Does My Collection Reflect My Community? Diversity in the School Library
Does My Collection Reflect My Community? Diversity in the School Library
Sylvie Shaffer, PreK-8 Librarian, Capitol Hill Day School (DC) (@sylvie_shaffer)
Matthew Winner, Elementary School Librarian, Howard County Public Schools (MD) (@MatthewWinner, @ChildrensBkPod)
Shannon McClintock Miller, Future Ready Librarian Spokesperson, K-12 District Teacher Librarian, Van Meter Community School (IA) (@shannonmmiller)
On April 30, 2019, All4Ed and Future Ready Schools® held a webinar for Future Ready Librarians. Panelists discussed the value of maintaining a book collection that not only reflects the school community, but also is reflective of the global community of which we all are a part. Recognizing that centering diversity means centering the stories, experiences, and voices of historically marginalized people, including people of color, indigenous voices, LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies, differently-abled individuals, and neurodiverse voices.
Culturally responsive library programs take into account not only the content and sensitivity of lessons and supporting materials, but also what items are being purchased for the collection, what materials are being displayed or recommended to the school community, what voices are invited into the school or library for author visits or artists in residence, and what impact the work taking place within the library has on the global community.
The panelists explored
- What does “diverse” literature mean?
- What is the value of “own voices”?
- What would help dissolve your fear of being challenged for including a book in your library?
- Where do I start? How do I keep going? How do I question practices that I might have thought are best practices that may have revealed themselves to be hurting or marginalizing others?
- What is a diversity audit and how can information collected through a diversity audit inform future purchases for the library collection?
- What resources are available for becoming more aware of diverse books?
- What is the value of a diverse book collection to a class or school with a homogenous population?
Please direct questions concerning the webinar to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are unable to watch the webinar live, please register to receive the video archive directly in your inbox.
Future Ready Schools® is a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed), a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those underperforming and those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship. www.FutureReady.org
If you are interested in renting the Alliance’s facilities for your next meeting or webinar, please visit our facilities page to learn more.
Shannon McClintock: Welcome, everybody, to our Future Ready Librarian Webinar. I’m so excited for our April webinar. And as you know, my name is Shannon McClintock Miller. I am the district teacher librarian at Van Meter Community School in Iowa and the Future Ready Librarians Spokesperson.
Also, you can find me on my blog at The Library Voice and on Twitter and Instagram @shannonmmiller. And so we’re so excited to have everybody here for this webinar, and we’re now into the third year.
And so we’ve had quite a few. And as always, if you have questions, please post them to #FutureReadyLibs, and we will be watching for those. And just take part of the conversation not only during the webinar today, but all through the month, because that’s where you can find us on either Twitter or Facebook.
Also, I wanted to just share the #FutureReady, as well. And you can find Future Ready @FutureReady on Twitter. But I really like also just using that hashtag with our #FutureReadyLibs because it really gets the conversation going too between those different folks, like [break in audio] and different groups that we have.
And so it’s always good to, I think, include those in the conversation, as well, not just us as librarians. At the bottom here, you can also see where you can find our page on the Future Ready site.
And so you can go there to check out more, and at the end I will tell you a little bit too about that website, because there’s lots of great things on there, as well. And then on the next slide you will see what we’re going to talk about today.
And it’s going to be focused on, I think, one of the most exciting things that have happened to our framework. And last year, in June, at ISTE we actually could feel that we added literacy. And when we look at literacy and we look at the description of literacy on the next slide, you’ll see that it is something that we worked on for a long time and really thought about this.
And actually, the people that we’re going to have on the webinar today, my special guests, one of them helped me also when I was cracking this because it was really important for us to hear all voices and to get people involved.
And especially, I look up to a lot of people in this world being a librarian, and our two special guests, they’re two that I really look up to when it comes to our role as just those people who celebrate literacy and are the ones that champion literacy within our communities.
And so today I’m super excited that I get to welcome my friends, Sylvie and Matthew to the webinar. And they are going to talk about “Does my collection reflect my community diversity in the school library?” So I’m going to let you two take it from here.
Matthew Winner: Hi, everyone. Welcome; we’re glad you’re here.
Sylvie Shaffer: Hi, there. Thanks for having me.
Matthew Winner: Sylvie, I would love for you to introduce yourself to everyone who hasn’t met you yet.
Sylvie Shaffer: Sure. My name is Sylvie Shaffer, and I use “she” and “her” as my pronouns. I am the librarian at the Capitol Hill Day School in Washington, D.C., and I work with grades pre-k through eighth.
Matthew Winner: And I am Matthew Winner. I use the pronouns “he, him, his”. I’m a school librarian in Howard County, Maryland elementary pre-k to five. I also am the longtime host of The Children’s Book Podcast, and recently the cohost of Kidlit These Days, a new book podcast from Book Riot that is looking at the intersection between current events and children’s literature.
So we are all sorts of excited to talk about books and diversity and all those things with all of you. And Sylvie and I have been just geeking out together, as we’ve talked about how we could possibly dwindle down, focus all the things we’re going to talk to you about today.
Sylvie Shaffer: Right.
Matthew Winner: So we –
Sylvie Shaffer: We spent 45 hours – about 45 minutes –
Matthew Winner: So the things we sort of agreed upon to focus on today were these essential questions. Let me read through these questions for you, because we will be hitting on each of these as we go. We want to talk to you about what does diverse literature mean, and what is the value of own voices in your collection.
We want to talk about the value of a diverse book collection to a class or school with a homogenous population, and what would help dissolve that fear of being challenged for including a book in your library.
Because we know that there may be some topics or some books that we have apprehensions about adding. We absolutely want to help unpack where to start and how to keep going and how to question those practices that may have been in place for a long time but otherwise revealed themselves recently to potentially be hurting or marginalizing others.
