Equity has always been a big deal to me. My mom and dad intended to be fair with me and my twin sister, but they inadvertently created a zero-sum game: If they couldn’t afford to do something for both of us, neither of us got what we wanted. Consequently, my sister and I became keenly aware of injustice. This extended to observations of racial hatred expressed by people of faith, large-scale urban renewal that uprooted black families, fights over who got the last brownie on the plate, and mean jokes. (My sister famously broke up with a boy because he told Helen Keller jokes.) Yet, I was unaware of the privilege that carried me through life. I was in my late 30s before I understood that public school districts in Virginia did not build academic high schools for black students; that black, tax-paying citizens in rural communities in the South had to build their own schools and pay their own teachers.
School librarians are equity warriors. We work to include diverse voices and characters in our collections, and our increasingly diverse community of users demands that we go deeper. A 2018 Pew Research Center study found that the current group of K–12 students is the most diverse yet: 52% are white, 25% Hispanic, 14% black, 6% Asian, and 4% other (Fry and Parker 2018). Yet, in a recent ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services’ survey, only 15% of members self-identified as people of color (2017a). Our Shared Foundation “Include” calls us to develop our own conscious understanding of others’ cultures, including the economic and political barriers they face. As equity leaders in our schools, we must create environments that inspire all educators and leaders to work together for the good of the children we serve.
As president of AASL, I have the opportunity to convene a presidential task force to address issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in our association, building on strategic directions set by ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services. The task force’s initiatives will provide professional learning for school librarians on issues related to EDI, create structures to empower people of color to become involved as leaders in AASL, and promote school librarians as equity leaders. Our work is well under way!
AASL has partnered with Accessibility, Compliance & Equity in Education (AC&E), a digital journal that highlights leadership in equity in K–12 schools. Through this partnership, AASL members have access to their online journal Accessibility, Compliance & Equity in Education. Their back-to-school issue includes articles about diverse literature, first-generation college students, technology in music education, equitable funding, and more. We invite you to use this issue to raise topics in your school community, examine existing practices, and wonder what changes might create a more welcoming environment in your library and school. Our committee will be contributing articles to AC&E about tools and practices that school librarians use to “Include” all students and guarantee equity of access to a full educational experience. Next month, I will be interviewed on Education Talk Radio podcast. In November, look for articles in AC&E about providing accessible learning environments for special needs students in the school library and an editorial on how school librarians can be equity leaders in their schools. I’d love to share examples of what school librarians are doing to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion in their schools; please send me brief descriptions of your work on “Include!”
The task force is excited about another initiative to partner school librarians of color with mentors to empower underrepresented colleagues to become fully involved as leaders in AASL through support networks. We have launched the “Improving Representation Mentoring Program” to identify school librarians of color who want to explore pathways to leadership in the association and mentors to work with them. This is a first step “to build a diverse and inclusive leadership for [AASL] by enhancing recruitment, mentoring, and networking activities” (ALA ODLOS 2017b). We hope to move quickly to identify a core group of mentors and mentees so we can begin discussions to the AASL National Conference in Louisville, Kentucky in November 2019; the deadline for the first round of applicants is September 30.
I’m excited by the work my presidential task force has planned, and am looking forward to working with them.
American Library Association’s Office for Research and Statistics. 2017a. “2017 ALA Demographic Study.” http://www.ala.org/tools/sites/ala.org.tools/files/content/Draft%20of%20Member%20Demographics%20Survey%2001-11-2017.pdf (accessed Aug. 26, 2019).
American Library Association’s Office of Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services. 2017b. “Strategic Direction: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Implementation Plan.” http://www.ala.org/aboutala/sites/ala.org.aboutala/files/content/diversity/EDI-SD-Implementation-FINAL.pdf (accessed Aug. 21, 2019).
Fry, Richard, and Kim Parker. 2018. “Early Benchmarks Show ‘Post-Millennials’ on Track to Be Most Diverse, Best-Educated Generation Yet.” Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/11/15/early-benchmarks-show-post-millennials-on-track-to-be-most-diverse-best-educated-generation-yet/ (accessed Sept. 17, 2019).