Assessing Your School Library to Ensure All Students Are Represented

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Five Years Ago

It seems like many long ages have passed since Lin-Manuel Miranda, accepting the Tony Award for Hamilton’s score, gave an emotional and heartfelt speech (in sonnet form!) that honored his own wife and also gave tribute to those who had recently lost their lives in a horrific shooting at a gay club in Orlando. Over the past five years, I have often reflected on his poetic and passionate words. The world looks incredibly different right now than it did then, for obvious reasons; yet certain things have not changed at all–or haven’t changed enough.

I believe that Miranda threw down a gauntlet that night. The challenge he issued to all those listening and watching–and issued to each one of us–was twofold: to love greatly and without reservation, and also to let others experience and express love without exercising judgment on how they do.  

Three Years and Counting Forward

As moving and thought-provoking as the speech was at the time, I have felt its insistence and influence even more over the past three years, since I became a school librarian. It’s impossible not to, I think, given the very ideals on which the ALA and AASL are founded; and if I am to have any integrity at all, I have to live up to my own library’s stated intentions and goals: “Our library reaches out and equitably serves ALL children in the community, understanding that our students come with a variety of interests and needs and come from a variety of backgrounds, including but not limited to abilities and neurological variations, class and financial status, gender identity and/or sexual orientation, race, and religion.”

I’ve been contemplating this a lot more lately. If I am going to join with Lin-Manuel Miranda in emphatically stating that “love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside,” then that means that the library has to represent. 

To quote 1980s English songsmith Howard Jones: “What is love, anyway?” I think it’s a “no matter what.” It’s an unconditional intangible. It takes many different forms. It has to be felt and expressed regardless of who we are looking at or talking to (or about), or what that person believes, or how they look, or who they in turn love. 

If the school library mirrors this, truthful depictions of humanity and of love, in all their “infinite variety” (to quote another famous English fellow), must be present. We have to cast a very wide net. Our catalog and the lessons we teach to students have to speak to the experiences of ALL, and do so as authentically and lovingly as possible.  

To bring this about, many things have had to take place, many things are in progress, and many more things are yet to be. For instance, I’ve looked through the titles in the library I “inherited” and have noted just how lacking and/or outdated our collection is when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation (age-appropriate or otherwise, there’s a dearth), or Asian or Hispanic or Native American (the list goes on) culture(s), or African-American heritage and history (unrelated to slavery; we do, thankfully, have some stellar and unflinching selections on this topic). 

On a related note, I’ve begun to research, locate, and acquire beautiful and meaningful books and materials (and share them with my students) in the hope of filling these gaps (chasms, really). 

Perhaps just as important, I’ve looked at ME, and I have realized that I cannot be fearful of others’ opinions or perceptions of the ideas and stories I offer; nor can I suppose that I don’t need to wake up myself.

And Now…

I know that, for the most part, I’m preaching to the choir. You may have already done the work. However, you’ve likely realized, as I have, that the truth is this: There. Is. Always. More. To. Do. So, take time to revisit and reflect. Be daring enough to love. Look to the ground at your feet, where the metal glove lies waiting. Then bend down, retrieve it, hold it up, and say, to yourself and to the world:

“Challenge accepted.”

Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Shortlist of Recent Purchases and/or Shares

  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Thunderboy Jr. by Sherman Alexie (author) and Yuyi Morales (illustrator)
  • Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry (author) and Vashti Harrison (illustrator)
  • Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung
  • Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack (author) and Stevie Lewis (illustrator)
  • Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World by Vashti Harrison
  • Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin
  • A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin
  • Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard (author) and Juana Martinez-Neal (illustrator)
  • Merci Suárez Switches Gears by Meg Medina
  • When the Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger, with Susan Katz (authors) and David Kanietakeron Fadden (illustrator)
  • The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali (authors) and Hatem Aly (illustrator)
  • Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill
  • Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds
  • Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, with Winifred Conkling (authors) and Laura Freeman (illustrator)
  • It Feels Good to Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn (author) and Noah Grigni (illustrator)
  • The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson (author) and Rafael López (illustrator)

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.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development

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3 replies

  1. This brought me to tears! Let’s take up that gauntlet!

  2. Yes to all of this. If we want to ensure that every person who accesses the library (virtual or in person) sees themselves on our shelves or in our programs, equity needs to become the plate of everything we do and offer. You offer the key point of looking at ourselves too, finding our own intrinsic biases, and actively working to be better for our school community. Thank you for preaching to the choir. Sometimes the choir needs the sermon, too!

  3. mm

    Thanks so much, peeps!

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