Face the Music – Being Honest About the History of School Librarianship

How would you react to history that goes directly against what you thought to be true? While obtaining my master’s in library science, I have come to consider the library as a beacon of truth, and a place that fights injustice and promotes equity and equality. My idea of the library has been a romanticized by my experiences and knowledge. Weigand’s keynote address at the 2021 IASL Conference, and follow up comments and reactions from other library professionals challenged some of my preexisting views on the library, its history and its role in the school.

Image 1
Carrie Coleman Robinson
(Weigand, 2020)

Weigand points out that there has not yet been a comprehensive history of school libraries in the United States. One big finding in his research for his book, American Public School Librarianship: A History, is that, “most of our history shows our professional discourse to be very positive, to be cautious of addressing issues that perplex us” (Weigand, 2021). He tells the story of a black library supervisor, Carrie Coleman Robinson, who was in charge of black segregated libraries in the South and later filed a discrimination suit (See Image 1). Weigand points out that up until this point, the library associations had not dealt with the issue of segregated schools. Then, when the Black Caucus asked the ALA to make a statement about Robinson’s case, they refused. In my mind, this casts a dark shadow on what I believed about the school library as an organization. In one of my first blogposts, I commented on how impressed I was about the comprehensiveness of the ALA and AASL resources and statements. When George Floyd was murdered, organizations, such as the ALA issued statements supporting social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. They offer statements, definitions of terms, and links to resources to take action, from police reform to racial equity in the library. In addition, the ALA admits that in terms of diversity, “the librarian profession suffers from a persistent lack of racial and ethnic diversity that shows few signs of improving” (“Libraries Respond,” 2021). This, now to my understanding, is a transparency that is necessary to uphold the so called values of the library. However, this is history about which librarians and future librarians should be knowledgeable. It makes our work even more necessary and should us proud of how far the establishment has come, while considering how much more it needs to improve.


Libraries respond: Black lives matter. (2020, June 3). American Library Association. https://www.ala.org/advocacy/diversity/librariesrespond/black-lives-matter

Weigand, W. (2021, July 12-16). Conference opening ceremony and keynote address by Wayne Weigand and panel. [Conference session]. IASL 2021 Annual Conference, Denton, TX, United States. https://iasl-online.org/event-3667867

Weigand, W. (2020, October 6). Separate – and unequal.  American Libraries. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2020/10/06/separate-and-unequal-carrie-c-robinson-librarian-challenging-racism/

Reading”The Hate U Give” during these times + Intellectual Freedom

Audio books had served me well in the first few months of having my second kid. My idea in selecting books to read (during maternity leave/summer/pandemic) was to alternate between reading a young adult novel and a book of my choosing. So, immediately after giving birth, I started listening to, “The Golden State” by Lydia Kiesling. This was enjoyed with great hilarity, especially due to the serendipitous timing of its content – a book about a mother on the verge of a meltdown traveling with her toddler. I, myself, was adjusting to caring for a newborn and having a 2 year old in the house. After I finished this wonderful novel, “The Hate U Give” was next, having been on my to-read shelf for over a year.

George Floyd had just been murdered. The Black Lives Matter movement was experiencing a massive resurgence across the country and world. This was the landscape in which I read “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas.

I start listening to “The Hate U Give” during my late night feedings without knowing its content. At first, it reminded me of Renee Watson’s, “Piecing Me Together” partly because it had to do with a girl attending a school outside of her community- a school with a mostly white population AND non reflective of her neighborhood. I had this comparison in my mind until, very early into the book, a childhood friend of the protagonist, an unarmed Black male, is killed by a white police officer.

This novel is honest, topical and necessary. In addition to tackling the very serious subject of race and racism (from individuals and institutions), it also addresses self-esteem and worth, gender roles, culture and the challenges between people from different social economic statuses – including expectations, stereotypes, perceptions and equity.

It was a surreal feeling. In the novel it was a police shooting, and in real life it was George Floyd, being pinned down by a police officer, exclaiming, “I can’t breathe,” dying shortly thereafter. At the same time, protest were occurring all around the country and the world, on top of the pandemic.

After I finished, “The Hate U Give,” I discovered that Angie Thomas was compelled to write this book after the 2009 shooting of a young Black man by a transit officer.

I also confirmed that “The Hate U Give” is included in ALA’s Top 10 most challenged books of 2018 and 2017 (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10). According to the ALA, it was challenged in 2018, “because it was deemed “anti-cop,” and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references” and reasons cited for 2017 were because it is ““pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.”

Being Latina, I learned about the repression of people of color later in life. I learned about the atrocities of the slave trade – how families were torn apart from one another, about how Hernán Cortés and his men brought, along with horses and Catholicism, Smallpox, killing millions of indigenous people – and about how lands were stolen from Native Americans over and over again. On a personal note, I learned that my parents were physically reprimanded for speaking Spanish in school and of examples of institutional racism such as public pool, near where my mother grew up, that had a sign reading “No dogs or Mexicans.”

This generation of young people can and should have the opportunity to hear the truth, and be exposed to these narratives. For this reason, it is of utmost importance that books like “The Hate U Give” remain in libraries and schools. These books must not be banned, hidden or repressed. In times like these, it is more important than ever for people to have access to books that address history, and reality and perspectives that are the same or different from their own. They offer a window into someone else’s experience or mirror their own. All the more reason to challenge censorship by encouraging intellectual freedom and promoting works like this that challenge institutions.

Term Paper on “Diversity in the Young Adult Collection”

Purchase “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas from Edna’s Booktique in Duncanville, Texas. https://pemberton-jones-education-group-inc.square.site/

American Library Association – Frequently Banned Books – http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks