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/

Changing Representation One Book at a Time

In the Spring of 2021, I attended my first YA book festival, entitled, “North Texas Teen Book Festival,” or NTTBF. One common point that continually surfaced from the authors is the desire to represent a story that has a connection to their lives. Angie Thomas, in speaking about Concrete Rose, talked about writing from a perspective other than her own. She said that she was proud of the  “work that I put in…and the end result in writing about a 17 year old black boy…I was writing outside of my own experience for the first time” (Thomas, 2021). She said that writing out of her comfort zone has given her the pride and in turn the confidence to explore writing about characters outside of her comfort zone more frequently. Thomas is making an important statement for current and future authors.

During the 2021 IASL Conference, I attended “The Harper Collins author panel” which was made up of four writers. These writers include Joanna Ho, Jasmine Warga, Janae Marks and Brady Colbert. Like Thomas, they spoke about how they did not see representations of themselves growing up, whether Asian American, Black or Middle Eastern. However, there were topics addressed that went beyond the author process and addressed real questions about application of these types of stories in the school.

Changes in Representation

Author of Black Birds in the Sky, Colbert says that since the publication of her first book seven years ago, “I have seen such a big change since then..in what educators and librarians are actively recommending…diversity in race, sexuality, disability” (Meik, 2021). This is exciting to hear and author say and bodes well for the future of children’s and YA literature. In my own reading of these past few years, almost every book I read has a character, including many instances of being the protagonist that is identifies as LGBTQIA+. Before then, I had never had that experience.

Milissa Vo, moderator of the panel, poses the question, “As both an author and educator, where do you feel is the best place to start, when examining books in curriculum, particularly with early childhood educators, who may be using your picture books in their classrooms?” (Meik, 2021). This question is directed at Joanna Ho, author of the picture book, Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, who also is a high school teacher. She says, as an educator, it is about looking at the “whole offering and what is the narrative you are telling” and while you are trying to be inclusive, are you falling into the trap of the single-story such as “black pain” or for Latinx people —“immigrants” “refugee stories” (Meik, 2021). The danger is also when educators take a book that is diverse and to still use it in a way that supports white supremacy culture or values. Ho gives an example of and educator taking her book, with an Asian American protagonist. In this example, the eductor presents the moral of this book as being, “her eyes are different, but different is ok” or “her eyes are different, but different is beautiful.” This is still a way of dividing different groups of people. Instead, she suggests educators take a more critical approach. This means posing questions such as, “Why we need this books” or regarding the shape of the eyes of Asian Americans, “Why is that not a standard of beauty in our country?” (Meik, 2021). It is powerful to hear an author, who has experienced life as an Asian American, be candid about the direction educators should be guiding their students.

Every evening, after dinner, my husband and I take our children to our neighborhood park. One evening, I saw a young girl who looked like she was 10 or 11. She looked sad, bored and lonely. Her father was nearby, helping coach soccer. I asked her if she was alright. She said that her one friend had moved away. I asked if she could make new friends in the coming year – especially since next year would be like everyone was brand new. She said, “no, I am Muslim, and my friend was the only other Muslim. Now I am all alone in my school.” I told her I was sorry about how she felt.

Jasmine Warga, author of The Shape of Thunder, said a comment that made me pause and reflect on this interaction. Vo asks Warga about why it was important to write about the “intersectionality of identity and other specific experiences?” (Meik, 2021). Warga says,

“being a Middle Eastern American, can be such a fraught experience…especially in the wake of 9/11…. this experience of feeling somehow being Middle Eastern is in conflict with being American and being Muslim is in conflict with being American….It was a big struggle of my childhood” (Meik, 2020).

She goes on to explain that while she acknowledges that struggle, she now sees the beauty of being both Muslim and American. When I think of that little girl, I see her conflict. It was festering so much and so close to the surface, the she told me all about her feelings, even though I was a perfect stranger. What kind of experience would she have if she read a book in which she sees herself, a Muslim and American girl in a story? She would find that she is not alone and that others before her have felt the same way. She would see these things, but would also see and find hope.

Authors and Books from IASL Harper Collins Panel:

Jasmine Warga- The Shape of Thunder

Janae Marks- A Soft Place

Brandy Colbert – Black Birds in the Sky

Joanna Ho – Eyes that Kiss in the Corners


Meik, J. (2021, July 13) IASL 2021. Harper Collins author panel recording [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-AWActEsO4&list=PLXbDHLKtdGMnFGVh0Es6ARveZEjjeLK2f

NTTBF (2021, March 6).[Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfR-OjgsqUs

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.