I am an elementary school librarian in an urban setting in Massachusetts. Through the work of creating a more representative and inclusive library collection for my students, I learned a lot about the politics of the publishing industry, the accepted institutional racism and purposeful exclusion of communities in books and that we should be outraged at the continued disenfranchisement of our children.
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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Students Help Build A Reflective Library

I work hard on being a reflective librarian however, checking and balancing one's own decisions and collection development is not optimal, as oneself can be very subjective. Certainly, the teachers in my building and their curricula needs offer a clear road to developing certain Dewey sections- Revolutionary Massachusetts, rocks and minerals, liquids and viscosity, narrative and expository nonfiction. But, I don't just serve myself and my teachers, I serve my students- hence the blog.

With the scaffolding of an amazing professor and friend, as well as a parent of a student at my school, I have begun interviewing small groups of 4th grade boys of color about what a "reflective library" means to them. We talked about the definition of "reflective" and "reflection". They spoke to how reflection can be an inward study of ones choices and a study in introspection, or maybe a reflection of things we like, and even a physical image of oneself, like in a mirror.

I told my first group of boys, that it is really important to me, as their librarian, that I have a library that reflects them. One of the first students I met with said a library that reflects him would have adventure books, and books with curious children. Yes! What else? Books about disasters, like the Titanic. So far so good. We talked about our interests and books that reflected our interests and personalities.

Making sure that they knew their ideas were heard and validated, I then steered the conversation to the physical aspect of the reflective definition. I asked them about books that have characters of color on their covers. They told me this is not something they thought about too much. I probed a little further, inquiring what they thought an author's message may be having a character of color on a book cover, and this is the response that floored me,
"The author wants me to learn about my ancestors and history."

This hits the nail on the head. This child has completely internalized the message that constantly bombards our readers of color, the stories worth writing and publishing are told in the historical context of the Civil War, Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. While these are important historical and social movements that should be celebrated, it should NOT be the only context for readers of color to find themselves. The other child in the group simply stated that, "Maybe the publishers don't have enough money for color ink."

How can we allow these detrimental and prejudicial practices to continue? I do not want my students sitting passively, accepting the deleterious practices of publishing and media. We are ready for action. We need support, we need to have discourse and we need your help too. Join us!

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