Is Your School Library Climate Controlled?

Take a moment and think about your own, personal world. You know the one you live in every day. How diverse is it? Think about your inner circle, your friends, your doctor, co-workers, the restaurants you frequent, your place of worship, your neighbors. Are any of the people in these groups different from you? Are they of a different ethnicity? Race? Ability? Veteran status? Socio-economic class? Age? Is it possible to create a school library climate that welcomes the world if your world is not diverse? As we prepare for back to school many of us are getting the library ready. Ordering new books, arranging displays, collaborating with teachers, meeting with administrators to set our goals for the year, and much more. Let’s take some time to be very intentional about creating an environment that supports diversity, not just through diverse print and digital collections but also by developing and sustaining an environment that all students will feel comfortable in. Do you manage the climate in your school library to ensure that all students are welcomed, valued, and acknowledged?

Your physical space influences the climate in your school library. In an effort to support diverse student populations critically observe your space. Consider these questions as you walk around:

  • What does the imagery on your walls reflect?
  • What do the artifacts displayed mirror?
  • Do your displays and artwork represent a range of cultures?
  • Do books on the shelves represent diversity? Consider not only books in the fiction section but those in your nonfiction section as well. Are girls and women reflected in books about nontraditional roles? Are people of color represented on the covers of books about science, engineering, technology, math, and coding?

Words really do matter; they can welcome or reject diversity. Here are some tips:

  • Use inclusive language in the school library.
  • Put people first instead of the disability; for example, the person who is blind versus the blind person.
  • Use terms that include non-traditional families such as caregiver and/or guardian instead of referring to mom and dad. In today’s world many students are being raised by grandparents, may be adopted, or have other living arrangements.
  • Use gender neutral language; for example, tell students you are going to read a book about firefighters, instead of firemen.

What happens when you try but notice a group of students or adults who refuse to follow your lead? You may discover that some students, even parents, make light of your efforts to promote diversity and could even make rude comments, perpetuate stereotypes, or use biased language. Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, recommends the following:

  • interrupt – anytime you hear a biased statement you should interrupt the comment.
  • question – question the remark, i.e. “Why did you say that?” “What do you mean?”
  • educate – some comments are due to a person’s lack of knowledge and understanding; inform and enlighten them with information about people who may be different.
  • echo – join in when someone speaks up against prejudiced, hurtful comments. Echo an interruption or strong statement that speaks against biased words.

More detailed information is available at https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/2017-06/Speak_Up_at_School.pdf

The following questionnaire may help you as you work to create a school library climate that welcomes all. You can use it with students, teachers, administrators, and parents at various points throughout the school year. The questionnaire could be a Google or Microsoft Office Form to make data collection and analysis easier. On the other hand, you may want to use the form during a staff meeting or collaborative planning session to facilitate an in-depth discussion.

School library Climate Questionnaire

Strongly Agree Strongly Disagree
Students in our school library get along well. 1 2 3 4 5
Students choose to interact primarily with people most like themselves 1 2 3 4 5
Students in my school library feel comfortable reporting harassment or racial abuse to school library staff. 1 2 3 4 5
Staff in the school library actively work to create a safe and welcoming environment for every student. 1 2 3 4 5
Every student in my school library feels like he or she belongs here. 1 2 3 4 5
In the school library…  
I’ve heard a student use a slur, epithet or other derogatory put-down True False
I’ve heard a student tease or ridicule another student. True False
I’ve heard a teacher or other adult in the school library make disparaging remarks about a particular group of students. True False

Adapted with permission from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/2017-08/teaching-tolerance-school-climate-questionnaire.pdf.

Creating a climate that is conducive for all is worth the effort. In today’s political and social climate our work is more important than ever before. The school library program touches all students in the building. Is your school library climate controlled to support diversity? We have the power to make positive, substantial, lasting impacts on students, teachers, and parents.

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Author: Michelle Easley

Michelle Easley is the author of How to Increase Diversity in School Library Collections and Programs. Michelle is a national presenter, diversity and library advocate, consultant and speaker. Michelle spends her free time volunteering with homeless youth.



Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

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1 reply

  1. Excellent suggestions and advice!

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