The school library calendar is filled with events that are focused on both the library and literature: Banned Books Week, Banned Websites Awareness Day, Digital Learning Day, Read Across America, and School Library Month, to name a few. National organizations set the date these initiatives are to be held and library programs provide displays or sponsor programs to support the goals of these events. These efforts clearly fit into our responsibilities as program administrators who ensure that “all members of the learning community have access to resources that meet a variety of needs and interests” (AASL 2009, 18).
Getting beyond Months and Days
What may not be quite as clear is the school librarian and library program’s role in relationship to heroes, holidays, and special events that are not specific to the library. For example, “multicultural months,” such as African-American History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, and Women’s History Month, are celebrated according to the calendar in many schools and communities around the country. Spotlighting religious holidays may also cause challenges for school libraries. Some librarians may even wonder about the wisdom of the library being known for other special events such as “Poetry Month” or “National History Day.” Should these genres in our collection receive little attention except during their month or on a particular day?
The American Library Association’s “Library Bill of Rights” is clear about our charge to “provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues” (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill). While heroes, holidays, and special events have a place in the academic program of the school, how can we help ensure that “diversity” is not simply something our school is checking off its list? What are some alternatives to these practices and how can school librarians take a leadership role in guiding our schools toward an integrated model rather than an additive model for diversity?
While cultural months help fulfill a need to recognize the contributions of marginalized or underrepresented groups, these perspectives should be integrated in all content areas, including history, science, literature, and the arts. AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner include this indicator: “3.3.1. Solicit and respect diverse perspectives while searching for information, collaborating with others, and participating as a member of the community” (AASL 2007). When we integrate the contributions of people from all cultural, racial, socio-economic, and gender groups, we are creating the opportunity for learners to examine diverse perspectives as they conduct inquiries through the library program. We may also provide a context in which students can make decisions on important social issues and take action as well.
Rather than displaying biographies of African American or Hispanic Americans during their “months,” we can integrate the voices of these members of U.S. society into study in any content area. For example, in some schools students have traditionally researched an African American person during the month of February. Instead, what if students conducted inquiry projects that included learning about scientists from all racial and cultural groups, including female scientists? What if the library displayed biographies of these scientists or resources related to their discoveries along with students’ end-of-the-unit learning products rather than limiting the display of African American heroes, including scientists, to February only?
Holidays and Special Events
What is the library program’s stance related to religious holidays? For example, children and youth who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish, or Muslim may not feel comfortable in a classroom or library decorated for the Christmas holiday. Some teachers may send students to the library when classroom celebrations are being held. Some parents may keep their children home from school if these holidays are being “celebrated” rather than being taught as part of the curriculum. If we embrace a philosophy that includes the belief that the library is for everyone, then we must model a respectful learning environment for all the voices in the school.
What if every “special event” held in the library was designed to meet specific learning outcomes and was collaboratively planned with classroom teachers? Poetry can help students make meaning in all content areas. History can be important every day throughout the school year. If these events were integrated, it could be that they would no longer be viewed as “nice-to-have” add-ons but rather as integral to helping students achieve academic goals. And with a collaborative process, our participation could help us achieve a fully integrated library program.
A Leadership Opportunity
By framing the library program around heroes, holidays, and non-curricular special events, we cannot achieve our goal of integrating diverse resources and perspectives into the curriculum. This model does not help students reach a deep understanding of the diverse perspectives of different voices in the U.S. and on the global stage. “Citizens who have an understanding of and empathy for cultures within their own nation are probably more likely to function effectively in cultures outside of their nation than are citizens who have little understanding of and empathy for cultures within our own society” (Banks 2002, 23).
When we apply our skill sets as program administrators, teachers, and information specialists to our role as instructional partners, we can ensure that children and youth experience the benefits of a multicultural education in every content area throughout the school year. As we guide the taught curriculum through library resources and coplanning and coteaching, we can transform the curriculum and help students think critically. We can lead our school beyond the superficial features of cultures, beyond genres or topics taught in isolation, and beyond special events to deeply explore diverse world views, integrate genres in every content area, and collaborate to make every library event an essential part of the academic program. We can be leaders in creating an inclusive environment in the physical space of the library and in our school’s curriculum as well.
Judi Moreillon, PhD, is associate professor of library science at Texas Woman’s University, Denton. Moreillon received her doctorate from the University of Arizona, Tucson, and has been a school librarian at all instructional levels. She is the author, most recently, of Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (ALA 2013). Judi tweets @CactusWoman and coblogs at http://buildingacultureofcollaboration.edublogs.org. Her personal website is at storytrail.com.