Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

The 3Ps of Creating a Welcoming Library

We live in a time where we are witnessing a dramatic increase in the number of racist, misogynist, religious and homophobic attacks on Americans, especially in public spaces. Yes, these things have always existed, but current research indicate that there is an increase in incidents and we should pay attention to this. As a public space, it is imperative that libraries examine best practices to make sure that we are creating a welcoming environment for all community members and that we are protecting the safety of our patrons. To do this, I suggest that we think about the 3 Ps in which we regularly engage to make sure that public libraries fulfill their mission.

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The First P: Policies

Policies are those rules we put into place to help both patrons and staff understand what is expected on both sides to help create fair and equitable access to public library collections and services. Because of their role in service, it behooves us all to examine how our policies do or do not help us achieve the goal of being welcoming to all and creating a safe and inviting environment for the public, including the most marginalized members of our communities. Our policies are the foundation of creating a welcoming environment.

Acceptable Patron Behavior Policy

All libraries have an acceptable patron behavior policy which outlines what behaviors will not be tolerated in the library and what the consequences for unacceptable behavior will be. Many libraries adopt a one or two warning (strike) policy where you receive a warning and then you are asked to leave. This is a great policy when you consider things like talking loudly in the library or perhaps running or horseplay, but less so when you consider things like verbal or physical assault of staff or patrons. Verbal assaults, bullying, sexual harassment, cat calling, etc. are being talked about a lot right now in our culture and I think this is a great time for public libraries to re-examine how we respond to this behavior. I recommend a very direct statement that this behavior is not tolerated heren and immediate removal of offending patron. This behavior is very different then many other behaviors and can create an atmosphere of fear, shame and alienation for our patrons. I suggest re-writing acceptable patron behavior policies to make it clear that any intentional hate speech, verbal assaults, sexual harassment or bullying of patrons will not be acceptable and is grounds for immediate removal from the library.

What to Do about Slang?

Please note, this paragraph includes a discussion of some offensive terms and those terms are included.

There are a lot of commonly accepted terms that are frequently used that are, in fact, very offensive. For example, the term gypsy is actually a slur against the Romani people but it is used very frequently to mean someone who travels or wanders. Some version of the word retard, including the term itself, is also used frequently; such as when some calls a liberal opponent a libtard. Even the term lame, used to mean something that is not cool, is rooted in hateful speech against those with a disability that prevent walking. In truth, even telling someone to man up, or not to cry like a girl, is problematic. Many terms are used casually by people who have no understanding of what their origins are or the underlying hate and bias that they include. So what are library staff supposed to do when they encounter these moments?

Common Words With Nasty Pasts – Everything After Z by Dictionary.com

I personally have been known to tell my teens why the speech is offensive and ask them not to use those terms anymore, with the understanding that if they do so moving forward, they will be asked to leave the library. This is where the grey areas of policy and procedures come in, where interpretation and implementation can be harder. If a patron complains, we have a responsibility to address the patron complaint, especially if it is a patron who feels threatened by the speech or behavior. But to be honest, I have heard groups of teens talking among themselves and have taken a moment to stop and tell them why this speech is harmful.

When we speak of patron complaints, I think it is important to separate intention from effect. A patron making hateful speech may deflect by saying they didn’t know, that’s not what they meant, or that they were joking. But I think it is important to look at what the actual effect of the behavior on other patrons is and the environment that it creates. If a patron is complaining about the speech or behavior of others, it is imperative that we address those complaints.

Collection Development

In 2018, librarianship is a profession that is still predominantly white and female. With that demographic comes a lot of unexamined internal bias. Couple this with the fact that a majority of books published are still by white authors and many book reviewers are still white, and you have the perfect storm for some incredibly unbalanced collections. Our collection development policies should be examined and written in a way that makes acquiring more balanced collections a priority. They should understand and use terms like own voices (books about marginalized groups written by a member of that group) and they should be so bold as to set measurable thresholds for acquisition. For example, we can ask that our staff examine each book order placed to make sure that it is not exclusively a reflection of the white, cishetero male landscape that is often most promoted in publishing. We’ll talk more about this in practices, the next P, but our collection development policies need to make it clear to staff and patrons that our radical inclusion and diverse representation are the goals of our collections. Having this goal written into our policies helps us make it clear to our staff and patrons that this is non-negotiable.

