Take Down the Celebrities, Display the Students

How have you displayed inclusiveness, cultural competence or a support of individual and group perspectives during your practicum hours?> What changes could you make to the library to make it more accessible to people with special needs

In one of my Master’s classes, we discussed various elements of library design, ranging from Universal Design for Learning, having a variety of spaces (ex. small group, large group) and how to utilize space.

One particularly poignant video I remember watching was how one library was redesigned to truly represent their users. One of the most poignant aspects of this was that students who attended the school were photographed in various poses. These photographs were them blown up and displayed on the wall of the library as a sort of mural. Imagine, then, having a library that not only strives to represent its students in the books they choose, but to have its very own users adorning the walls.

The casual chat

One day, when I was chatting with the librarian at my school, she mentioned that she wanted to replace the READ posters that adorned our library walls with more up to date posters. READ posters are from ALA (American Library Association) and tend to showcase celebrities reading or holding a book. She lamented that due to district vendor limitations, she was unable to order new ones to update them. I mentioned to her the idea of displaying students.

I asked my husband, who has an eye for photo taking and an owner of a camera of much higher quality than my phone, to help.

We included the information in the announcements which ran for two weeks. It read as follows:

“Attention Students. Do you love to read? Do you want to share your love of reading? The library would like to update their READ posters that are on display in the library. These are the posters that reason on teh bookshelves and are of various celebrities, from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to actors from the Twilight movies. We would like to update these posters to showcase actual students holding their favorite book. If you are interested in a chance to be on display in teh library for years to come, please see us. You will need to fill out a form and permission slip.”

A total of 14 students submitted permission slips.

In addition to students, the library came up with the idea that showcasing our past and present principals would also be awesome.

The day of the photo shoot arrived and students and principals arrived with their favorite books in hand. Students and adults posed proudly with their favorite book around the school and in various places in the library.

After a few follow up photos of students and adults that could not make the initial shoot, we wrapped up our photos and our CTA began printing.

The result was incredible and feedback has been extremely positive.

Say what now?

How would you react to ideas that go directly against what you thought to be true? In my time while obtaining my master’s in library science, I have come to consider the library the beacon of truth, a place that fights injustice and promotes equality. In addition, to this, my idea of the library has been a romanticized by my experiences. In my mission statement when I submitted my entrance documents to become a student at UNT in the library science master’s program, I stated that the library is a “piazza.” Weigand’s keynote address, 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.

Romanticized library history

One of the things that Weigand points out is that his book American Public School Librarianship: A History, to come out in the Fall of 2021, there has not yet been a comprehensive history of school libraries in the United States. In his research, he found instances in which the library, “Most of our history shows our professional discourse to be very positive, to be cautious of addressing issues that perplex us.” (2021, 01:20). He then goes on to talk about a story of a black library supervisor, Carrie Coleman Robinson (See Image 1) who was in charge of black segregated libraries in the south. When bringing to light discrimination, and filing suit. Weigand points out that up until this point, the library associations had not dealt with the issue with 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. It is important to note, however, that these organizations have evolved. When George Floyd was murdered, and the Black Lives Matter movement was again in full effect, organizations, such as the ALA issued statements about this movement, 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.

Carrie Coleman Robinson, Image 1

The Library is the Heart of the school?

The second challenge to my mind is the tendency to compare the library to a human organ. Ross Todd said, “I have read the school library being the heart…brains of the school….I cringe when I hear these terms…I think it is a really timely challenge for us all to think about the language and labels that we ascribe to what we value (01:54). Ross then goes on to suggest that using this way in referring to the library “puts us in competition…[and] isolates us rather than integrates us” (Ross, 2020, 01:55). When he said this, it really stopped me because for the past three years, I have been espousing this idea that the library should be the heart, and hub and brain, and piazza and skeleton of the school. While I still need time to reflect on these comments, I agree with Ross’s statement. Aren’t we lessening the vitalness of the music class, the ELA class, the science class. Perhaps then, we as librarians should start to view each class as its own person, as its own body with a heart, brain, etc. I don’t have an apt metaphor for the library in this new view that I have, but I’ll be working on that.

Maybe we shouldn’t consider the library as the heart of the school…just saying.
Image by un-perfekt from Pixabay

References

Weigand, W. (2021, July 12-16). Conference opening ceremony and keynote address by Wayne Weigand and panel [Virtual presentation]. International Association of School Librarianship, Denton, Texas, United States.

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

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