Sylvie and I each will talk to you about what a diversity audit is, because we each have done our own approach to a diversity audit with students. We’ll talk about how that information collected through a diversity audit can inform future purchases for the library collection and, indeed, your program itself.
And then we’ll talk about what other resources are available for becoming more aware of diverse books. Now this is a lot, but it certainly isn’t exhaustive. So we are encouraging you to use the #FutureReady to submit questions to share.
We are a community, and we hope to remain in contact with all of you and to help lift up other voices that have a lot of experience with this too. We certainly are not the only two.
Sylvie Shaffer: Oh, far from it.
Matthew Winner: So, Sylvie, you and I talked about unpacking this word “diverse”. So for those that haven’t really spent a lot of time with We Need Diverse Books, could you say a little bit about what it means, what that phrase, what that slogan, what that term means, “We need diverse books”?
Sylvie Shaffer: Sure. For me, what We Need Diverse Books does that’s so incredible is that it pushes up against the idea of default. So this was something that was a new concept to me a few years ago, this idea of default.
And so basically, We Need Diverse Books works really hard to make sure that we have, that kids have books that represent a really wide range of experiences. And one of the things that I found was often, people would say, “Oh, I’m looking for diverse books.”
But what they meant really was just shorthand for books about kids of color, or books that dealt with sort of tough issues or issues of socioeconomic difference. And I think that I love the way that We Need Diverse Books has worked hard to center stories that help kids, all kids, feel seen.
So often, kids would go into a library, even now will go into a library or bookstore or even just turn on the TV and not see themselves reflected. We Need Diverse Books works hard to make sure that kids see themselves. Is that a good starting point?
Matthew Winner: I think that’s great. And I know in a couple slides we’re going to break down a working definition of “diverse” and a working definition of “inclusive”. So it’s great to be able to share that mission of –
Sylvie Shaffer: [Crosstalk]
– a little bit. I don’t want to go on upfront.
Matthew Winner: That’s right. We can’t show all of our cards just yet.
Sylvie Shaffer: Exactly.
Matthew Winner: So there’s a couple of other hashtags we want to throw out there for you to be aware of online. These are hashtags that you can visit, you can follow, you can share. You can look for other voices using these hashtags, and this can help expand your PLN for the topic we’re talking about, using hashtags like #OwnVoices or #FirstVoices.
There’s #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and the hashtag #DiversityJedi, which was a recent hashtag started by Cynthia Leitich Smith, an author and blogger that has taken on quite a life for those that are advocating for awareness and change and representation.
So these are all hashtags that I think are good to follow. But perhaps now is a great time to talk about #OwnVoices. Sylvie, I may need you just to support me a little bit with how I describe this. Help me if I miss anything.
But #OwnVoices really is approaching the notion of someone telling a story about an experience, having come from that cultural background or that experiential background. So it’s an authentic voice in that way, having lived through or being part of a marginalized community that is shared with the story or the characters in the story.
#OwnVoices is really getting at the heart of authenticity. Would you say that’s a good way to describe it?
Sylvie Shaffer: I would, and I’m going to [break in audio] from a phrase that comes, I think, from the disability community, which is “nothing about us without us”. And I think for a long time, even when we were starting to see more books that feature kids of color, kids from LGBTQ families, kids who are just in all different kinds of non-default experiences, a lot of them were being written across different.
So you would start to see books that centered kids of color, but they were all by White people and it just didn’t feel authentic and it really wasn’t their story, necessarily, to tell. So I think #OwnVoices is really important in making sure that the people who are telling the stories have insights that an author who does not have that direct experience just can’t have.
Matthew Winner: Right, and this is not to say that any one person can or cannot write a book. But certainly, to recognize that our experiences and our background and our cultures inform a lot of how we view the world and how we are able to share those stories.
The Cooperative Children’s Books Center has continued to collect data on representation in children’s books. And this graphic is from 2015, a little dated. We’ll be sharing some statistics that are more recent, because graphic really is powerful, I think, in illustrating how characters are portrayed in children’s books.
You’re seeing there that the majority of characters in children’s books, at least as of 2015, were White characters followed by anthropomorphized characters, animals, trucks, et cetera. So to be a person that has always seen themselves in books, perhaps at least I can speak from my own experience, that at least seeing my skin, my whiteness that was something I was never without, seeing myself in books.
But recognizing that, there’s great importance in every child having that opportunity to see themselves. And looking at what publishing landscape looks like today and who is getting to tell their stories, and who is getting to see themselves in stories I think is important facts for us to carry into the talk that we’re going to have today.
Sylvie Shaffer: Absolutely.
Matthew Winner: I broke this graphic into two slides. So we could zoom in a little bit closer on it. The tall bars we’re seeing run across the screen represent 100 percent of the books published by or about people of color.
So of 100 percent of books in 2017 published by or about people of color, only 31 percent of those books in 2017 were actually written by people of color. Meaning that the remaining 69 percent of the books were written by people outside of that cultural background or experience.
As it says on the bottom there, that 37 percent of the U.S. population are people of color, and 13 percent of children’s books in the past 24 years contained multicultural content. So it’s something that we are maybe not facing upfront in children’s publishing.
It’s something that we, as librarians, as gatekeepers, as the people that purchase books, can demand for change. And we can demand that change through where we put our money, through what books we purchase.
The bottom half of this graph – and we’ve linked this graph, so after the presentation is finished when you view the PDF of these slides, you’ll be able to have these links. But Black and Native authors combined only wrote seven percent of those children’s books published in 2017.
And that’s not to say that Black and Latino and Native authors aren’t writing books. That means 7 percent of the books published – of the 3,700 books, 7 percent of the books published were by Black, Latino, and Native authors.