Marketing and Displays

In our marketing materials and in our public displays, their own form of marketing, we need to make sure that we are also making radical inclusion and diversity our goal. Putting these goals into policy form helps to make it clear that it is a priority for our libraries. A policy states, this is a thing we value and are going to do and we will hold each other accountable to make sure that it happens. Again, write your policy in ways that make it clear that this is goal you want your staff to reach. Give measurable output goals, such as each display can contain no more than 50% of titles authored by traditional white, cishetero Christian male authors.

The Second P: Practices

If policies are the foundation, then our practices, or how we execute those policies, are the next important step. If a policy says this is what we value and what we are going to do, it is our practices that help us evaluate and determine whether or not we are effectively fulfilling those promises that we made in our policies. Examining our practices means we have to evaluate our day to day operations to make sure we are doing what we said we were going to do. Our daily practices should prove that we are honoring our policies.

Train Your Staff, And Then Train Them Again

Policies are meaningless if we don’t communicate them effectively to staff and tell them how we want them to implement those policies in our day to day operations. This means we need to have effective – and ongoing – training. If in our policy we identify harassment of other patrons as an unacceptable behavior, we have to train our staff how to handle these incidents when they occur. And, most importantly, we have to let them know and trust that management and administration will back them up when they implement the policies we have put into place. All staff have to be on the same page when it comes to policy interpretation and implementation or else it all breaks down.

I am constantly learning the various sayings, stereotypes and every day expressions that I have internalized that are, in fact, often harmful to others. As a child of the 80s, I frequently used the term lame for something that I thought was absurd or stupid. Now that I understand the root of the expression, I no longer do. I also no longer refer to ideas or people as crazy or unhinged or hysterical. Just the other day I read that the term sleepy eyed is rooted in anti-semitism. So we can not expect our staff to know and recognize all the various ways that we may unintentionally being harming our patrons. We can, however, be in the process of continually training our staff to recognize biased language and ask them to not use it once we have learned about it.

This ongoing training needs to happen because our front line staff our the face of our libraries. They are who our patrons see and interact with when they come into the library. We must have high expectations for our staff about what is and is not acceptable behavior. We also have to help them have the confidence to respond when patrons complain about the behavior of others. This is about training, empowering, and trusting our staff. And then holding them accountable. It’s an ongoing process because who we are, what we know, and how that informs library policy and procedures is always changing.

I once worked for a library system that gave its staff scripts to use when a new policy was being introduced or something big was happening culturally so that the staff knew what they could and could not say, at what level they could engage, and who to refer a situation to if it wasn’t addressed by the script. I can not recommend this practice highly enough. For example, this library system dramatically changed some of its circulation practices which they knew would upset some patrons, so they gave the staff very specific language to use when patrons complained about why the library was making the change. In comparison, at another library system in which I worked, the decision was made to interfile the paperbacks with the hardbacks because of space. This library system didn’t talk about it with staff and gave no real reasoning, so when the patrons complained, you could often hear staff saying, “yeah we hate it too and we don’t know why they did it.” There was no staff buy in and no staff training, which meant the staff were left to handle patron complaints on their own and it did not go well.

I have worked in libraries long enough that I am sad to say that I have occasionally heard library staff engage in hateful speech with patrons. One of the communities I worked in had a large influx of Hispanic residents and they started a Spanish language collection, the staff at this library really could have benefited from having clear talking points to help explain to the public what the reasoning and purpose of this collection was. My youngest once went through a stage where she sang this annoying song incessantly, out of desperation I finally forbid her to sing it. She looked me square in the face and said, “you can’t control what I think in my head.” She was absolutely correct. This is also true of our library staff, we can not make them less inwardly biased or racist if that is their personally philosophy, but we can 100% demand that when they are working for the library that they treat every patron, every piece of material, and every service without bias and to hold them accountable if they do. Let your staff know what your library values, how they are to help the library achieve it, give them the training and the tools they need to be successful, and then hold them accountable.

