and translation in relationship to authenticity.

Part 2: Takeaway
This was my takeaway from her responses in this post: “Even though I am culturally competent in both Mexican culture and Spanish language as spoken in (parts of) Mexico and the U.S., I would not be a competent translator for a story situated in Cuban or Puerto Rican culture. It is not appropriate to assume that anyone who is fluent in both English and Spanish can effectively translate any story into the other language.”

Part 3: Authentic Picturebook Stories
Mary Margaret offers three recommendations for determining cultural authenticity. These are her suggestions for librarians/reviewers who are cultural outsiders:
1.     If there is humor in the story. Mary Margaret asks herself: “Am I laughing at or laughing with the character?”
2.     In addition to characterization and language use, she examines the plot. She asks: “Who has agency and power in this story? Does succeeding or failing, winning or losing, have any connection to a stereotype about which I am aware?”
3.     Is the story setting authentic?

Part 3: Takeaway
Mary Margaret’s question about publishing Mexican themed picturebooks is this: “’While a rural setting with a poor family may be ‘appropriate’ for historical fiction, I often wonder, ‘Where are the books with middle class Mexican children and families playing video games, using cell phones and flying to the U.S. to visit Disneyland?’”

Part 4: Authentic Picturebook Illustrations
Since Mary Margaret’s responses to authenticity in story were comprehensive, we decided to carry over the conversation about picturebook illustrations to week four (and did not have the opportunity to explore sociopolitical and historical authenticity on the WOW Currents blog). This post about authenticity in illustration is packed with information that cultural outsiders may find especially illuminating.

Since many errors in illustration are not caught by art editors, it seems that librarians will want to consult cultural insiders about authenticity in picturebook visuals. For many that may be after the fact of purchase. Still, books published with errors can be used in classroom-library lessons as examples for what not to do.

Part 4: Takeaways
Mary Margaret identified several author-illustrators whose work is culturally authentic and shows congruity between story and illustration.

Adriana M. Garcia, illustrator of Xelena González’s book All Around Us (Cinco Puntos, 2017). The story honors traditions while steeped in a contemporary setting.

Yuyi Morales’s magical realism illustrations are perfectly aligned with Laura Lacámara’s story Floating on Mama’s Song (Katherine Tegen Books, 2010).

Duncan Tonatiuh’s Mixtex illustration style provides the perfect blend of contemporary and historical elements in Salsa: Un poema para docinar/Salsa: A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta (Groundwood, 2015).

Continuing the Conversation

The information in this interview will be part of an article for publication that includes responses to a survey I conducted in which twenty-six children’s and young adult book reviewers participated. I will also share both the survey and this interview at the Texas Library Association Conference on April 4th in my session titled “Intercultural Understanding through Global Literature.”

And please mark your calendars. On Tuesday, January 23rd at 1:00 p.m. Central, AASL and Scholastic Books are offering a free, one-hour webinar titled: Mirror, Mirror, Who Do You See in Your Books? Reaching Diverse Readers. Read about it and consider arranging your schedule so you can participate.

References

Botelho, Maria José, and Masha Kabakow Rudman. 2009. Critical Multicultural Analysis of Children’s Literature: Mirrors, Windows, and Doors. New York: Routledge.

WOWLit.org. “Evaluating Literature for Authenticity.” http://wowlit.org/links/evaluating-global-literature/evaluating-literature-for-authenticity

Image Credits:
Collage created at Befunky.com
Word Cloud created at Wordle.net

International Day of Peace

This week, on September 21st, the United Nations will once again celebrate the International Day of Peace.  On this day, we join together around the globe to advocate for non-violence and strengthening peace among people and nations.

This year’s theme is: “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.”

As a children’s book author, I am a member of Artists and Illustrators for Children (AIC). The motto of AIC is: “We create children’s books because we care—that’s why we’re dedicated to a free, truthful, and safe America for all children.”

This year, AIC members Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle initiated a Padlet project where AIC members can share writing, art, and classroom activities related to peace.

I contributed a classroom-library-literacy coach-art classroom cotaught inquiry unit under the “Peaceful Activities for the Classroom” category.

During the 2001-2002, I served as a literacy coach at an elementary school in Tucson Unified School District. Along with a third-grade classroom teacher, the school librarian, and the art instructor, I codesigned and cotaught an inquiry unit focused on peace: Peace Poems and Picasso Doves.

We introduced this unit of study by reading Somewhere Today: A Book of Peace, Peace Begins with You written by Shelley Moore Thomas, illustrated with photographs by Eric Futran and selections from The Big Book for Peace edited by Ann Durell and Marilyn Sachs.

