Module 11: Beyond Library Walls – Working for Social Justice in the School Library
Image retrieved from: https://hafuboti.com/2017/02/06/libraries-are-for-everyone-an-epic-correction/
Libraries are about so much more than simply being a place to hold books, a point which was emphasized so clearly to me upon viewing Dressner & Hicks’ 2014 video Why Libraries Matter. Aside from the obvious need or desire to search for information or knowledge, people visit the library for a multitude of reasons, seeking out many different things: connection with others, opportunity, a safe haven, skill development, and access to a variety of resources and services, to name a few. To echo the above image, libraries are truly for everyone. They do not discriminate based on gender, ethnicity, age, religion, language spoken, or socio-economic status. All patrons are equally welcomed, and services offered are low-barrier and open to all. In fact, I would argue that libraries are one of the only remaining community spaces which are wholly welcoming and accessible for everyone.
In the video, I was most struck by the stories of library patrons for whom improvements were made to their quality of life through access to opportunities and services provided by libraries. From homework help and assistance completing job applications, to classes for English language skills, knitting, and book clubs, all of the patrons in the video were assisted by friendly, compassionate, and welcoming librarians who clearly cared about not only providing excellent service but also about the people themselves. There were many stories shared of people who were lonely and craving connections with others, and the invaluable support and relationships provided by the library. It is often said that many people in our modern world lack a strong sense of community, and the library seems to be one of the only remaining institutions where this is not only encouraged, but also deeply valued. Even those unable to leave their house, such as the woman profiled in the video, are included in library outreach programs where books are selected and delivered to them and they are able to discuss books with others via teleconference.
As I watched this video, two central themes emerged which I believe are the most crucial to successful school library learning commons programming: relationships and access. As in the video, we cannot run successful programs in a school library learning commons if the foundation is not built upon trusting relationships and genuine connection with others. To build programs which serve our school community, we must first connect with our users in order to truly get a sense of who they are and how we can effectively provide service to meet their needs. Access is also at the core of everything we do as, much like public libraries, we endeavour to provide unrestricted access to information, resources, skills, and services to educate, build knowledge, develop skills, and better our students’ lives. Much like the public library in the video serves as a hub for the larger community, the school library learning commons serves as a hub of learning for the school community.
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In my school library learning commons, I also operate on the same principle that all users are equally welcome. I am constantly striving to increase accessibility as well as look for creative and innovative ways to increase usage and ensure that all users feel equally valued and encouraged to use the space, services, and resources. Unless students feel safe, cared for, and valued, learning cannot occur. In addition, for many vulnerable students, the library can provide a safe haven and comfortable space where they feel accepted just as they are. I have often suggested to classroom teachers with students who require a break from the classroom during the day that they are sent to the library, either to browse, read, work, or assist with general tasks. Although the schedule in our library learning commons is currently fairly rigid and full, I have always stressed to teachers that they are welcome to send students to work and use the library even when I am teaching classes in the space. I currently also have a student who comes to help shelve books with the assistance of his EA, which is a win-win for everyone as it both lightens my workload and gives the student a productive task to work on which has real-world applications.
Another way in which we can build relationships in the school library learning commons is through ensuring that all students see themselves and their lives represented in the library collection. An area which I am passionate about is building a collection of resources which accurately represents the diversity of our community. It not only honours our students to ensure they are represented within the collection, but students also have the potential to gain empathy and insight through reading and learning about others. Further, we cannot claim that our programs and services offer equitable access if diversity is not included and represented in our collection. The library can be a powerful place for teaching and learning about social justice issues, fairness, and equality, but I strongly believe that we cannot even begin to tackle these topics without first ensuring that they are represented in our library collection.
Finally, to connect to my essential question, “How can I develop library learning commons programming which effectively honours 21st-century learning and inspire my students to be curious about the world around them, discover their individual passions, and become lifelong learners?”, 21st-century learning cannot be honoured without honouring students themselves. Relationship building is directly tied to helping students discover their passion, as in order to achieve this I must truly be able to gain a sense of who my students are. Including resources in my library collection which represent diversity can help encourage curiosity, and ensuring that the library is accessible, accepting, and welcoming to all will serve students well along their path to becoming lifelong learners. After all, empowered learners are those who go on to fight for change in their communities, stand up for what they believe in, and give voice to those who may be silenced or suppressed.
Brown, Jennifer (2017, Feb 1). Equity & Social Justice in the Library Learning Commons. Retrieved from http://open-shelf.ca/170201-equity-social-justice/
Dressner, J., & Hicks, J. (2014, May 17). Why libraries matter. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/371084/why-libraries-matter/