Collection Diversity Audits

If our collection development policies make it clear that diversity, or real world representation, is a goal, then we need to have practices that help us make sure we are achieving this goal. We can do things like periodic diversity audits to make sure our collections are inclusive. We can do the same for each book order we place. Take a moment when doing acquisitions to examine the make up of the books and the authors on your book orders and in your collection to make sure that it is not an exclusively or even predominantly white cishetero Christian male. As you develop a technique that works best for you, this will become second nature and less time consuming, but we owe it to our communities to make sure that we are building the best and most authentic collections possible to make sure that they can choose to read more fully about the world.

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: The How To (Part 2)

Marketing and Display Audits

This practice should also be applied to our marketing and displays. Have staff members who do displays occasionally make a list of what materials they put on display and ask them to examine the breakdown of that display. Were there diverse titles from diverse authors included? Make it a standard practice to take a picture of each display (and then keep a past displays notebook) so you can see what types of displays you are doing and make adjustments moving forward. Examine a year’s worth of displays and ask yourself, what topics did we cover? Did we only include diverse titles during months like Black History Month? Then, set a display schedule for the next year that is more intentionally inclusive. With a little bit of evaluation and planning, we can create more inclusive and representative displays, create a more welcoming environment, AND increase circulation.

For the love of all that we hold dear, please examine each and every public display, including outside art and poetry displays, to make sure they are not creating a hostile space for any patron. What we choose to put on display sends a message, and it gives the appearance that the library condones the messaging. Putting a book on a shelf is quite different from putting it on display in spaces that a patron can’t escape being subjected to.

These same evaluation questions should be considered when you create your marketing materials. Library brochures, annual reports, and social media posts should be representative. Even if the statistics say you live in a primarily white community – my local community is 97% white – we need to make sure that our marketing materials are diverse and warm and welcoming. While 97% of my community may be white, that means that 3% of it is not and that 3% deserves to be represented as well.

The Third P: Patrons

Many people think that libraries are about books, but the truth is libraries are about people, about the communities we serve, and books are just one of the tools we use to do so. Our primary mission is to make our communities better by providing access to the tools they need for education, recreation and personal and community development; books are just one of the many tools that we offer to help achieve this goal. So if our libraries are really about community and the people in the community, then we have an obligation to examine what we are doing to enhance the lives of every single member of our communities.

Our Goal: Create a welcoming environment

The primary goal of a public library is to create a welcoming environment so that every community member feels safe and valued and can, in fact, access the various resources that we provide. Our goal is to provide access, to take away access barriers, and one of those access barriers must involve us examining our environments to make sure that every community member feels welcomed. Any misstep on our part can alienate various community members, and then we have created a barrier to access.

Some of our community members have what they perceive to be as competing interests. For example, more conservative Christian communities object to the normalization and acceptance of the GLBTQIA+ community. In contrast, GLBTQIA+ members of the community want to be able to read about people just like them in the books that they read. Christian conservatives would argue that including GLBTQIA+ books in our collections are hostile to them, but I would argue that this is not the case because they have the choice to read or not read those books and if we are doing our jobs correctly, there are plenty of other materials for them to select. But if we fail to purchase and include GLBQTQIA+ books in our collections because of personal bias or community pressure from one group, then we are failing to serve a portion of our public by failing to provide them access to materials that are right for them. This is true of Muslim materials, atheist materials, etc. Creating a welcoming environment means that every member of our community should be able to find something that represents them on our shelves and in our collections, the corollary is that every member of our community will also be able to find something that they find objectionable. Providing access and breaking down those barriers to access means that we are all inclusive in our collection development policies and allow our patrons to select the materials are right for them.

When our patrons have competing interests, I think it is important that we our determining factors are 1) choice, 2) inclusion and 3) safety. All patrons should have choices, which means we must support inclusion. And at the end of the day, we must also guarantee our patrons safety. We build inclusive collections and present inclusive services, we allow our patrons to use those in the ways that are best for them, and work to guarantee the physical safety of each patron coming into our library space. It’s true that we can not ultimately guarantee a patrons safety because we can’t predict or control the actions of other patrons, but we can guarantee our patrons that if something happens we will do our best to respond swiftly and fairly.

Creating a welcoming environment means that we put faces and families of all kinds front and center in our marketing materials. It means that we make sure that our displays contain books by a wide variety of authors on a wide variety of subjects. It means putting up signage that expressly communicates to our public that every person is welcome regardless of race, gender, orientation or belief. It means that we are communicating in both implicit and explicit ways that all are welcome in our spaces.

