Using AASL’s New LGBTQ+ Resource Guide for Professional Development

By Rachel Altobelli, Albuquerque Public Schools, and Sara Cook, Jefferson Middle School, New Mexico

AASL’s new resource guide, “Defending Intellectual Freedom: LGBTQ+ Materials in School Libraries“, is:

  • a source for quick answers to difficult questions;
  • a place to find advice and activities designed to help school librarians learn more about LGBTQ+ materials and how school libraries benefit from their inclusion;
  • an example of how the AASL Standards Framework can be used to unpack, explore, and learn more about any topic or issue.
Stack of Defending Intellectual Freedom LGBTQ+ Materials in School Libraries handouts.

Handouts ready for distribution.

It is also a rich source on which to base professional development, either as an individual school librarian, or as a group. Earlier this month, at our back-to-school in-service for librarians, we used the resource guide as the basis for an hour-long session, which we presented twice. Because we have more than 100 school librarians in our district, smaller, shorter sessions presented conference-style promote conversation between librarians and keep the day from turning into a long series of announcements, PowerPoint slides, and secret naps.

Rachel, the director of library services for our district, was lucky enough to be the AASL member guide for the truly amazing Emerging Leaders group who created this resource, so she has been excited about sharing it with our librarians for months. She’s written about LGBTQ+ materials in school libraries before, and what their inclusion would have meant for her as a learner.

Sara, the librarian at Jefferson Middle School, has done significant and thoughtful work to make her library an inclusive space for all her learners. Most recently her school library has been the safe space for the student-run “Rainbow Initiative” group for LGBTQ+ students and their allies.

We planned our session to introduce the resource guide and, along with it, some quality books for our school librarians to consider, inviting them to become advocates and champions for saving lives through book selection.

Participant listening with handouts in front of her.

APS school librarian listening to overview.

While we could easily have talked about the resource guide itself for an hour — or more — we hoped engagement would increase if we built in opportunities for participants to learn from each other. We limited ourselves to a brief overview of the guide itself, so participants would learn how to navigate it on their own. We discussed the standards framework, but chose to keep the focus on the content and let the standards connections percolate in the back of everyone’s mind. As we all become more familiar with the standards, using them to help make sense of different subjects can help us become familiar with their structure and potential applications.

After the overview, we moved into small group discussions of essential questions selected from the How to Use This Guide section. So each group would have both a starting point and the ability to discuss a question that felt right for them, we gave each group a printout of the essential questions with one of the Shared Foundations highlighted. Each group then selected the question within that foundation they wished to discuss.

We purposefully did not have groups share out after their discussions because we wanted participants to be able to speak freely without having to shape their thoughts for a wider audience than their tablemates.

The discussions were still moving along at a lively pace during both sessions when we shifted to Sara’s practical advice, book talks, and examples of what she has implemented successfully in her school library.

Picture of four books: Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, The 57 bus, Red: a crayon's story, and George

Some of Sara Cook’s recommended LGBTQ+ books.

Sara highlighted books she has purchased and used successfully in her school library, ranging from picture books to YA. We discussed why it’s important to have books both in displays and on the shelves for learners to find on their own, emphasizing that while some learners are out at school and at home, many are not, and won’t be comfortable going to a rainbow-themed display or choosing books with rainbow stickers on the spine.

While the plan was to close the session by having the small groups look at the completed YA flowchart and then complete their own blank YA flowchart, the conversations and questions that followed Sara’s book talks and advice were far too productive to cut short. The blank flowchart became a take-home activity and an opportunity for participating school librarians to return to their libraries and consider their LGBTQ+ materials in a different way. Even if you are familiar with LGBTQ+ YA, it can be a challenge to think of titles that are also about sports or history or are simply funny.

We closed with a reminder—school librarians, especially at the elementary level, may never know who their LGBTQ+ learners are, but learners will know when they are represented and valued on the shelves of their school libraries. “Defending Intellectual Freedom: LGBTQ+ Materials in School Libraries” was written to help school librarians support all their learners. It offers entry points for all school librarians, whatever your current level of knowledge about and comfort with LGBTQ+ resources, and accessible ways for you to begin or expand your support for your LGBTQ+ learners. You may never know who you help, or how much it matters, but it will help, and it will matter.

Author: Rachel Altobelli

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Intellectual Freedom, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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