Publishing has something to do with that, as well, who they choose to publish. This is, perhaps, a little bit more up to date. These are using the CCBC statistics from 2017. And if I just read down one of them…the White Americans red column.
It says White Americans make up 61 percent of the U.S. population. So 3,002 children’s books published in 2017 were of White children; 85.8 percent of the total books published featured or centered on White children.
So that’s 25 percent more than the White population. So we’re seeing the disparity as you look across this chart of the population vs. how they are represented. Look at African Americans, the green bar.
Thirteen percent of the U.S. population, yet only represented in three percent of the books. These are statistics that we really need to take heart of as we continue to center not only our students, but all students, all children in our libraries and our library collections.
Sylvie Shaffer: Well, and if I could just add onto that too, and this goes really nicely with this question of “your collection may be diverse, but is it inclusive”. I think, too, we see so many of the same topics and so many of the same kinds of experiences when we’re looking at books that represent a certain race or ethnicity.
Again and again, we see books where someone is overcoming a struggle. And that’s not the only story. And I’ve had children of color say to me, “Oh, you’re going to hand me that book about that kid who watches his friends get shot. And I just want a book where a kid goes to the mall and hangs out.”
So I mean, I think that’s a really interesting perspective too. And I’m paraphrasing, but those words did come from a kid. Where it’s not just a matter of seeing your skin color or seeing your family or seeing your religion represented, but it doesn’t always have to be a story of struggle.
That the topic of the book doesn’t have to be about being that race or being a queer kid, or being any other kind of experience. It can just be an everyday diverse book. And I think that that really feeds into this inclusivity piece, as well.
Having kids not just feel seen, which I think really gets at the inclusive piece. Do you see yourself, or do people feel welcome? I think inclusive, for me in a school library setting, really gets at the idea of being welcome.
But also, is there more than one way of being represented?
Matthew Winner: Yeah, and that notion of being welcome ties into the other side of it too that you may have these books in your collection. But what books are you putting front and center in front of children? What books are you incorporating into lessons, or recommending to teachers or adding to your book lists or facing out on the shelves?
It sort of feeds both sides of it. Making sure that there are books about every experience, not just trauma experiences or heightened experiences that way, but also making sure that there is access to all the books.
If we break down – this is from a Gallup article called “Three Requirements for a Diverse and Inclusive Culture”. It defined “diversity” as representing the full spectrum of human demographic differences.
Sylvie mentioned before about this, but race and religion and gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, physical disability, and even beyond that, like lifestyle, personality characteristics.
Diversity can absolutely mean that you are extroverted, introverted, of different opinions, of different family compositions, of different education levels. There are so many different things that go into diversity.
But to grow from that, inclusion refers to that cultural or environmental feeling of belonging. And that’s not something that I can decide, as the librarian. I need to, as Sylvie is talking to her students, I need to make sure that I am talking to my students to make sure they feel included.
And a lot of that comes down to the culture that you help to build through your library program and through your school. Sylvie and I got onto this tangent. Two days ago, we got onto this tangent about our – not a tangent, I guess it’s a metaphor – of how diverse libraries, or inclusive collections, are a lot like a grocery store, right.
That she and I both have been in libraries and also have heard other librarians say, “Well, my school is primarily White. My school is primarily African American. My school is primarily,” fill in the blank, “So why do I need other books, when this is what my student population looks like?”
And we were saying it’s much like going into a grocery store. A grocery store doesn’t serve one person or one school or one specific community. They have things there for everyone. So as you walk through that grocery store, and you’re seeing items that you maybe have never seen before or have never taken interest in, that doesn’t mean that they don’t belong there.
They’re there for someone, and it’s our role to make sure – it’s the grocery store’s role – to make sure that not only are they listening to what the consumers want or are asking for or what their needs are, but that they’re centering those items to make sure those are available for people.
They don’t hide certain items in the back, where you have to go find a grocery attendee and ask them, “Can you get this one item for me in the back that I know you never put on your shelves because I’m the only person that ever asks for it?”
No, they put it out with their collection of food items. And I think that – not to tie it too closely into that metaphor – but I think that there’s a lot to be said for what our library collections can look like and can mean to our school.
Sylvie Shaffer: And I think, also, Matthew, we got to this sort of grocery store metaphor – I think we were talking about how a library is not like a food truck, where it’s like you have three options to pick from, and that’s just it.
I love the idea of what does – to extend the grocery store thing – what do they have up on the end cap, and what are they putting out in their weekly flyer? And if somebody doesn’t know what a vegetable is maybe there’s a little sign in the produce area that says, “Hey, try me steamed. Try me with lemon juice,” or…
Matthew Winner: Yeah. When I go to my organic market, they have a chart – I look at it all the time – of all of the different potatoes, sweet potatoes that they have, and the nine different sweet potatoes and how you can cook this one this way.
And these are really good for baking. And exactly like that. It’s not just, “Well, these are the ones that you, Matthew, typically like to buy.” It’s, “Here’s all the different – where all the entry points into all of those different items.”
Sylvie Shaffer: Right. But also, wouldn’t it be a boring world if every time we were reaching for a piece of cheese it was cheddar? I mean, I like cheddar cheese, but I also like Swiss and I like Gouda and I like parmesan and I like goat cheese.
And just the idea of you can have – there’s no limit to the types of stories we can share with our students. And just because somebody says, “Well, I always this kind of action, adventure, fantasy book,” there’s no reason that you can’t say, “Okay, you want more action, adventure, and fantasy? Here’s three authors you might not have read yet, and I guarantee you you’re going to like them just as much.”