Hafuboti offers a variety of welcoming signage at https://hafuboti.com/2017/02/02/libraries-are-for-everyone/

Hafuboti offers a variety of welcoming signage at https://hafuboti.com/2017/02/02/libraries-are-for-everyone/

Consistently enforce the rules, so that staff and patrons all clearly understand what is expected of them. Address inappropriate behavior, ask patrons who are clearly and maliciously attacking other patrons to leave immediately. Make acceptable behaviors clear and post them where all can clearly see. Create welcoming signage. Make it clear to patrons that all patrons are welcomed in the library. Make this clear in explicit ways – signage, policies – and implicit ways – by creating diverse marketing materials, displays and collections.

A public library is a community organization. We have to do the work to make sure that we are welcoming to every member of our community.

Why That Book Isn’t in the Library; or, no starting your own small press isn’t always the answer to diversity

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Earlier this week, The New York Times posted an article about sensitivity readers that prompted a heated discussion on Twitter. Because of the holidays I didn’t follow all of the conversations happening, though I did see that author Joyce Carol Oates suggested that historically marginalized authors start their own small presses and literary magazines to help fill the gap.

Besides the fact that this is being done, I recognized immediately what a huge problem this suggestion is, mainly because I know how books get in to our libraries. So let me explain to you why an author starting their own small press won’t help the problem of not enough diversity in publishing from a library perspective.

A library is a business, it’s a non-profit business but it is still a business. So like any business, we have processes and rules and regulations. In fact, because libraries involve spending public money, we are heavily regulated. In the state of Ohio, for example, we are regularly audited by state auditors and we have to be able to show where all of our monies were spent and that we followed all of the rules and regulations. Buying books for the public library is not the same as buying books for your home, there are a variety of rules and processes in place and, unfortunately, they often put small and independent presses at a huge disadvantage when it comes to buying books for our school and public libraries.

Vendors

Most libraries work with specific vendors. This involves POs, which we will talk about in a moment, and vast discounts. Vendors like Baker and Taylor, Ingram and Follett allow libraries to purchase large quantities of books at a steep discount, making our dollars stretch farther. These vendors specialize in library distribution so they have built targeted programs that make putting together large book orders quick and easy. They work with librarians to develop interfaces and do things like built specific carts, find professional reviews in one place, and download catalog records. And I mentioned the discounts, right? The discounts are just as important as the technology. Many libraries will only buy books through their vendor. If a book isn’t offered by the vendor being used by the library, then it can’t be purchased. A lot of small press titles are not distributed by vendors, so being published by one of the big publishing houses eliminates a HUGE stumbling block to getting a book on the shelves of the local public and school library.

Purchase Orders

In every library I have worked at, you have to have a purchase order approved by administration before you can make a purchase. And in many libraries, you can only get a purchase order from a set of pre-approved vendors. Some libraries will approve purchase orders for a local brick and mortar store or for an online retailer like Barnes and Noble or Amazon, but some will not. This depends on the local library and their fiscal officer. The necessity of POs presents yet another stumbling block for getting small and independently published titles into our public libraries.

Catalog Records

Every book that comes into the library must be cataloged. Many libraries used to have large technical services departments that spent the time cataloging each and every book that comes into the library. But as library budgets shrank and technology changed, the cataloging process has changed as well. Today, most libraries purchase the catalog records through the vendor and do very little original cataloging. So for a title to be added to the collection, it has to have a catalog record. I sound like a broken record at this point, but again, this is a stumbling block for small and independently published titles.

Positive Professional Reviews

Public and school libraries often face material challenges. This means that a member of the public objects to having a particularly title in the local library. In order to help address any potential material challenges, libraries go through the process of developing concrete collection development policies and materials challenge procedures. Every library has a policy in place for their book selectors and they often will state that a book must have at least one and sometimes two positive professional reviews before a title can be purchased. Please note it is always professional reviews, which usually means from a professional review journal like School Library Journal, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus or Booklist. Blogs, Goodreads, etc. typically don’t count as professional reviews. This need for professional reviews again means it is harder for a small or independently published title to get even in front of the eyes of a selector, let alone past one of the gate-keeping measures that libraries must use to build their collections.