We asked students to share their personal responses to readings with partners or with the whole class. These were the questions we used to frame students’ responses:
1. What do individuals do to find peace?
2. What do communities do to create peace?
3. What are some symbols for peace?

The collaborating educators developed a text set of resources, which students explored as they began to develop their own questions, thoughts, and feelings related to peace. The students’ literature circle discussion around the book Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz were particularly powerful. Students studied and wrote poetry and learned about Pablo Picasso’s peace dove artwork. In their final products, the students’ peace poems and Picasso doves captured the personal meaning they ascribed to the word and concept of peace.

There is an undeniable link between peace and social justice. Expanding out from the personal to peaceful communities based in social justice is a logical next step. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child can help young people see the connection. With primary age students, I have used the child-friendly version and the book For Every Child: The Rights of the Child in Words and Pictures offered by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. For older students, in particular, the possibilities for connections to historical and current events is limitless.

If you have not yet read it, please see Loretta Gaffney’s Knowledge Quest blog post “Hate Has No Home Here: The Post Charlottesville School Library” (9/13/17). Loretta provides us with much to think about and excellent resources for educating for social justice.

School librarians who curate resources and codesign and coteach lessons and units of instruction have an essential role to play in making connections for learning between the classroom and library and across disciplines. We also have an obligation to “make important interventions in a political climate of hatred” (Gaffney).

In your daily practice of librarianship and this week, in particular, I hope you will look for ways to increase the peace and inspire conversations about social justice in your learning community. If  you tweet, please use #peaceday to share your work this week.

Work Cited

Gaffney, Loretta. “‘Hate Has No Home Here’: The Post-Charlottesville School Library.” Knowledge Quest, 13 Sept. 2017, knowledgequest.aasl.org/hate-no-home-post-charlottesville-school-library/.

Image Credit:
Peace Dove Artwork by Elise – Used with Permission

Advocating for Respect and Literacy for All

If advocating for literacy for all is “political,” then a growing number of school librarians, authors, publishers, and schools are speaking up and out about the empathy and attitudes that will help ALL students become the respectful, successful native-born or naturalized citizens our country needs.  With this post, I applaud and join with them.

The following exemplary examples are just some of this work that came across my computer screen last week. I hope school librarians will follow these links and be on the lookout for other ways we can align our work with inclusion and take action for social justice.

School librarian Elissa Malespina penned and illustrated “An Open Letter to School Librarians,” which was published on the School Library Journal (SLJ) Web site. In her opinion piece, she challenges school librarians to take a firm stand about how we welcome and include students in our libraries and schools. “Every day students of different races, nationalities, and sexual orientations walk through our doors. Our libraries must be safe spaces for them, since the outside world has become increasingly unsafe.” For Ms. Malespina (and I hope for you), silence is not an option.

Young adult author Marie Marquardt wrote an equally eloquent appeal related to social justice on the Teen Librarian Toolbox (TLT) linked from the SLJ site: “Love and Justice: What I’ve Learned from Those Seeking Refuge in the U.S.” Ms. Marquardt, who lives in Georgia, has worked for more than twenty years with immigrants, most of whom were undocumented, and asylum-seeking refugees. In her piece, she wrote this: “They all made these journeys because they believed America is a place of refuge, a peaceful nation guided by such enduring values as fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Even in the face of clear injustices – blatant discrimination, inconsistent treatment in the courts – they have astounded me with their steadfast desire to participate in American life, to become American. In fact, they have taught me to see my own nation through new eyes, to affirm and celebrate our core values.”

The 2017 TLT Project is Social Justice YA Literature. Use this link to read more about this timely and essential effort. To participate in this effort on Twitter, use the #SJYALit.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 14th, Booklist, Second Story Press, and Lee & Low Publishers, are offering a free one-hour Webinar titled “Teaching Tolerance.” On the promotion for this event, the collaborators cite increased bullying in schools as an indication that educators and parents are called upon to use children’s literature to help young people increase their understanding and acceptance of “others.” School librarians can support classroom teachers and families by spotlighting these titles and integrating them into their collections and teaching.

BACC blog readers can find another resource for books about refugee and immigrant experiences on the Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services Web site. This annotated list includes forty titles for both children and teens.

This post would not be complete without a huge shout out to Luma Mufleh and an appeal for your support for the Fugees Family. Coach Luma began her humanitarian work in 2006 by offering refugee boys a free, organized soccer team. Today, the Fugees Academy is the only school dedicated to refugee education in the U.S. One hundred thirty-six boys and girls are members of the Fugees Family and participate in year-round soccer, after-school tutoring, an academic enrichment summer camp, or are full-time students at the Fugees Academy where they learn academics and build character and leadership.