Matthew Winner: Those books in your library are there for every single kid. Much like the food in the grocery store, you’re not told what you can and cannot buy. You have access to all of it. So we want to talk a little bit – or we have already been talking, I suppose, a little bit about the value of a diverse book collection or inclusive book collection to a class or a school with a homogenous population.
Recognizing that – or maybe asking you listeners the question of do you value hearing stories from outside of your experience, from out side of your life experience, from outside of your family experience, from outside of your gender experience? Fill in the blank, right.
Is that a value to you, and why would it not be a value to our children? Our children, like us, cannot possibly understand everything of the world. There’s not a big enough life to experience everything.
Plus, we’re not from every culture, so we won’t. But by reading, we’re able to help build empathy and understanding for so much greater representation of what’s going on in the world.
Sylvie Shaffer: Absolutely. And I think the one quotation that really speaks to me about this question on the screen right now…there’s a great Tim Federle quote. He’s the middle grade author of Better Nate Than Ever.
And when somebody asked him, “Well, we don’t have any gay kids in our community,” his quick response was, “Well, how many wizards do you have and how many copies of Harry Potter are you circulating?”
And it’s just, it was funny, but it’s kind of rude too, right. I mean, so many of the books – if you look back at those statistics about there being four times as likely to have a picture book with a dinosaur than with a Native American child in it.
Well, how many dinosaurs are walking the earth today? But how many do we circ in the school library about dinosaurs? There is so much value in hearing different perspectives. And I think that the word that jumps to me from what you were just saying, Matthew, was “empathy”.
Just being –
Matthew Winner: I think –
Sylvie Shaffer: Yeah, go ahead.
Matthew Winner: I was going to say, Sylvie, I think that we also need to model valuing those books. We need to model valuing stories from Native authors. We need to value modeling stories from different cultures in front of children so that they can see I feel this is valuable.
Not just I value the dinosaur books or I value the comics about superhero lunch workers, things like that. These are all great books. But children – there’s a great quote from the Stephen Sondheim musical from Into the Woods, right, that says, “Careful the things you say. Children will listen.”
Because children are constantly looking to us to model for them how to be. And we’re not always going to get it right, but we can try.
Sylvie Shaffer: Absolutely.
Matthew Winner: Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, her work is sort of all throughout what Sylvie and I are talking about today. And it’ll be, I think, something you’ve heard of before. But she is the one that famously talked about books as windows and mirrors.
The quote, if I read it quick to you for those that maybe if the resolution isn’t super sharp on the screen, the quote says, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar, or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the world. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us. And in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading then becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”
We’ve included, as you’ll see on the bottom, a video link from Reading Rockets of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, and you’re welcome to, again through the PDF that will be shared with you, click on that link and watch the video.
I highly encourage it. Sylvie, did you have anything else to say about windows –
Sylvie Shaffer: Aw, man.
Matthew Winner: – mirrors before we move on?
Sylvie Shaffer: I think we should plunge forward. I can’t –
Matthew Winner: Let’s go.
Sylvie Shaffer: [Crosstalk]
– than she did. Yeah.
Matthew Winner: Let’s go. There have been other ways to liken books, right. And so I want to include this Grant Snider comic about books being a warm blanket, quiet corners, anchors. We want to make sure, though, that we are centering ourselves on windows and mirrors and valuing the mirrors in our library for those children that need a mirror, and valuing the windows in our library for children that need a window.
So the three questions that I think will guide us through the next couple examples that we’re going to share as we start to dive into tangible things that Sylvie and I each have been doing in our libraries are these three questions: what do you see when you look at your students; and what do you see when you look at your collection; and what goals do you have currently, in terms of collection development?
Often when I’m presenting, I show a slide of an elephant and I say, “How” – wait, Sylvie, I can ask you. Sylvie, how do you eat an elephant?
Sylvie Shaffer: One bite at a time, Matthew.
Matthew Winner: That’s it. So as we go through this, you’re not trying to flip your entire program in one afternoon. This takes time. I have been on a journey. I know that Sylvie can attest to being on a journey. And we are still traveling together.
I feel so blessed that now Sylvie and I are linked on that journey. So I’ll continue to look for her wisdom throughout my walk, as well. But I also carry on my heart Dr. Angelou’s line that, hopefully, many of you have heard, which is, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
That’s our call. That’s our charge, to know better and to do better from what we’ve learned. So, Sylvie, let me sort of route a blog post about diversity audits that can be referenced from the people watching.
And then I want to pass to you to talk about the audit that you did with your students. Does that sound okay?
Sylvie Shaffer: That sounds great.
Matthew Winner: Great. So on the Lee & Low Blog – for those that aren’t familiar with Lee & Low, Lee & Low Books is a small publisher centering on diverse books in own voices, a wonderful resource. And most likely, you’ve got a number of their books in your library now.
But their blog is also one that is really great to be reading regularly. I posted some time ago a two-part blog post called “Having Students Analyze Our Classroom Library to See How Diverse It Is”.
And in this blog post, a classroom teacher talked about what it was like to sit with her kids to make a rubric together, where they were going to look at the different book bins of books, students working in pairs, record the title of the book in a small set of, I don’t know, like ten books, note if there was any people on the cover of the book.
In this case, noting if there’s a character on the cover, is the character on the cover White? If there are several characters on the cover, are they all White? Likewise, is there a boy on the cover? If there are several characters, are they all boys?
And then to note what the book is about just from a tertiary glance, what the genre might be, another important information to note. Really, though, this teacher left it open for children to take facts down and ask themselves, “What does this mean?”
This was a student-guided project, where we find meaning in different ways, and certainly not one to tell children what it means. I like how, on the blog post, there’s seven or eight different breakdowns.