With the growth of small and independently published titles, some libraries have taken steps to help incorporate these titles into their local libraries, but not all. Not a lot, in fact. Many libraries will take donations of small and independently published titles by local authors and build local author collections, but this doesn’t help book sales and it doesn’t help get authors on the shelves. And we can debate whether or not these are good policies on the part of libraries for days, but the reality is that libraries have to have operating procedures, they have to be accountable for public monies spent, and they have a responsibility to get the most bank for their buck to best serve their local communities. This need must be balanced with the need to build inclusive collections and provide access, but the reality is that for a lot of library systems, small and independent presses are hard to incorporate into their purchasing routines.

Small and independent presses are a possible solution to help solve the lack of diversity and inclusion in publishing, but they are not the only answer and if we want to help libraries build more inclusive collections, they aren’t the best answer. The truth is that this lack of diversity in publishing is a systemic, multi-faceted problem that needs to be addressed in a variety of ways. One of those ways is that we need for the big publishing houses to start publishing more diverse and inclusive titles. Big publishing houses have done the work of building up marketing and distribution channels, they have the funds to promote the titles, and they have systems in place to get those titles in front of the largest number of eyes possible to start changing the world. Starting your own small press is great, but it has to have the time to be nurtured and developed, and it has to have the funds. I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from starting their own press or literary magazine if that is what they want to do, but that isn’t the right answer to the question of how do we help make our public libraries more diverse today.

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: The How To (Part 2)

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So yesterday I began telling you about doing my diversity audit. I began in a place that many people wouldn’t suspect, by doing a local community needs and assessment evaluation. I thought if I wanted to understand why I was building a diverse/inclusive collection, I also wanted to understand who I was doing it for. Also, this was part of my process on researching target goals. The question I asked myself is this: what does an inclusive YA collection look like? And to do that I thought I needed to better understand what my local community and the world at large actually looks like. No guessing, no anecdotes, but facts.

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After looking at my local community demographics, I then researched what the U.S. population looks like, keeping in mind that U.S. Census data comes out every ten years and involves a lot of margin for error because respondents must use per-detetermined categories to respond and many people identify in more than one way. (Note: please see uploaded outline below for a more complete look at stats and diversity categories to investigate.)

2010 census data

Serving Teens in Libraries Infographic

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Then I dived deep into what diversity in children’s publishing looks like (spoiler alert: it’s not good). I used resources like the Lee and Low Diversity Baseline Survey to get a better understanding of what diversity in children’s publishing looks like. A realistic diversity goal has to include an understanding of what is being published. We can’t buy diverse titles that don’t exist, which is why we must continue to ask the publishing world to work towards better inclusion at all levels of publishing.

Childrens Books Infographic 18 24 V3

“This year, the number jumped to 28% . . . ” – http://blog.leeandlow.com/2017/03/30/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-book-publishing-2017/

Checklist: 8 Steps to Creating a Diverse Book Collection | Lee & Low

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Another worksheet example can be found here: http://sfpsmom.com/black-history-month-12-diversify-bookshelves/

With a better understanding of what the world looks like and some real investigation into my own personal biases and privilege (which is an ongoing process), I then began looking at my collection in depth. This was a painstaking process that involved a lot of research. I researched each title and author in my collection to the extent that was reasonably possible. Reasonably meaning given an appropriate use of my time, skills, and what information is available. For example, not all authors are publicly out and they deserve to make that decision for themselves, but it can affect a count of Own Voices GLBTQAI+ titles. Please note: you can make your headings and count whatever it is you wish to audit.

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My excel worksheet, created by importing a shelf list, looks like this

At one point my fellow TLTer Robin Willis came out for a week long visit and we went title by title through my shelf list discussing whether or not a title had a main or supporting character that was something other than white, male, cisgender. We had a lot of quality discussions about individual titles, authors and the idea of diversity and inclusion as a whole. And yes, public librarians do indeed end up taking weird vacations, so thank you Robin for taking your time to come spend with me and help me with this project.

robinmakerspacebag

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After doing the inventory several times and determining that I had the best knowledge that I could have, I then went and did the math that told me which percentage of my collection was diverse, Own Voices, GLBTQAI+ or featured a teen with a disability. I assumed I was doing a good job of building diverse, inclusive collections. It “felt” like I was doing a good job. I was trying to do a good job. Spoiler alert: I was not. Even when I was being intentional in building inclusive collections, I was not doing as well as I thought I was. For example, the percentage of titles featuring a teen with a disability were dismal at only 2.2%. However, after some targeted ordering, my GLBTQAI+ percentage went from around 3% up to 6.5%. This is part of why this type of collection audit is informative: I thought I was doing a good job of buying diverse titles, but an audit revealed that I wasn’t doing as good of a job as I thought I was and helped me make more informed and purposeful purchasing decisions. I thought I was doing a good job, I learned that I wasn’t, now I am doing better and have the data to back that statement up.