Like all 501(c)(3) organizations, the Fugees Family stays afloat through grants and on-going fundraising efforts. Please consider supporting their current effort – a t-shirt that reads: “Refugees – USA – Welcome.” Support these young people and their teachers. Purchase a shirt and wear it proudly.

Thank you all for the work you do and for speaking up and out.

And I close with one additional special thank you to Nebraska assistant public library director Rebecca Corkindale who collaborated with librarians from Saline County Library in Benton, Arkansas to create “Libraries Are for Everyone” graphics. With the help of librarians from around the world, Ms. Corkindale continues to translate the text on these copyright-free graphics into many languages.

Bravo to all!

Works Cited

Jensen, Karen. Love and Justice: What I’ve Learned from Those Seeking Refuge in the U.S.: A Guest Post by Author Marie Marquardt, Teen Librarian Toolkit.com, http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2017/02/love-and-justice-what-ive-learned-from-those-seeking-refuge-in-the-u-s-a-guest-post-by-author-marie-marquardt/

Malespina, Elissa. “Open Letter to School Librarians,” School Library Journal.com, http://www.slj.com/2017/02/opinion/soapbox/an-open-letter-to-school-librarians-silence-is-not-golden-opinion/

Image Credit
Corkindale, Rebecca. “Libraries Are for Everyone,” Hafuboti.com, https://hafuboti.com/2017/02/02/libraries-are-for-everyone/

Library Values Honor the Legacy of Dr. King

Over the past weekend and today, people are honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work and life. If I were in charge of the world, young people would spend this school “holiday” in classrooms and libraries across the country. K-12 and college and university students and educators would be engaged in dialogues about Dr. King’s legacy and how each individual and groups of like-minded people can carry on his work.

Since, this is a holiday and students are not in schools, I am hoping that educators across the country are pausing to reflect on how their teaching can best embody the social justice work of Dr. King. For school librarians, the articles in the January/February 2017 issue of Knowledge Quest (KQ), the journal of the American Association of School Librarians, could be used as prompts to engage in deep reflection.

The issue theme is “Equality vs Equity: Diversity Matters: Moving Beyond Equality toward Equity in Youth Services.” On the cover, the guest editors Kafi Kumasi and Sandra Hughes-Hassell clarify this distinction. Equality “assumes fairness as a uniform distribution” while equity aims “to overcome generations of discrimination.” This KQ issue is perfectly timed with this moment in U.S. history when people of all ages are using their voices and their bodies to express their expectations for “liberty and justice for all.”

The articles in this issue connect the work of school librarians and the role of school libraries to the imperative to contribute to a more-just society in which all people and their cultures are represented, respected, and given voice. In library collections and through school librarians’ teaching, instructional partnerships, and leadership, librarians can be role models—in our words and deeds—for marginalized students and families.

In their article, “Shifting Lenses on Youth Literacy & Identity,” Kafi Kumasi and Sandra Hughes-Hassell remind readers to keep our focus on the purpose of literacy. “All libraries must be spaces where young people are encouraged and supported to develop their voices, tell their stories, and to share their unique perspectives on how we can create a more-just world” (18). Literacy gives people the tools they need to participate effectively in their civic lives as well as their personal and professional lives.

This morning, I signed a pledge to stand in solidarity with marginalized people who are frightened or disrespected because they don’t know how they will be treated during the next administration. The pledge was launched by MPower Change, a grassroots movement rooted in diverse U.S. Muslim communities. The goal of this group is to work “together to build social, spiritual, racial, and economic justice for all people.”

Let’s remember today that Dr. King’s work began as an effort to bring civil rights to African American people and communities. At his untimely death, his work encompassed three threats to U.S. society: racism, poverty, and militarism. I believe and as the MPower Change pledge notes: We are bound to one another in what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

Let’s all use our voices to engage one another in civil discourse, to empower ourselves and one another to bring about positive change, and work together to increase justice in our local communities, nation, and global society.

Work Cited
Kumasi, Kafi, and Sandra Hughes-Hassell. “Shifting Lenses on Youth Literacy & Identity,” Knowledge Quest 46, no.3, 12-21.

Image Credit:
Remix image from Thurston, Baratunde. “I Am A Community Organizer,” 7 Sept. 2008, Flickr.com, https://www.flickr.com/photos/baratunde/2837373493

Global Picture Books that Portray or Could Inspire Social Justice Activism

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

Word Cloud created at Tagxedo.com

Books to be Discussed in December, 2015

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

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

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

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

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