All of her class was focusing in a little bit different way. In this one, the children were asked to consider gender representation with some questions like, “What are boys shown doing in the books? What roles do the boys have? What characteristics are given to the boys when you look at the characters or read about the characters? And how do the girls act and the characteristics given to girls? And what characteristics or roles are not being shown in connection to boys or girls?”
It’s just calling awareness. It’s waking us up a little bit to what we’re looking at. It’s not taking for granted what is being presented to us, because so many of us have been so exposed to books being told a certain way that it takes practice to see where the issue is, or if there is an issue.
But it’s that same Dr. Angelou thing that “do the best you can until you know better”. And I think it’s fair to say in this project that there were a lot of kids that were knowing better through this work, through asking critical questions.
And in that way, it also informed the teacher’s practice. So, Sylvie, I’m going to pass to you for what you were working on.
Sylvie Shaffer: Yeah, so just this past February – Capitol Hill Day School sets aside a few days in February to do some hands-on workshop work. And they’re really gracious in giving us really a lot of different choices.
The kids cycle through these workshops in 45-minute sessions. So this is something that you could do with a library class in one class period. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, and it wasn’t. So when the students came into the library, I had this silent reflection up for them just to get them starting to think.
I asked them if they saw characters that looked like themselves in TV shows or movies that they like. And I may it specific about skin color, hair, shape of their eyes, just to sort of get them used to doing this work of thinking about do they actually see themselves.
So then we had them talk about that for a minute, and then if you – perfect. So we made this workbook to help them capture all of the data, and had them just kind of keep working. And in the next slide you’ll see what that workbook looked like.
So here are some images of this workbook that they used. You can see, again, that diversity gap in children’s books chart that we looked at earlier. And we also talked a little bit about Ezra Jack Keats, and the importance of The Snowy Day, and how prior to The Snowy Day there were not positive images or really any images, or very many images I should say, of Black children just being themselves enjoying the world.
And so we talked about the importance of The Snowy Day, and then we gave them some of this baseline info that dinosaur, American Indian child that I spoke about earlier, and then just had them talk about it.
And by this point, they were ready to do the work. So we had them practice a little bit. So I worked with a co-teacher on this. Our amazing art teacher Catherine and I actually modeled how students would work.
One person would be the tally marker, and one person would be the book flipper. And I think that’s on our next slide. And then they would use a simple tally mark, looking at the picture books that they were going to take off the shelves one at a time.
And if it was an animal or non-human, they were going to make a mark in that column. If it was a White human, they were going to make a mark in that one. And if it was a non-White human – and we even decided to go generous that if it was a picture book that had both one of these other categories and a person of color on the front that they could give that tally mark to non-White human.
And so the kids were like, “Oh, okay. That’ll change it.” But no, not really. [Inaudible due to muffled speaking] Right, spoiler alert.
Matthew Winner: Spoiler alert. And this –
Sylvie Shaffer: [Crosstalk]
So the kids got to it. We had them do our “everybody” area. You can see there; that’s my library. And we worked just in the picture book area, which we call our everybody books. And you can see a couple of our kids working hard there.
And then we all got back together around the tables. And we had them call out their numbers for animal or non-human, White human, non-White human. And then we did a little bit of math, and as a community shared out what we found.
And kids were really shocked. Even after looking at all of the data that we did to prepare them, looking at the Lee & Low charts, talking about it; actually seeing the numbers there was really powerful.
And then we spent some time in library classes after we did this exercise with fourth graders. On the next slide you’ll see – ooh, this is really hard to see. So I’ll tell you what it is. Our fourth graders – a lot of the work that we do in the library is getting them to be really proficient using our library catalog.
So we use Destiny. And so I had them take it a step further from looking at the physical books, and we started playing with subject headings. We started doing searches in our catalog – you can see at the bottom maybe the different holidays.
So I had them search for Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, and trying to look at what different search terms how many results would turn back. So it was a really telling experience. I like this question, and this was a really good conversation starter with our fourth graders.
I had them look up a number of different White individuals who are in our biography collection, and asked them, “Did it say that they were White?” “No.” And then I had them look up examples of people of color.
And it would say like, “Black American,” right. And so it was just really interesting to have them come to conclusions, make connections themselves. So I think for me, that was the really big takeaway was that I wasn’t feeding them any answers, or I wasn’t telling them what conclusions to come to.
But they got there, because it’s hard not to.
Matthew Winner: Yeah, what does it mean to be part of a group that doesn’t need to be meta tagged?
Sylvie Shaffer: Right. So that was really interesting for them.
Matthew Winner: I took some similar work, having done work on auditing my podcast, I turned next to the Scholastic Book flyer. Now I should tell you, for those that haven’t seen it yet, that Scholastic has partnered with We Need Diverse Books for four years now, four years in a row, to offer a We Need Diverse Books flyer, a separate flyer that is actually by request only.
So if you haven’t seen it in your library, you actually do need to call your Scholastic representative to request it. They don’t just send this out the way – unfortunately, they don’t send it out the way; they send out Firefly or SeeSaw, or something like that.
We were looking at the We Need Diverse Books flyer up against Firefly, Arrow, the typical ones. And in particular, the timing that worked out was that my fourth and fifth grade students, we actually looked at the flyer that came in for our Scholastic Book Fair, because this would give us a really good chance to compare how Scholastic markets books.
Because their Scholastic Book Fair flyer is representative of their fair, right. That makes sense. It’s a portion of their fair. It’s the books they guarantee will be there. So I took screenshots of what the fair flyer looked like on the outside, on the inside.
And my students, we came up with this rubric together, based on the Lee & Low Blog article, where they worked in groups to analyze different sections of the four-page catalog, the front cover, inside, left, and back, all that.
They counted the total number of books on the page, and then the total number of books with people on the cover, and then the number of books with only White people on the cover, and with boys on the cover or only boys on the cover.