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As a tangential note, I will also admit that this in depth collection analysis has also led me on a quest to investigate subject headings in our catalog. For example, we had books with the heading of transvestite, transsexual and transgender, and since transgender is the term that teen readers will be most familiar with and is the currently preferred term, we added a subject heading of transgender (transgender people – fiction) to all titles. Similarly, we looked at titles like Tash Hearts Tolstoy to make sure that teens looking for asexual representation could find that title using our card catalog without having to ask an adult. Teens looking for GLBTQAI+ materials in particular don’t always want or feel comfortable asking an adult for help so we are working on making these titles accessible in multiple ways for teens who want to read but don’t necessarily want to ask for help in locating titles.

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This work is ongoing for me. As I mentioned above, it helps inform my monthly book ordering. Now when I do a book order, I do a sort of mini audit of each book order to make sure that I am doing the work of building an inclusive collection each and every order. I will also do occasional targeted audits, like this summer when I went through each and every letter of the GLBTQAI+ umbrella and made sure I had quality titles that represented each letter. A yearly or every few years audit combined with monthly book order audits and targeted audits makes my collection development more intentional. It’s not enough to think I’m doing the work, I now do the work. And having concrete facts and figures in front of me helps me to stop assuming while confronting my purchasing biases head on. And since I just took over this collection 3 years ago (new library), it has helped me better know and understand this collection as well as what is offered, making for some amazing RA to be honest. It also helped me fill in title holes and re-order missing or lost books that I think every collection should have.

The benefits of doing a diversity collection audit are plentiful and I highly recommend it, with a few caveats. First, it’s important that we remember that not all representation is good representation. There are a lot of tropes, stereotypes, and controversial titles out there that you should be aware of. You’ll also want to take the time to make yourself more familiar with Own Voices authors and titles. Remember that even when we talk about diversity, we should have diverse titles within that diverse representation. For example, not all GLBTQAI+ titles should be coming out stories, and not all coming out stories are the same. And, finally, we should remember and value the importance of intersectionality: most people identify as more than one thing, and that should be represented in our literature as well. For example, a black woman may identify as having a disability and being bisexual, because we are all complex human beings who are more than one thing and all more than our labels. Those stories deserve to be told and read.

With all that said, here is an in depth outline of this project: Diversity Audit Outline 2017 with Sources

Complete YA Collection Diversity Audit Series

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: Understanding Your Local Community (Part 1)

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: The How To (Part 2)

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: Resources and Sources (Part 3)

Edited to Add: Someone asked about measuring intersectionality. You could simply add a column heading for intersectionality and any book that has more than one tally mark in a column would also have a tally mark for intersectionality. Then you would do the math and have an idea of how many intersectional titles are in your collection.

Also, after you do your original collection audit, you can then just do an audit of all the titles added since the date of your last audit and combine the information. If you do book order audits, that information could also be added to your original audit to keep your figures current.

ALA Recap: Libraries are Not Neutral Spaces (Things I Never Learned in Library School)

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolThis past Sunday I had the honor of presenting with a panel of fabulous librarians about how libraries are NOT neutral spaces. Like most librarians, I spent a major part of my career proclaiming that we were. But over time, I have come to realize that we are, in fact, not. For example, if during the month of December you put up a Christmas tree or a Christmas display but don’t acknowledge that any other holidays exist, you are making a non-neutral statement and highlighting certain faiths and traditions over others. Did you choose to avoid putting up a Black Lives Matter display? That was not a neutral decision. This month is Pride, did you put up a Pride display? Whether you answer yes or no to this question, your answer is not a neutral decision. Every decision to do or not do something in our libraries is not a neutral decision, and it often reflects our own personal, cultural or institutional biases.

