Listening to the Little Voices: Making Students Heard with Your Collection Choices

…It’s just a little voice

and if you’re listening

Sometimes a little voice

Can say the biggest thing…

–Sara Bareilles

One of the first things that I realized when I became a school librarian and commenced my school librarianship studies at Longwood University was that collection development is, to use the title Michael Ende’s book (also a 1980s film), a “neverending story.” Every day spent in the library, a page is turned and the plot unfolds.

What I didn’t initially comprehend–but now understand fully–is that I’m the author of the story. Like any writer, I am subject to a variety of influences. These may be of an interior nature–for example, my personal interests and preferences–or they may be external. They both impact the collection I create.

For instance, do you remember the OCLC 2009-2015 “Geek the Library” campaign? The tagline, a leading question, asked library patrons: “What do you geek?”

In addition to geeking libraries, I also geek a number of other content areas. These subjects–and aesthetics, books, and materials related to them–have inevitably started to pervade our library. That’s okay. When students see that their teachers and librarians themselves love learning and are passionate about certain topics, it invites them to explore and become enthusiastic about their own unique likes and dislikes and to take ownership of their educational experiences.

I’m coming out to tell you noise is not enough…

We’ve been handed the mountaintops to sing from

And we still don’t…

–Sara Bareilles

That acknowledged, what’s in the library should never be solely about any one person–or any one group of people, or any one race, or any one gender, or any one orientation, or any one viewpoint, or any one creed, or any one interest. In fact, it should be quite the opposite.

As I have worked on (and continue to work on) the tale of our library and developed (and continue developing) our collection, the conclusion that I have come to (aside from the above-mentioned fact that there is no conclusion to the task) is this:

While the characters whose voices I CAN hear are wonderful, I am troubled that there are still so many characters whose voices I cannot detect.

Black voices. Brown voices. Native voices. Asian and Pacific Islander voices. LGBTQIA+ voices.

My own elementary school students’ little voices.

Many of the children in our district are disadvantaged and going through literally and figuratively untold and unbelievable difficulties. Their hardships are emotional, financial, social, and more besides. As I have perused the titles in our catalog, it has become painfully obvious that their experiences are barely represented therein, if at all.  What does that say to them? What message does it send?

What’s more, and as noted above, due to a relative dearth of diversity in our catalog (a problem that I am actively addressing, having conducted an audit and subsequent acquisitions), our students are not given the chance to encounter and thus more deeply understand and appreciate others’ differences. What does that say to them? What message does it send?

There’s a lot of noise in this world of ours; it’s filled with Sturm und Drang and cacophony. Still, if we are attentive, we may just discover some big things being said by some little voices; some things that really should be heard, and heard by many.

If we listen and hear, then we will know what choices we can and should make. The choices are out there; and we’re librarians, so we know how to find them. (There are journals to read, websites to view, recommendations from our PLCs, friends, and students, and goodness knows how many other resources available.)

If we listen and hear, then we can make sure that these voices–these fellow characters, who are also our co-authors–are part of the story. They’ve truly always been, and should always be.

Works Cited:

Bareilles, Sara. 2020. “Sara Bareilles – Little Voice (Official Audio) [Video].” YouTube.

De Rosa, Cathy, Jenny Johnson, Linn Haugestad Edvardsen, and Patricia Harris. 2011. “Geek the Library: A Community Awareness Campaign.” Dublin, Ohio: OCLC.


Author: Lia Fisher Janosz

I am Regina Libris.

I’m…a Bibliothecaria Rebellatrix (“librarian…because Book Wizard isn’t an official job title,” at Sharon Elementary School in Alleghany County, VA) wending a way through the seven ages whilst geeking out over Shakespeare & sundry other stuff. I am rather like Hermione Granger and have “conjured” floating candles in our school library. I’m an admirer of Eowyn and would place myself somewhere in the middle of the shieldmaiden-healer spectrum. I am inimitable, I am an original, and yet I am totally #TeamHamilton (see what I did there?). I’m a graduate of the Longwood University School Librarianship program and an avid reader and lifelong learner (and, apparently, Mistress of the Obvious as well). Any rumors regarding me having a crush on either Stephen Colbert or Chris Martin (or Benedict Cumberbatch or Andrew Scott) are completely…irrefutable. That being acknowledged, I am the loyal consort of an unsung prince of Poland and very proud mother of a tornadic, talented, and talkative wunderkind girl and a happyhopper jollyjumper bouncyboy who has a memory like an elephant.

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