The Roots of an Inclusive Worldview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Core Values in School Librarianship: Fall Semester Book Study

This fall, the Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021) contributors and I will be sharing two posts for each of the nine chapters in the book. Beginning today with this introduction through the last week of December, blog readers can read recaps of chapters or more thoughts and experiences of chapter co-authors. (As you know, one challenge with a published book is that once it’s off to the printer, it is fixed in a way our learning and practice never are!) You can find the line-up of posts on this blog. I will be adding links to each of the posts as they are published.

Introduction: A Passion for School Librarianship
As the book’s editor, I wrote the introduction. In it I share my motivation for this proposing this book. I know that my own enculturation into and my passion for the core values of school librarianship guided my library practice, my work as an educator of preservice school librarian, and my continued involvement in the profession and advocacy work. Equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom combined with the values we share with classroom teachers such as collaboration and literacy as a pathway to success have been at the end of my work/life.

"All school librarians need a firm foundation to provide strength and direction during these rapidly changing and challenging times" (Moreillon 2021, ix).These are indeed rapidly change and challenging times. Grounding our practice in our core values gives us a necessary and needed firm foundation to stay strong as we speak up and out for the benefit of our library stakeholders. The pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement, and backlash from various quarters of society have converged to create a time that is testing our mettle. I truly believe we must act now.

Destabilization
Accelerations in technology, globalization, and climate change result in a “constant state of destabilization” (Friedman 2016, 35) all of which affect the education landscape as well as society as a whole. For example, laws recently passed by some state legislatures that intend to constrain educators’ teaching and students’ learning regarding U.S. history will be tested in practice as well as in courts of law. When librarians are guiding students’ social studies inquiry, we must hold to our values and ensure that learners engage with accurate historical records, think critically about our nation’s past and present, and discuss issues that are relevant to their lives—today and in the future.

In this environment, we are called upon to recommit and hold tight to our values: equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. We may be the only educator in our buildings who holds these core values. As such, we cannot fail to take courageous action when warranted for the benefit of our learning communities.

Co-leading Change
We cannot, however, act alone. While we must embrace ambiguity, stretch our flexibility, and exercise our initiative, we must reach out to others to co-lead change in our schools and districts, state and national associations. We need a tribe to keep us centered in our values. The education profession, of which school librarianship is an integral part, needs a tribe of like-minded dedicated colleagues to move our work forward.

People don’t care how much you know
until they know how much you care.

Dr. Jean Feldman

During these challenging times, many educators, school librarians among them, are feeling vulnerable; others are quite understandably afraid. This may be particularly true at this time for those who are making professional decisions that affect their families as well as their students. It is incumbent on us to practice empathy as we co-lead with our administrators and teacher leaders. Empathy is a key tool in our work as we strive to take compassion action.

Choosing Courage Over Comfort
In her book Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (Vermillion 2018) Brené Brown challenges those of us who live our values to speak up about the “hard things.” She describes integrity in this way: “choosing courage over cover; it’s choosing what is right over fun, fast, or easy, and it’s practicing your values not just professing them” (189).

In our book, the contributors offer inspiration, thoughts, and experiences as guides to help you lead through our shared library values in your learning community. We invite you to share and comment on our blog posts and join in via our social posts as well. We look forward to hearing how you are enacting core values in your library this fall and positively influencing the teaching and learning and work of your administrators, colleagues, students, and families.

Reflection Questions
Each chapter in the book concludes with reflection questions. In addition to your personal consideration or to discussions with your near colleagues, we invite you to respond to these questions on this blog or via our other social media posts.

If I were to add such a question to the book’s introduction, this would be it:

How are you expressing empathy for others and practicing self-care
as you launch the 2021-22 academic year?

Additional Resources
Circulating Ideas Podcast by Steve Thomas: Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage Interview with Judi Moreillon (7/13/21)

Core Values in School Librarianship: Collaborating for Social Justice – School Library Connection Webinar (6/28/21)

Taking Action for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Intellectual Freedom in School Libraries at #alaac21 (6/21/21)

Works Cited
Brown, Brené. 2018. Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. London: Vermillion.

Friedman, Thomas. 2016. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in an Age of Acceleration. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Moreillon, Judi. Ed. 2021. Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Pride From the Beginning and All Year Long

A Hand Print with Rainbow ColorsI believe that children’s sense of pride is instilled in their families right from the start. It is up to parents, caregivers, and educators to work together to help all children bring their self-esteem to their interactions with others and to feel a sense of belonging, safety, and security in our communities.

Librarians who share literature with children and youth may be guided at times by the concept of “bibliotherapy.” We often read and discuss books with children and young adults that touch on issues of social and emotional health. We are not trained therapists and most of us are not trained in responding in a clinical way to mental health issues; we do not “treat” book listeners/readers as patients. Still, we often recognize when a particular book will speak to an individual student or group of students in our care.

