Whiteness in Librarianship

Lately I have been reading ALA Think Tank blogs about the lack of diversity in librarianship or, to put it more plainly, the fundamental whiteness of our profession. Not just skin-color white, but the whiteness that comes with power and privilege. My reading has made me re-examine what and how we are providing library services to a school district that has become 54.2%% Latino and 29% Anglo. However, our site’s library staffing is less than 1% Latino and less than .05% of color, with a single male. Not surprising that this disheartening number is representative of so many school districts throughout the country.

Certainly my office purchases much-needed materials that promote inclusion and support our ELL, LGBTQ, and at-risk students. However, providing library staffing who feel comfortable with the materials and can support and understand inclusion is another issue. Yes, we are a profession that is overwhelmingly white and middle-aged and well-intentioned… but can we learn to bridge the emotional disconnect between our experiences?

As I think about this, I question if we are comfortable promoting and showcasing books that resonate with our diverse student population? Have we read any of these books ourselves? Do we still shelve Spanish and other languages separately while forgetting that “separate is not equal?” (Dr. Isabel Schon). How often do we direct students to these materials…or are they just “shelf-mates” sitting quietly waiting to be discovered? In her interview in the Wired Librarian, Zetta Elliot wrote that she had never read a book that included characters of color until she was in college. She described it as “… erasing myself when I read.” Do we have staffs who are trained to be culturally sensitive and are willing to provide and promote these inclusive and at times controversial materials? Or are we creating more barriers that will prevent our students from feeling accepted?

So where do we go from here? To paraphrase Yago S. Cura’s introduction to Librarians with Spines, we must be resourceful information specialists who feel an obligation to the community we serve.  In my case the district’s demographics have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. I want to make sure that our services to our students reflect these changes. Of course I do have ideas but all of this takes time and effort and funding. In the meantime, I will collaborate with the district’s parent engagement coordinator to train the community liaisons to reach out to families to volunteer in our site libraries. We will continue to encourage all our parents to come and read stories in Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and English. We will provide opportunities for all families to become involved in their child’s literacy journey… and to ensure that all our district libraries are warm, inviting, and inclusive. As April Hathcock wrote in her blog, White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS, “Fighting whiteness is hard work that requires additional labor from everyone.” Now is the time to start…

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Author: Kate MacMillan

18 years as Coordinator of Library Services for Napa Valley USD and Napa Valley School Library Consortium; 2010-current CDE Recommended Literature Committee member; 8 years as an outside library consultant for Follett Library Resources; 6 years as a Napa County Library Commissioner; Current member of California Dept of Education’s Literature Committee; Napa TV Public Access board member; ALA, AASL, CLA (Californiia Library Association), CSLA (California School Library Association) and CUE (Computer Using Educators). Conference presentations include: United We Stand; School and Public Libraries Working Together (CLA 2016, CSLA 2017), It’s Not Your Mother’s Library 2012 and 2013 (CUE); Enhancing Online Resources through Library Partnerships (CUE 2010); Implementing School Library Consortium (CSLA 2008); Athletes as Readers and Leaders (2008 Association of American Publishers & CSLA Project). Contributor to School Libraries: What’s Now, What’s Next, What’s Yet to Come!



Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

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3 replies

  1. Thank you Kate!

    Please see my post on Whiteness in libraries: https://lowriderlibrarian.blogspot.com/2016/10/whiteness-in-libraries.html

    Also my Legacy of brutality trilogy of posts:

    https://lowriderlibrarian.blogspot.com/2016/06/colonialism-and-whiteness-talk.html

    There is so much to think about and analyze….

    Thank you!

  2. ALSC has developed cultural competencies for public youth services librarians–some of these may be applicable to librarians serving diverse populations in schools:

    http://www.ala.org/alsc/edcareeers/alsccorecomps

  3. Hi Kate,
    Thanks for giving this very important topic a voice!

    Although I wish my teacher librarian position was fully focused on teaching information literacy all day, every day, the fact that I teach two ELD classes our in school library allows me to make the library a place where my EL students really feel at home…it truly is their go-to place in school. Yes, I am Anglo, my students are Latino. I have found that building a culture of inclusion happens day by day — everything we can do to be aware of our student’s life experiences and to meet their needs as whole people contributes to that.

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