So you’ll also see that it says percentage. We actually – it was a fun math moment, Sylvie. I got to teach them how to format on a Google spreadsheet, how to format a spreadsheet to make it automatically give you the percentage. Very fun.
So my children, fourth and fifth graders, were hard at work. And we’ve done this two years in a row now, analyzing the fair flyer itself. What is Scholastic putting in front of children and marketing to children to try to get their interest in books?
And it turns out that it is roughly, as you can see represented across the four different pages, roughly 50 percent of the books have only White people on the cover, a little bit below that. And roughly 30 percent of the books have only boys on the cover.
So again, just asking children, “What do you see, and what do you think it means?” Children come up with a bunch of different, interesting pieces of feedback. Actually, one of the most interesting things, Sylvie, that I don’t even think I told you was that when I first did this activity – now mind you, I’ve only been at this school for two years now. I’ve been in the county for 14, but at this particular school for two.
And my students had a really hard time with me calling myself White, with using the term White and self-identifying as White. Many struggled with that. They said that they thought it was a racist term for me to call myself White, or call someone else White.
So there was time for us to reflect and talk about that and unpack that. And a lot of the reflection came from, well, this is how people have used labels in ways toward my students that have really affected them.
And so they think that’s another label that is potentially doing harm, as opposed to just serving to identify. So, interesting to go through that with my children. I went next, then, to having the Scholastic Book Fair arrive.
And rather than counting every single book on the shelf, I turned to my Scholastic Book Fair rep and said, “Okay, you know that I value diverse books. And I see you brought this We Need Diverse Books flyer. Could you go through the restocked list of every book in my collection and just identify – this is the person identified “cultural diverse titles”.
You could see the e-mail that just said, “Hey, Matthew, here’s a list of some culturally diverse book locations from your fair, as we discussed. I have listed them by case.” So it’s nothing that goes on tables, just the cases.
“I hope you are able to get a flyer from Luke.” Yes, I did, blah, blah, blah. Okay. So of the entire book fair, hundreds of books, 27 of them were labeled by the Scholastic rep as culturally diverse titles, 27. Where were the other diverse books?
They were in boxes that came to my school labeled “friends and neighbors”, which last year or two years ago were labeled “African American interests”. For lack of better words, they were segregated.
And these are books that you can request for them to come to our school. And some discussion that I’ve held over the Future Ready Facebook group, just to ask, “Have you seen these boxes, and when and how do you receive them?”
It sounds to me, but I haven’t been able to confirm this directly with Scholastic – I’ve talked a little bit with my rep – but it sounds to me like these books are offered to schools that are Title I schools that have a high African American or Hispanic population.
So these are books that are boxes, sets of books that are earmarked to match the population. They, it sounds like, in schools that are more homogenously White – again, just taking the informal research of me just posting on a Facebook group and asking questions – there were many librarians that said, “Well, I’m in a school that ‘s predominantly White, and I’ve never seen these boxes.”
And some said, “I don’t think I need to see these boxes because my school’s predominantly White.” And so –
Sylvie Shaffer: How many wizards do you have (a) –
Matthew Winner: Right.
Sylvie Shaffer: – and (b), I mean [inaudible due to background noise] need to gather there, which is a Newbery Honor Book –
Matthew Winner: Right.
Sylvie Shaffer: – and Coretta Scott King winner. And it’s like, “Why would you” – to use the word you did – “Why would you segregate that book?”
Matthew Winner: Well, and to the other librarians’ defense too, Sylvie, I have to be honest and say there were definitely people on that list, or on that e-mail whatever you call it, the Facebook page that said, “I’m at a school that’s mostly White, but my kids need to read these books. Why aren’t they sending them?”
So it’s the “know better, do better” thing. If you didn’t know that this was a practice going on, you need to be aware so that you can advocate for your children, for those students. If you didn’t know to ask for these books, hopefully, now you know.
These are not questions that were, I don’t know, illegal for me to ask, or running risk of me being kicked off the book fair circuit or something. These are questions that I was asking, because I’m going to sell your books. I am making you money, so I want to make sure that these books are books that I can stand behind.
Sylvie, have you had – before I talk about this next thing – have you had book fairs at your school yet?
Sylvie Shaffer: We partner with a local independent school at Capitol Hill Day School.
Matthew Winner: And in doing that – that’s sort of I think why I was bringing it up. In doing that, you’re able to – you have a little bit more autonomy, don’t you, with what is represented in your fair?
Sylvie Shaffer: Yep.
Matthew Winner: Yeah. Okay. So moving quickly through this, every year in my county, the media supervisor curates a list of all of the best of the year publications from School Library Journal, from Horn Book, from Booklist, from LMC, from all of the library periodicals that make a list of “best of the year”.
This is the order that I was evaluating this year, because 2018, this year wasn’t ended yet. It ended in December; 2018 ended. So we didn’t have a best of the year list at the beginning of this year. Anyway, so the 2017 best of the year list was comprised of 371 titles.
If your county does something like this, or if you purchase, based on those best of the year lists, keep in mind this is just last year. This is not your 2018 that happened this school year. It was just the year before.
Of those 371 titles, can you guess what I’m going to say about the red ones?
Sylvie Shaffer: Unfortunately, yes.
Matthew Winner: Nine percent of those titles on that best of the year elementary list, keep in mind, were written by a person of color, nine percent out of 371 books. Again, I’m just giving you data. You can make with this data what it means to you, but that to me tells me that even in publication, I need to be careful of relying only on one source to tell me what books are outstanding.
Because in this case, that source or those sources were not very representative of that push for needing diverse books. But again, I didn’t know this before. I know it now. And now that I know better, it’s on me to do better.