Self-Esteem Titles
A focus on positive self-esteem messages is a place to begin for young children. Books that celebrate the self and difference create in children a feeling that they are worthy and an expectation that people are different and all are worthy of our friendship.

To build self-esteem and caring for others, we read books like Karen Beaumont and David Catrow’s book I Like Myself (Harcourt 2004), Giraffes Can’t Dance written by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees (Cartwheel 2012), Red: A Crayon’s Story written and illustrated by Michael Hall (HarperCollins/Greenwillow 2015), I’m New Here by author/illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge 2015), and I Like Being Me: Poems About Kindness, Friendship, and Making Good Choices by Judy Lalli (Free Spirit 2016).

LGBTQIA+ Books from the Beginning
For me, there are two types of Pride books that set children’s expectations for diversity and inclusion. Diverse books with LGBTQIA+ and gender fluid protagonists such as Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick 2018), When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (Candlewick 2019), and My Rainbow by DeShanna and Trinity Neal, illustrated by Art Twink (Kokila 2020).

Inclusion titles communicate a matter-of-fact stance with regard to diversity that can influence children’s expectations for differences in gender identity and family structure. My favorite books for young children in this category are The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ros Asquith (Dial/Penguin 2010), Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship written by Jessica Walton, illustrated by Dougal MacPherson (Bloomsbury 2016), and Sam Is My Sister by Ashley Rhodes-Courter, illustrated by MacKenzie Haley (Whitman 2021).

Resources for Library Collection Development
As you conduct an audit and select new titles, please consider the critical importance of #ownvoices titles as you build your Pride collection and look for opportunities to integrate these books into the classroom curriculum as well as in book club and independent reading selections.

American Library Association: Rainbow Book List

School Library Journal offers several lists and recent articles for your review.

26 LGBTQIA Titles for Teens

LGBTQIA Graphic Novels for Young Readers

People of Pride

Pride for Tweens

I also appreciate this list from Chicago Parent: 29 LGBTQ Children’s Books for Families to Read.

Check your local public library to compare the books they are promoting during Pride Month with the titles in your own library collection. Pima County Public Library, where I live in Tucson, has an excellent list for preK through grades 8 and up list titled “Hope Will Never Be Silent” (in homage to Harvey Milk) and another list for teens and adults (with an unfortunate title) called “Gay Best Friends.”

Pride Month All Year Long
Here in Arizona the regular school year ended in May. If students are still in school in June in other schools across the country, the opportunity to spotlight Pride Month may be compromised by the end-of-the-year rush.

School librarians and classroom teachers absolutely MUST celebrate the literature that shines a spotlight on LGBTQIA+ perspectives and experiences. Just as Black Lives Matter is a social justice issue so are the rights and lives of our LGBTQIA+ students, colleagues, and neighbors.

Perhaps this presents the opportunity for a new “month” at your school.

Social Justice Month is an idea whose time has come.

Image Credit
Mjimages. “Pride LGBTQ.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/vectors/pride-lgbtq-symbol-sign-action-6056043/

 

Bibliotherapy Note: Anita Cellucci, school librarian, librarian educator, and contributor to Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021), writes about and offers resources for bibliotherapy on her website.

Point of Privilege about Eric Carle’s Passing: I attended my first Arizona Library Association conference when I was a newly minted school librarian, circa 1991. Eric Carle was a guest author at the conference. When I arrived dressed in my everyday school clothing (a simple dress and VERY sensible shoes), I noticed that every other person around me was wearing a suit and all the women were sporting heels! (It was a different time.) Who knew?

I went up to the table to ask Mr. Carle to sign The Very Quiet Cricket (1990). He recognized that I was shy and noticed I was feeling uncomfortable. A twinkle in his eyes, he said, “I really like your dress.” We shared a conspiratorial smile and exchanged further kindnesses. I still have my cricket book (that no longer chirps) with his distinctive signature.

In 2016 after the Midwinter Meeting in Boston, I visited the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, with long-time ALA/AASL friend Connie Champlin. You can read a lovely tribute to Mr. Carle on the museum site.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the museum, do so to experience the profound impact Eric Carle has had on the world of children’s literature—both in writing and illustration. (Another children’s literature great David Wiesner gave a presentation focused on his book Mr. Wuffles the day Connie and I visited the museum.)

Core Values in School Librarianship Responding with Commitment and Courage

Book Cover: Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and CourageI am a card-carrying collaborator but before Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021) the professional books I’ve authored have been solo projects. Working with 17! co-contributors to Core Values has been a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for me and now we all get to share in the celebration.

After an 18-month journey, our book is published and available for purchase from ABC-CLIO!

Core Values
When proposing this book, I suggested four core values for school librarianship: equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. From my perspective, this is an interdependent set of values and a combination of values that are unique to school librarians. While some of our non-school librarian colleagues may share two or more of these values, I proposed that school librarians have the commitment and responsibility to ensure all four of these values are fully accessible and functioning in our spheres of influence.