You can find the slides to our ALA Presentation here (a log in is required)

You can read tweets about the presentation under the #CritLibAla17 at #ALAAC17

It has been a process for me to learn how to examine and break down my personal biases in considering everything I do in my library, from putting up a display to deciding when, where, and how to program. The work of being inclusive and advocating for my teen patrons – ALL of my teen patrons – is ongoing and never done. It takes some intentionality on my part and I am working on training my staff to have that same type of intentionality.

In fact, for me, displays and collections are a big part of how I try and be intentional and inclusive. I didn’t have a term for it until this weekend thanks to someone one Twitter, but I regularly perform diversity audits of my YA collection. I will sit down monthly with some type of topic or focus in mind and go through my collection to make sure I have a well represented number of titles and authors that represent that topic. For example, with Pride approaching, I spent the month of April going through every single letter in GLBTQAI+ to make sure that I had a good representation of titles for each letter in my collection. And when doing so I go through and make sure that they include as many POC, LatinX, Native American, Asian and more authors as possible. I don’t want to just be diverse in having GLBTQAI+ titles, I want to make sure that those titles are as diverse and representative as possible.

I recently went through the process of re-writing my display policy and procedures for my staff to help achieve this same goal. I want to make sure that every display we put up is inclusive. If we do a fantasy display, my staff is reminded to go through and check to make sure that there are books by diverse authors featuring diverse characters on that display. A display that solely features cis-het-white male authors is not acceptable in my department, but building them takes dedicated work on all levels. It means that I have to make sure I am building good collections for my staff to pull titles from and it means that my staff has to do the work of looking at the display daily to make sure they have a good balance of titles to choose from.

#SJYALit: Making a Social Justice Book Display that Engages Teens

Storytime Underground Libraries are Not Neutral Spaces Handouts

I discuss displays more here: The Display Must Go On. In the future I hope to add a statement to my display policy, which is included in the link, specifying that 50% or more of the display must feature diverse authors and main characters. And since we have a display notebook where we are making note of past displays so that we have good notes for future displays, I would like to create a form where we list the titles put on display and the theme of the display. This not only will provide us good info for doing RA or creating/repeating future displays, but it will help us do those diversity audits so that we can make sure we are being inclusive not just in our collections but in our displays.

sjyalit#SJYALit (2017)

The Social Justice in YA Lit Project/Discussion, using YA literature to discuss a variety of social justice issues including own voices, representation, discrimination, education, poverty and more.

Although I talked a lot about displays, many others on the panel talked about other good points and I highly recommend that you check out the slides and read the work of those I had the honor of speaking with. I learned a lot from my peers. For example, I have never processed what it means that Christian creation stories are catalogued in religion while Native American creation stories are catalogued as folklore. This was a profound moment of realization for me that finally helped me more fully understand what settler colonialism means. Doing the work means being engaged in the professional community and learning from your peers. It’s important to follow and read from librarians from different backgrounds.

I want to make one final note about holiday programming, which comes up frequently when we talk about libraries as neutral spaces. Many libraries engage in Christmas programming in their libraries and there is an ongoing argument that this is what our communities want and that Christmas is a secular holiday. For me, as a Christian, Christmas is a profoundly religious holiday and I decided when I had children not to discuss or introduce the concept of Santa to my children because I did not want to dilute the sacredness of this day. So no, our communities, even our Christian communities, don’t all want us to be doing holiday or Santa programming at the library. Even some of the fundamental beliefs we have about what our communities want may be wrong.

As I mentioned, this was truly an important and enlightening discussion for me. I continue to learn and grow as a librarian and appreciate every opportunity to talk with my peers, challenge my beliefs and make sure that I am heading in the right direction as a librarian for myself, for my teens, and for my community. I want to keep doing the good work, and sometimes that means changing what I think I know, what I believe, what I do, and the how and why of how I do it. It’s often uncomfortable, but I keep doing the work anyway.

Thank you to my co-presenters:

Nicole Cooke

Assistant Professor / Director of the MS/LIS Program, School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois

Cory Eckert

Librarian, The Post Oak School

Kendra Jones

District Manager, Youth & Family Services, Timberland Regional Library, Washington

Jessica Anne Liddell

Branch Manager, Grand Rapids Public Library

Debbie Reese

Founder and Editor, American Indians in Children’s Literature