Sylvie, let’s get into talking about where else – you did that great diversity audit. But I assume it’s not just for your everybody section. I’ve sort of brainstormed some other places to see it. But what implications do you see for the library at large?
Sylvie Shaffer: Well, so every time a teacher comes to the library and they say, “Do you have some books that would be great for a literature circle? Or do you have any books that would really get at this theme or that theme,” then I sort of check myself to say, “What do I have, and in choosing that what books am I – how am I leveraging my power as a gatekeeper to get some books into the limelight, awesome books that a teacher might or might not know about?”
So for all of these things that you’re listing here, for reading lists, I’m working on summer reading right now. I’m sure a lot of the librarians watching this webinar right now are deep in the throes of summer reading lists.
So I’m thinking about it as I’m putting together summer reading lists. When a parent asks me, “Hey, I’d love to get some books for my kid for his birthday, or for her birthday. What are they enjoying? Do you have any ideas?”
When I’m looking at – I like to book talk stacks and stacks of books at a time. So I’ll build a book stack of 10 or 12 books to book talk at the top of our library class, or to go into a classroom and do a bunch of book talks.
When I’m looking at my displays, when I’m putting together – when I’m thinking about what authors we’re going to have, either via Skype or who we’re going to invite to the school, there’s just so many opportunities throughout the course of every school day to hand somebody a diverse book.
Matthew Winner: I like the way you said that. That it’s the opportunity, because as you start doing this work, you just see other opportunities. And for me, that’s what always fuels my work in the library is that feeling of, “Ooh, here’s a chance for me to do something else,” or, “Here’s another way I can apply this new knowledge to something else.”
And so this is, I think, a really natural thing. I actually look forward to other things that the people listening come up with that our colleagues throughout the country come up with. Because I’m sure that there are a ton of other places to go.
But as we wrap up here, we want to make sure that what you’re doing also is reading from a number of sources that are going to introduce you to books, or to people that make books that you may not come across by just reading SLJ or by just “reading”, right, by reading one thing.
You want to read widely. Here are some websites that I personally read regularly that help inform not only who I book on the podcast and what books I like to promote, but also what books I’m bringing to my classrooms and my library.
I read from The Brown Bookshelf, Latinx in Publishing, Disability in Kidlit is a wonderful website to look at. And American Indians in Children’s Literature, if you have not visited this website yet, it’s run by Dr. Debbie Reese.
And she just did the – go ahead.
Sylvie Shaffer: The Arbuthnot Lecture.
Matthew Winner: The Arbuthnot Lecture that’s posted on the ALA website, in which case she talks about her experience as an American Indian individual going through this world and recognizing whiteness being prominent throughout.
There’s also a great – We Need Diverse Books has a great website, but their Tumblr is killer with other resources and other blogs. That’s how I’ve got turned on to a lot of different things to read. And then, Sylvie, you were talking about how you got to meet Preeti.
Sylvie Shaffer: She is one of my favorite people on the internet, but she herself is just a terrific resource. And if you don’t follow her on Twitter, you should just for the puppy pictures.
Matthew Winner: She also has a podcast that she does with her friend that I can’t think of the name of it right now. But she’s talking about Avengers movies and nerd culture stuff through her lens, and I love that. It’s just awesome.
Because listening to anyone who has a different perspective on nerding out over Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings and how, “I really love these things, but they are really White and I don’t see myself in them at all. It’s just something that I have not experienced before.” It’s great to hear.
She also, though, runs this digital list for marginalized voices that is hyperlinked through this. But it’s authors writing on her Google doc the books that they have coming out, the target age level, what marginalized community is represented.
Can you scroll? Or if it’s not too blurry, let me just read down for you. What marginalized community is represented. The main character is asexual. This other book has an African American girl character.
A Black lower income economic status. Black queer Caribbean, Jewish, Afro-Dominican. There’s just like – these are authors saying, “Here is the community I’m writing for.” And often it’s, “This is my community. I’m writing a story about me.”
If you look down the author’s names, those are names that can and should become household names in your library. They can and should become names that come to your mind when someone’s asking for a book recommendation.
Sylvie Shaffer: Well, and that’s – I love – if you go back just one – I love, also, this gets at what I was saying a minute ago about the genre of the book. So when somebody says, “Oh, well, I’m really looking for a mystery.”
And if your mind goes blank in that moment, this is a great thing to come back to because sometimes you, just having so many different onramps onto this list is really helpful.
Matthew Winner: I love being able to sort, also, through graphic novels, as a person that reads graphic novels widely but is always seeking that kind of representation in comics, I just find it very, very helpful.
Sylvie Shaffer: Absolutely. I love [inaudible due to background noise].
Matthew Winner: So the other way – I mean, we’re talking about all these ways to take care of yourself, right. A great way to take care of yourself is to be on Twitter, is to be on that Future Ready group, is to be in the Facebook group, to join something like Project LIT Book Club, which is a group whose goal is to increase access to culturally relevant books and improve students’ reading attitude.
Another place to look is the Kids Need Books, Kids Need Mentors partnership that Jarrett Lerner and Kathie MacIsaac of the Middle Grade Book Village run. There’s all of these great groups that exist. You just need to look for them, or get onto Twitter and ask people about them.
Ask those diversity jedis; ask those champions for inclusion. Just ask people where they like to hang out, who are they learning from. Those communities are there. You don’t need to feel like you’re alone in this.
There is a rich, vibrant community of people to learn from and people that can help show the way and help point you to those books that you will love and that your library needs. That was a bit impassionate, no?
Sylvie, we’re at our last slide.
Sylvie Shaffer: We’re at our last slide.
Matthew Winner: Do you have other things – what other wisdom can you impart with folks before we go?
Sylvie Shaffer: That whatever little step you can take towards making your library a more inclusive place, take it. It can feel overwhelming to see all of the things that librarians are doing all over the country for this work.
