We See You #aislsi2019

What a great pleasure it was to attend my first summer institute, put together by the phenomemal team at John Burroughs School in fabulous St Louis!

Our two days together were founded on the importance of acknowledging who we are so that we can participate in conversations about who others are. Having a diverse library collection allows for a wide variety of representation reflecting a range of human identifiers – reflecting diversity of content not equality of numbers.

So much important content was covered, I can’t do it justice here, so I simply offer some nuggets from the valuable presentations, engaging activities, phenomenal panels and all the wonderful ensuing conversations. (Thanks and credits below)

Deep Dive into diversity in the library

Defining diversity

I appreciated learning about “The Big 8” identifiers (most common but not exclusive and can be adapted as relevant), which offer such a useful framework:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Mental & physical ability
  • Socioeconomic status 
  • Race (skin colour)
  • Ethnicity (cultural/geographic background)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion

There was good discussion around the importance of recognizing which identifiers are more visible than others, and how that visibility affects our decision-making.

Representation matters

“That teenage feeling of being social awkward, the strangeness of finding love for the first time, the importance of discovering lifelong passions, and being supported by loving famiies – none of these things are exclusive to white, straight cis people and so should not be relegated to white, straight, cis characters.” – Sadie Trombetta Bustle Jan 31/18

Cue mike drop.

Booth’s work on mirrors, windows, and doors is more relevant than ever. What are my readers looking for? What will they find in our collection, and what won’t they find? 

Student Voices

One of the most amazing parts of #aislsi2019 was a panel of 12 teen readers who spoke with us about why they value representation in our collections. They were honest, articulate, and appreciative of how their librarians support them, as well as being well-read in such a wonderful variety of genres. Everyone listening left with some serious insights and solid recommendations.

It was interesting to hear that their defaults for finding good books are Google searches and asking their librarians for suggestions; they really reinforced my goal to better train my students on meaningful use of our catalogue (and how it differs from our databases). It was also great to hear how much these students appreciated curated lists for different types of representation.

Diversity Audits

I truly appreciated the time to wrestle with the logistics of preparing and performing a diversity audit. It is critical to set a goal that is uniquely relevant to our library, and achievable (it was immediately clear that there are many rabbit holes to be avoided if I want to complete an audit in the foreseeable future). Don’t be afraid to set narrow parameters to keep the audit manageable, and carefully consider the timing of the audit in your school year.

A variety of models were offered:

  • using a print checklist vs using a Google form to populate Google sheets or your own version of one or the other
  • auditing print books by hand vs auditing online (looking at a catalogue records) vs doing an audit of recent book orders

I’m excited by how local and creative I can make this process – loved the suggestion about doing an audit of a book display. I also appreciated the encouragement to start with the end in mind; think about how you’ll want to manipulate your data so that you get the data you want in a format you can use.

Diversity Audit IRL

On Day 2, we had a good chunk of time to test an audit out. We reviewed a great variety of possible goals, and with encouragement to choose a couple specific to us, we set out to independently audit a small group of books (from an available selection of print, or accessing our own through our catalogues).

I chose to audit the first 20 audiobooks in my library’s Overdrive fiction collection. Keeping in mind that this is a VERY subjective process, I chose a very small sample size, and this is my very first time doing this, I share the results in the spirit of collegiality (with a red face and gigantic face palm):

50% feature white male protagonists
30% feature white female protagonists
15% feature female protagonists of colour
15% feature indigenous protagonists
15% feature protagonists with a disability
75% written by white authors (male/female equally represented)
10% written by authors of colour
10% written by indigenous authors
40% offer own voice

I have some work to do, people.

Everyone present was very encouraging, reminding each other to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Engaging in this process will be of benefit to those we serve through our libraries, however imperfect our first kick at the can may be. I truly appreciated doing this in such a judgement-free zone (although found it hard to silence my inner critic).

Thank you to hosts, organizers and presenters Linda Mercer, Jennifer Gosnell, Jennifer Jones, Jennifer Kinney, Jennifer Millikan, Marybeth Huff, Kate Grantham and everyone else who made this happen – it was truly meaningful time together. John Burroughs is a beautiful school and St Louis is an amazing city! #gocardinals

PS: I highly recommend attending SI in the future – it was lovely having post-school time to delve into some amazing PD without being distracted by what was happening back at school 🙂

Following Through on Book Clubs, and, Windows & Mirrors

Over the last few years, avid and ambitious readers among the students and staff have pitched their book club desires to me. Naturally I’m game, but as our clubs and organizations already are challenged by finding time to meet I admit I’ve been pessimistic about book club success. A handful of times such an effort would result in one meeting and then fizzle out. This year I’m giving it another go, inspired by two things. First is our newly formed Global Diversity Council, comprising students and faculty members and tasked with ensuring “effective diversity engagement, inclusive excellent practices, a multicultural environment and curriculum, equitable activities, and social justice actions.”

The second was a recent well-timed article from Teaching Tolerance, in which Chelsea Tornetto writes:

“A story is often the most effective way to create personal connections between very different people. Reading a novel allows us to see the world through someone else’s eyes, remove the context we are used to and replace it with something new. We are more prepared to accept things beyond our own experiences because we know we are reading a ‘story,’ and yet we also actively search for similarities between our own lives and the lives of the characters. A novel can begin to open students’ minds and shape their hearts, without doing battle against their sense of self.”

While this is something we all know already, evoking Rudine Sims Bishop’s often referenced “windows, sliding doors, and mirrors” metaphor, I read it at the right time. This past summer our faculty and staff read Global Dexterity by Andy Molinsky, and the last line of this quotation points beautifully to the concept of this title; that we can find and should seek ways to effectively engage, identify with, and relate to people who are culturally different from ourselves without compromising our own identities and values. Reading about a fictional yet realistic character’s experiences is a safe way to practice this, which our school community wants and needs to do.

This article reminded me how simple yet powerful a program this could be, and with the right book, the right group to participate in and promote it, and enough (widely publicized) pizza, it could be a success.

This feels a little hard to say, but one of the stumbling blocks our book clubs have faced in the past is perhaps too much student ownership. I think my belief in wanting to give students voice and choice in this type of activity may have deprived them of a valuable experience. Of course I would like student voices heard and student ownership of our selections and discussions, but well-intentioned as our students may be, they, like all of us, just don’t always have time to do “extra” things like prepare, make posters, and successfully book talk an extracurricular novel. Reminder to self – reading promotion, awareness of current publications, and facilitating discussions about literature are my job. Those things aren’t “extra” for me. So maybe, for the students to have a great experience, a little adult (read: librarian) ownership is not such a bad thing.

I went to a GDC meeting last week and shared this idea. Rather than asking for book suggestions from the students, I said “The first book will be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and first meeting will be during lunch on December 13 in the library with pizza. I hope that if we decide to continue the book club that you folks will have some suggestions.” An interested buzz made its way around the room, so that’s good enough to forge ahead.

Then I sent this poster to Upper School students, faculty, and staff:
Window and Mirrors Book Club

With interest and partnership from the GDC, I think this will go very well. Our library collection holds copies of this particular title in three formats, and the GDC was able to purchase a few copies for students, faculty, and staff to bring home over Thanksgiving break. The books came in yesterday and three copies had already been claimed by 8:30 this morning. I’ll spring for the pizza.

I would love to hear about others’ Windows and Mirrors Book Club successes, stumbles, and book choices. My hypothesis is that we will need to choose very current titles representing diverse identities and experiences, personally invite some folks who might not be paying attention to emails and announcements, and make sure everyone knows about the food.