Indeed, we share other values with our classroom teacher and administrator colleagues such as literacy and education as a path to lifelong learning, innovation, and collaboration. Yet, these four—equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom—are the foundation on which school librarian leadership is built.

Editorial Role
As the editor of the book, I had the honor and responsibility of securing an approved book proposal and then soliciting contributors for specific chapters. I am so pleased that the chapter co-authors said “yes!” They remained committed to this work through one of the most difficult years any of us has experienced in our professional and in our personal lives. I am grateful for their perseverance and dedication to our book.

Infusing our profession with voices of our present and future generation of school librarian leaders was one of my goals for this book. (The co-authors are not of my generation of school librarianship!) They are diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender identity. The contributors, including those who offered vignettes of practice found in each chapter, live and work in various parts of the country, serve in urban, rural, and suburban schools and in libraries at all three instructional levels. Our hope is that all Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage readers will find themselves and their work reflected in this book.

I wrote the introduction to the book (and the final chapter as well). In the intro, I share my passion for school librarianship and my inspiration and motivation for proposing this project to our initial acquisitions editor Sharon Coatney at ABC-CLIO.

The introduction begins with a one-sentence theme that summarizes the message I hope we clearly convey throughout the book.

Introduction: A Passion for School Librarianship
All school librarians need a firm foundation to provide strength and direction during these rapidly changing and challenging times.
Judi Moreillon

Based on my experience and thirty years of involvement, I can honestly say that our core values are what initially fueled the fire of my passion for school librarianship, have kept me going in times of trouble, and have—without fail—reaffirmed and reignited my commitment to the profession. I believe that our values are the firm foundation we can rely on during times of change and challenge. As a practicing school librarian and as a school librarian educator, I have met many courageous school librarians who have stepped up to ensure that our core values were accessible to all of our library users when others might have shrunk from that responsibility.

Core Values Chapters: First Four Chapters and Contributors
In the first four chapters of the book, the contributors share their understandings of, passion for, and commitment to four core values: equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. The co-authors frame their chapters with one-sentence themes that convey the overarching meaning of each value. They also share how they and their colleagues have enacted these values in their practice of school librarianship.

Chapter 1: Equity
Equitable access is a matter of social justice.
Erika Long and Suzanne Sherman

Chapter 2: Diversity
Diversity in resources and programming is not optional.
Julie Stivers, Stephanie Powell, and Nancy Jo Lambert

Chapter 3: Inclusion
Inclusion means welcoming and affirming the voices of all library stakeholders in a way that shares power.
Meg Boisseau Allison and Peter Patrick Langella

Chapter 4: Intellectual Freedom
Intellectual freedom, including access and choices, privacy and confidentiality, is the right of all library stakeholders.
Suzanne Sannwald and Dan McDowell

Courage Chapters: Chapters 5-8 and Contributors
The co-authors of the courage chapters share how they have enacted the four values in specific contexts: professional relationships, principal-school librarian partnerships, and through specific behaviors—leadership and advocacy. Their one-sentence themes convey connections to the application of our core values in practice.

Chapter 5: Relationships
Relationships are the root of a strong community.
Jennifer Sturge with Stacy Allen and Sandy Walker

Chapter 6: Principal-School Librarian Partnerships
Principals are our most important allies.
M.E. Shenefiel and Kelly Gustafson

Chapter 7: Leadership
Leadership requires confidence and vulnerability.
Pam Harland and Anita Cellucci

Chapter 8: Advocacy
Advocacy involves effective communication and building partnerships.
Kristin Fraga Sierra and TuesD Chambers

Final Chapter
I had the gift of contributing the final chapter to the book. Advocating for collaboration through instructional partnerships is the hill on which I will make my final stand in school librarianship and K-12 education. The four core values must be enacted throughout the learning community if school librarians are to achieve our capacity to lead and positively influence every student’s learning. Collaborating with others is the way to co-create the learning environment in which students and the adults who serve them can thrive.

Chapter 9: Collaboration
Collaboration is THE key to co-creating a values-centered culture of deeper learning.
Judi Moreillon

All Chapters
All chapters in the book include two vignettes that spotlight core values and behaviors in action. The co-authors have also included quotes that have inspired them from a wide variety of scholars, practitioners, and writers. Each chapter concludes with questions for reflection.

ALA Annual
The contributors and I are enthusiastic about sharing our work. We will provide many opportunities for you to engage in conversation with us around these core values and their implication for practice beginning at ALA Annual where the co-authors of the first four chapters will offer an on-demand video session #SLCoreValues #alaac21:

Taking Action for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Intellectual Freedom in School Libraries

We invite you to join us in promoting and enacting the unique contributions of school librarians to our learning communities!

And, of course, we hope you will read our book, discuss, and share the ideas and examples of practice with colleagues in your PLNs.

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi. Ed. 2021. Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.