School librarians can lead through modeling and collaborating with teachers to guide instructional design and offer expertise on the integration of resources to create engaging and relevant learning experiences for students. As instructional leaders, librarians can provide opportunities to introduce and recommend culturally diverse literature that connects to students and connects students to the world.
The first step is collection development, which is a core function and the public face of the library. Collections can leave a lasting negative impression or serve as a positive draw that lures readers back again and again. Whether you inherit a collection or build it yourself, the shelves need to be revisited regularly. Collection development is a no-bias, diversity-driven process. Exemplary collections are linked to instruction and curriculum and serve as a motivation for independent reading and individual inquiry.
Personal politics, opinions, judgment, one’s own religious beliefs, and personal world views need to be set aside. Collections should present multiple perspectives and demonstrate inclusivity of ideas. Librarians need to weed and read their way to collection development.
Working from their mission statements, selection policies, needs assessments, and curriculum, school librarians need to ensure the collection truly meets the needs of the community it serves, reflecting the diversity of today’s student bodies. The collection the library offers must reflect the school curriculum and the diversity of its users. It is the responsibility of the librarian to select a collection of resources that considers the unique needs of all students and represents the diverse cultures that are a part of the school.
Additionally, school libraries must be sensitive to current issues surrounding immigration, refugees, poverty, race, gender, sexual identity, and historically disadvantaged groups. Students should be provided a safe environment to explore these topics, and the library can provide that sense of safeness that comes from mutual respect, openness, acceptance, and tolerance provided by the collection of resources and a space in which to explore new ideas, knowledge, and learning partnerships (Bush 2007).
Providing resources is just the beginning. As instructional partners, librarians can work with teachers to plan instruction that includes multiple perspectives and integrates resources that provide a chance for students to experience and learn about cultures different from their own. Librarians can provide professional learning opportunities on diversity and help classroom teachers develop units that are inclusive of a literature that presents a wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities.
There are many resources available to help librarians in these efforts. One example is the ALA’s Office of Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS), which works towards creating safe, responsible, and all-inclusive spaces that serve and represent the entire community. The ODLOS provides resources, grants, and initiatives that support literacy, as well as partnerships promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion. For additional information, visit http://www.ala.org/offices/diversity.
Another resource to consider are the AASL Inspire Collection Development Grants that provide financial assistance to existing public middle and high school libraries to extend, update, and diversify collections to realize sustainable improvements in student achievement. This grant extends beyond just print material and is inclusive of online, subscription, and/or software collections. Information is available at http://www.ala.org/aasl/awards/inspire/collection.
School librarians can serve as leaders through developing a collection that reflects and meets the needs of the students’ community, and also provides opportunities to gain a broader perspective of the diverse world around them. In today’s global society where issues of race, ethnicity, gender identity, and culture are often discussed around the dinner table, librarians have a professional responsibility to provide resources that support, educate, and foster positive conversations that are inclusive of all.
Bush, Gail. “Safe Haven: Libraries as Safe Havens for Teens.” In Toward a 21st Century School Library Media Program, edited by Esther Rosenfeld and David V. Loertscher. Scarecrow Press, 2007.