The Way Forward with Include

The Way Forward with Include


The Shared Foundation Include is at the heart of an effective school library practice, not as a buzzword or feel-good mantra, but as the muscle that should power everything we do. Include is as immediate as welcoming the next learner walking into our school library space and as overarching as building library instruction which consistently and joyfully centers marginalized students and families.

It’s 2023 and Things Feel Hard

Transparency and authenticity are perpetual goals for me, so let’s be real. It’s January 2023, and things feel hard as a school librarian. But, here’s what I know—our jobs have never been more important. I’m surviving by holding tight to my pedagogy—that my primary role is to nurture my students’ reading lives, their interests, and their true, full selves through a space which serves as an incubator of both joy and belonging.

In the midst of this difficult year, I’ve been returning to the #LibFive—a set of five key foundations for building inclusive libraries that I co-created with three amazing students, Cesar Falcon, Jose Gomez, and Jaida Morris. There is no-one more equipped to speak on the concept of inclusive libraries than our students, and their experience, perspective and wisdom was leveraged to create student-driven PD for librarians.

Five Key Foundations for Building Inclusive Libraries

  • See me! Listen to me.
  • Show me on the shelves and walls. Read those books yourself.
  • Graphic Novels and Manga are not Extra.
  • Show the joy in our stories.
  • Make the school library a sorting free zone.

These ideas might seem obvious or too simple, but I would implore those thinking along those lines to think again. They are powerful due to their simplicity and when done well, can result in empowering and inclusive school libraries. Thinking back to creating this set of foundations with Cesar, Jose, and Jaida reminds me of what is essential for us this year (and every year): representation, intellectual freedom, real history, and student voice and joy.

Inclusion and INCLUDE

The #LibFive was developed to center students in conversations on inclusion. Inclusion—and the Shared Foundation Include—is a critical base for our work as librarians and equity-focused educators. Making Include live in our school libraries helps us create spaces, collections, and instruction that are BIPOC-inclusive, Queer-affirming, disability-positive, and mental health-sensitive.

Being inclusive librarians means that we have to be willing to ‘unlearn’ and relearn. What do I mean by this? Well, we have to unlearn false narratives (that we may have been taught) and relearn ideologies that are rooted in our learners’ humanity and accurate history. Truly including our learners requires us to always stress an asset-driven perspective (as opposed to a deficit way of thinking). Viewing our students and their families and communities with an asset-driven approach means recognizing all of the gifts and strengths that our students already possess. Diverse student identities are strengths and assets that can advance learning for all of us, not challenges to overcome. This is exponentially more important when we’re educating in a current climate that is often averse to these truths.

It’s crucial for us to understand that Include is not the self-affirming foundation—allowing us to pat ourselves on the back in a spirit of multiculturalism. While perhaps an access point, only stressing diversity is NOT enough to build an inclusive practice. We cannot talk about Include without identifying who has historically been—and continues to be—excluded from school spaces and library instructions, including our own. We have to look unflinchingly at our own spaces, collections, and programming.

The Include Guide

Editing a guide on Include for the Shared Foundations series was a gift, as I was able to collaborate with a group of fantastic librarians to illustrate how the Competencies and Alignments under Include can live in real school libraries. The guide is structured to be both inspiration and roadmap as that is what I always look for in PD! The programs, initiatives, activities, and lessons contained in the guide are not exercises in theory. They are real. They’ve been born in real school libraries with actual, working librarians and educators. The contributor list is, well, beautiful. Powerful!

  • Rachel Altobelli
  • Allie Jane Bruce
  • Anita Cellucci
  • Kathryn Cole
  • Cesar Falcon 
  • Jose Gomez               
  • Kimberly Hirsh
  • Sandra Hughes-Hassell
  • Cicely Lewis             
  • Jaida Morris
  • Liz Porter
  • Casey H. Rawson
  • Debbie Reese
  • Juan Rivera  
  • Ness Shortley
  • Jennifer Sturge 
  • Julia E. Torres
  • Chiquita Toure 

Using the Include guide is just one of myriad ways to learn and grow around the Include Shared Foundation. Ultimately, we are all partners in creating inclusive spaces for the students in our care. Here’s to us surviving in 2023 (and always) by centering on inclusion, joy, and belonging. For me, it’s the only way forward!


Author: Julie Stivers

Julie Stivers is the librarian at Mount Vernon Middle School, an alternative public school in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the author of the Shared Foundation: Include. Her work has been published in Knowledge Quest, School Libraries Worldwide, School Library Journal, and YALS, and she was named a 2019 Library Journal Mover & Shaker. She worked alongside her ALA Emerging Leaders group to create Defending Intellectual Freedom: LGBTQ+ Materials in School Libraries. Her research and practical interests include culturally sustaining pedagogy, building inclusive library spaces, and exploring the power of manga and anime with her students.

Categories: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

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1 reply

  1. Thank you, Julie, for gathering this impressive list of perspectives and experiences of powerful school librarians and educators from across the U.S.

    The collective impact of the voices and practices in Include makes this book a must-read, reflect, and call to take action for all school librarian leaders. Yes! to centering on inclusion, joy, and belonging.

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