With the summer in full swing, I’m able to take a step back and reflect on the past school year in my high school library. My co-librarian and I accomplished a lot: we taught dozens of research classes, which included the science department for the first time; we hosted several special events such as March Book Madness and Free Comic Book Day; our checkout statistics were at an all-time high; we created exciting book displays that attracted attention; and we helped hundreds of students with research questions, printer issues, and many other topics.
When I think of what I can improve next year, though, the first thing that comes to mind is connecting to the groups of students who frequent the library, but don’t interact much with us or the resources we offer. Though I’ve developed a strong rapport with a number of students, I realize that there are others with whom I have very little interaction. As with schools across the country, ours contains populations from many different places. It’s not unusual for me to see a group of students walk into the library chatting in Mandarin, or to watch three ELL students sitting at a table discussing something in Spanish. I’m proud of our diverse book collection, to which I’m continually adding. But I’m not satisfied with the checkout rates of these books. One way to remedy this, I believe, is to come up with an activity that allows students to personally connect a type of literature to themselves and their peers, while also engaging students who have not been active library participants in the past. The idea I came up with is Books of Our Roots: A Collection of Literature from the Countries of Our Origin.
The first thing I plan to do for this project is to survey the students in the library, asking them to briefly state the country where their families originated. Each period throughout the day, our library is filled with students studying silently or working together with others. I’ll create a document and personally carry it around to each table. Students will write down the country their family came from and more specific details if they have them. After a few weeks of collecting data, I’ll organize the names of the countries and put them on a spreadsheet. From there, I’ll begin going through my collection and pull titles that correspond to these locales.
I’ll then create displays that focus on specific countries, with a large poster highlighting the countries that our students represent. Though many students, especially those who have not lived in the United States their whole lives, may be hesitant to bring attention to their status as immigrants, they will likely feel comforted if we stress the fact that we’re all immigrants who came from somewhere else. We’ll spotlight that the beauty of our country is based on the fact that because of these diverse backgrounds and cultures, we are able to merge our ideas and rituals to create a more fascinating environment. In her School Library Journal article “Can Diverse Books Save Us?” Kathy Ishizuka states, “While some kids specifically seek out books in which they see themselves represented, others simply aren’t as aware of available works or don’t have an easy pathway to connect with them.” Displaying books that we know to be related to students’ backgrounds will make it easier for all students to find literature in which they see themselves.
Even for students who do not fit into the category of diverse, as it’s typically defined, the value of highlighting diverse books is equally important. Those who are not confronted with diversity within their own communities greatly benefit from being exposed to diverse literature, through which they can understand and empathize with people who are different from them. This project, if it is successful, will not only allow students who don’t often see themselves in literature to experience the joy of reading a book with a character similar to them, but will also expand the reading lives of others who have only read books with characters just like them.
Bringing together students by demystifying their fellow classmates can not only help foster more adventurous readers, but also break down barriers between different types of teenagers, and can ultimately lead to more interaction and acceptance between them.
Ishizuka, Kathy. “Can Diverse Books Save Us? In a Divided World, Librarians Are on a Mission.” School Library Journal, Oct. 2018. https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=can-diverse-books-save-us.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.