Promoting diversity in literature is one of the core building blocks of the librarian profession. It is second nature for most of us to seek out books that feature characters from other countries, races, religions, backgrounds, and identities. But teachers often don’t have autonomy in choosing which books to include in their curriculums. According to an article in the fall 2019 issue of the Harvard Ed. Magazine, “It’s been more than 50 years since literacy experts first stressed the need for more diverse books in the classroom, and yet reading lists look surprisingly the same as they did in 1970” (Anderson). Sometimes, even teachers need a push to broaden their own reading boundaries; by highlighting books with all types of characters, we can help them expand their own choices, which, in turn, will influence their literary interactions with students.
I’ve written before about how reading cultivates empathy. As our world grapples with what it means to be part of a country and global community that encompasses a wide range of people, it’s essential to understand the role literature and education has in shaping our youth and their acceptance of those different from them. Most important, reading promotes conversation, a vital tool for sharing ideas, fears, concerns, and initiatives with those around us. Without diverse literature, we are stuck in one-dimensional communities, lacking the imagination to experience something unfamiliar to us. It is only by coming into contact with lives and situations completely outside of our comfort zones that we can begin to contemplate what it feels like for other people to struggle with their own distinct set of problems and grievances. And once we allow this knowledge to take root inside of us, we can then listen mindfully to others’ points of view.
Though collection development and readers’ advisory are two of the most vital jobs of librarians, these tasks mean little if we don’t succeed in getting students and teachers to actually read the book collections we’ve worked so hard to curate. One way to do this is to create highly specific lists that correspond to national days or school events. This way, teachers can use certain lists in conjunction with particular units of study. For example, a social studies teacher may use the list of recommendations for Pride Month as she is doing a project about the Stonewall riots. An English teacher may peruse the list of black authors when teaching To Kill a Mockingbird.
Many educators struggle with incorporating outside reading into their busy schedules; we can assist them by suggesting ideas and ways to implement them. One creative solution is to pair classics with modern fiction to increase engagement. Another is to add an independent reading project and do a speed dating activity in the library, or through a virtual medium such as Zoom.
As we look to the future, we are uncertain what the coming school year will bring. Whether we are back in our physical libraries or communicating through digital platforms, we can continue to offer diverse reading lists and creative solutions for ensuring that these books get into the hands of students and teachers. There is nothing more important in these trying times than assisting in expanding the minds of our fellow citizens and opening up pathways for civil conversation, debate, and collaboration.
Here are some of my recent reading lists:
Anderson, Jill. “Hooked on Classics.” Harvard Ed. Magazine. www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/19/08/hooked-classics.
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.