And you might look at your collection, or you might look at your practice and just say, “Oh, man, I don’t even know where to start.” And that’s okay. Just start and ask for help, and know that you’re going to get it wrong.
I know I get it wrong all the time, but I’m trying. And I think when somebody says, “Hey, that felt yucky,” then apologize and thank that person for pointing out to you. And Dr. Angelou said it, “Do the best you can until you know better. And then when you know better, do better.”
But it’s not once and done. It’s not like, “Oh, I did better, and we’re done.” It’s like, “No, you keep doing it.”
Matthew Winner: Something profound for me was that just this year in 2018, I read my first picture book where I saw my queerness reflected to me. it was the first time that I realized I was really awoken to the power of a mirror for a child, and that was profound for me.
So I think I would encourage other people to – diversity covers such a wide range of experiences and backgrounds and everything. So I wonder what thing in you do you feel like not many people understand, or that makes you different from other people?
And try to find a book that mirrors that experience for you, and reflect on what did that mean for you. And then let that feeling on your heart take root to help you continue to do better for everyone in our library, and to help show us the way too.
Certainly, I’ll be watching the Twitterverse for everyone leading the way. All the rising tide raises all boats, right.
Shannon McClintock: Absolutely. Well, thank you guys so much for being part of this today. I learned so much, and you’re my inspiration for all of this. And I know that other people will love it too as we kind of go into the summer for some special things that we have coming up for Future Ready librarians and all the things that we’re doing thinking about summer reading, and just going into the fall.
This will be one that I, for sure, listen to again. And so I really appreciate your wisdom and your ideas, and all your resources that you –
Sylvie Shaffer: Thanks for having us, Shannon. We appreciate being asked.
Shannon McClintock: Absolutely, great. So I just want to share in just a couple minutes just a few resources that are really helpful. We have a Padlet that we started probably about nine months ago at one of the institutes that we have in Chicago.
And this is really great, because just – we’re talking about literacy for the next couple webinars and just ideas that people have. and so you can check out the link here, and even add your ideas too. Another thing that I wanted to point out was just our page that you can go to, to find out more and find more resources for Future Ready librarians.
On the next slide, you’ll also see that we have this great place to go for lots of the different case studies that we have done. And so if you can just forward that. These are case studies that are really great, because _____ put them together and I learned so much by either reading or listening to some of the videos.
And so you can check those out too, and find some that are also coming up focused around the topics that we’re talking about. Then we have the Symbaloo that holds a lot of the different resources.
And so on the next slide you’ll see some of the things that we’ve put together. If it’s a collection that you’re looking for, if it’s a Symbaloo you’re looking for, if it’s a Padlet, you’ll be able to find these things on the Symbaloo.
And so on the next few slides you’ll just kind of see these resources. And I like to put them in here because the links then are straight to these. This is kind of nice because then you can find things that go in – not just to support us in literacy, in that circle that we have around in the center, but also each wedge that you’re looking for.
And so I know for me, coming off of being back at the library this year, and thinking about all the things we do as Future Ready librarians, these resources are really handy. Don’t forget, too, to join the Future Ready librarian page.
We now have I think over 21,000 people on here, which is crazy. And it’s good, though. Make sure that you use that little “search the group” on the left-hand side to look for things that you’re looking for. And you can also save things that you find.
This is one of the greatest places where I find ideas, and just keep them tagged and saved. And so I curate things on here so I can go back to them, too. Also, if you are a user of Instagram, which I love looking at Instagram because I love all the things that people are sharing and just so many ideas that we’re doing in our library.
And even as we do things if we’re presenting or doing webinars like this, sharing just professional also information that #FutureReadyLibs, you can now follow a hashtag on Instagram. And so that’s really handy, because we can see a lot of things people are doing too.
I also wanted to mention, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter. And I love using, too, the one that we’ve used forever #tlchat. It’s a great conversation going on. I also wanted to mention that the posters that we have, and you can get these right on the page on the Future Ready site.
This is one of the best things that I have done this year, just to get that conversation going about being a Future Ready librarian because when people see these in your library and they see them hanging up in your principal’s office or your [break in audio] office, wherever it might be, just to start that conversation.
Because we’re all in this together, and they can take their framework and we can have these common conversations on how we could all be better within a school. Now we have a big surprise coming at the end of the month, and this is a surprise that is coming for an event that is before ISTE.
And so if you were there last summer at the ISTE event that we had with _____ and with the Alliance right before ISTE, there is a really big surprise coming at the end of the month that everybody will be able to find out what is coming.
And I’m so excited. I can’t wait for June, and I hope that I see a lot of you there too. And so look for this. We’ll be sharing it on Twitter and sharing it on social media, and also on our Facebook page. And you will get some e-mail notices, as well.
So we thank you so much for joining us today. I really want to thank, too, just everybody that makes it possible, _____ and the Alliance, and the support that we have too from all our partners around the country.
Sylvie is one of them, and it’s so great because just thinking about all these things that I think that we do in our libraries everyday and getting the support and knowing that we’re all part of this together. And so I thank everybody just for being in your libraries doing great things, and also just following I think and being the best that we can be on things like this, too.
And so again, I thank you, Sylvie and Matthew, for joining me. And during this, if you have any questions afterwards too, please find them on Twitter and use this hashtag too because we’re happy to always help you.
So I will see you again in a few months and have a great April and May. So have a good end of your school year, everybody.
Matthew Winner: Bye.
Sylvie Shaffer: Bye.
[End of Audio]
Welcome to the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Action Academy, an online learning community of education advocates. We invite you to create an account, expand your knowledge on the most pressing issues in education, and communicate with others who share your interests in education reform.
or register for Action Academy below: