Libraries Are For Everyone Because…

I am beyond thrilled to have the wonderful Laura Luker guest writing for my blog! She created the featured fabulous coloring sheet/writing prompt for her students, and shared it on Twitter so that anyone can use it. You can also click on the above image to get a copy of her jpeg. Hooray for open culture!!!I also picked out a few of her tweets that made me cry the most (with tears of joy) to share with you all.

And so, without further ado, I turn this blog over to Laura.

I created the sheet and the lesson that goes with it because since the last election, a topic that’s been on my mind often is the role of librarian as activist. It’s a role that people may not consider often – or may even disagree with, but one that I feel strongly about. Understandably, this must be done with care. As much as I am frustrated by our political landscape today, my double role as librarian and educator means that I’m not really allowed to voice political opinions. So for me it comes down to thinking really hard about what I CAN do to make a difference in the lives of my students and in the broader world.

In my mind, this takes many forms. I teach in a K-12 school, which means I work with patrons from the age of 5 all the way through high school. I also consider colleagues and school administrators to be my patrons. I am responsible for providing a very wide range of services from safeguarding patron privacy to providing information literacy skills – and in some ways this is easier with my older students. The library world is full of great resources for teaching how to find and evaluate information and how to teach and support literacy. I consider both of these topics to be issues of social justice. After all, a well-informed, critical, literate populace is democracy’s best defense.

Certainly, younger students can and should be taught about critical thinking and inquiry, but the elementary grades are also prime territory for lessons about inclusion and equity. Developmentally, kids at this age are very invested in the concept of fairness, which made my job pretty easy when I began talking to them about the role of libraries. I provided a framework of first thinking about what libraries do for them personally and then expanded that into asking them to take the perspective of a student new to a school and then outward to a family new to the United States. We made a class mind-map on the board and ultimately ended up with general categories of information, entertainment, and safety. (I will admit that the last category made my heart swell the most!) With gentle prompting, they came to the conclusion that these services are provided for free to everyone, regardless of income, color, ability, etc. With this fresh on their minds, they gleefully set to work writing inspirational messages of library love.

While I love that I was able to have my third graders focus on this topic for a day and come to the conclusions that they did, I also very much hope that this lesson lasts. In addition to the crucial focus on equity, I admit that I hope that my students take away a longer-lasting message of libraries as important places of information and social justice. In Massachusetts, as I’m sure is the case in many other states, library funding is constantly in jeopardy. Many schools don’t have libraries or qualified librarians, putting students at a disadvantage compared to students in schools that do have those services. Public library budgets are also either level-funded or cut, which means that all the great benefits my third graders were able to describe to me could be increasingly difficult to provide. My hope is that these future decision makers will carry this lesson into a future where libraries and the services they provide continue to be seen as relevant and important.

Laura Luker

library teacher

Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School | Hadley, MA

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