Do school librarians and educators have an obligation to address social change?


Right now America is reeling from another violent tragedy. From watching the news, reading online, and simply existing in the age of social media and connectedness, I continually witness the unstable social climate of the United States. As a school librarian I teach critical thinking and encourage students to cultivate a thoughtful attitude toward information. As a school librarian, I also have a platform; I have an audience. People (students, staff, and parents) have a willingness to listen to me and as a teacher they kind of expect me to have things to say.

I think of the Eli Wiesel (1986) quote, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim,” and I can’t help thinking I do have an obligation to tackle the issue of social change.

In order to do this, I have tried to create an environment where students feel safe to express opinions, ask questions, and discuss issues. I also make sure I am not pushing a specific or personal agenda. Dealing with the controversial nature of issues typically associated with social change can be tricky when working with young adults, parents, and the public school system. I’ve taken a few steps in our school library to start the process of learning how to effectively and appropriately address social change and cultural values: 

  • Signage and books featuring people of color are regularly featured in the library.
  • Each month within the school year 2-3 different cultures, holidays, or celebration are highlighted in a library display.
  • Fridays are Flocab days where students watch Flocabulary’s Week In Rap and discuss any social justice, political, or cultural issues featured in the news.

Even if it is hard, I think it is important to address the tough issues existing in the real world. Many students are also connected and aware of tragic events happening in the United States and internationally. If they have questions or want to discuss these things, I want to help them learn how to form their own opinions. I want to provide them appropriate resources, like databases, so they can find more information and website evaluation tools so they can continue researching and analyzing. I want students to know the school library as well as the school librarian is part of their bigger world too.

My experience is with middle school students, but I am curious to know how this is handled in high school and elementary schools and how the approach may be different depending on the socio-economic background of the school population.

Wiesel, E. (1986, December 10). The Nobel acceptance speech. Retrieved from:

Author: Mica Johnson

I’m a school librarian at Farragut Middle. I like the lib to be loud, messy, and full of student activity. I love tech stuff as much as I love books, and I’m part of an awesome rotating maker space.

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

4 replies

  1. What a thoughtful post, Mica! If school libraries and public libraries do not provide students with access of expression we may very well have a disengaged adult population that will not take part in our national dialogue.
    In my district we do use OverDrive for our more sensitive collection (LGBTQ, Urban Lit and mental health support) because we found that reading digitally allows students much needed privacy. We also use Gale databases for our secondary students and recently purchased for high school the Archives of Human Sexuality and Identity to support the implementation of California’s SB 48. (“…gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.”)

  2. Thoughtful post! I think it does a disservice to students to not address tough issues, and I would be supportive of an educator discussing items like race and gender with my own kids.

  3. We’re just starting to really embrace ebooks in my school, and I think using that platform for sensitive or controversial subjects is a wonderful idea. I’m definitely going to look into this for our next book order. I like the privacy protection aspect.

  4. The ebook idea is great! Love your post. It’s so important that kids understand the importance of really understanding and being able to talk about the tough issues that they might face. Your school is lucky to have you.

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