Reflections on Black History Month

I’ll be honest; I have mixed feelings about Black History Month.  On the one hand, our country owes Black Americans this recognition because we have done such a poor job of including anyone who isn’t white in the racial narrative we tell, whether it’s through our school curricula, the books we publish, or media as a whole. On the other hand, I’m sure we’ve all heard some version of “I guess it’s that time of year again,” when the Black History Month displays go up. (Thank you, teenagers, for your blithe cynicism.) 

Titles for Black History Month.

I worry that having these designated months potentially sends the message that the entire history of a group of people can fit into one month. I also think there is the danger of feeling that we are checking the diversity box because we celebrate everyone’s “month.” That being said, if we are striving to have an inclusive library year-round, through every book order, every display, every event, and every program, then these special months are just more opportunities to create that inclusive space. So every year in February, our library passionately celebrates, knowing that we are also representing hard the other eleven months. 

Silhouette of an african-american person painted on paper.

I work in an independent school library that serves a predominantly white population of 6th-12th grade students. While I feel very strongly that it is crucial for our students of color to see themselves represented in our programming and collection, I feel just as strongly that the white students we serve need to see this representation as well. I want to encourage as much empathy and awareness as I can, and I also don’t want any of our students to be swaddled in a cocoon of whiteness before they go off into a much more diverse world after graduation. 

As part of our Black History Month programming, our library participates in the NCTE African American Read-In. For the past four years, we’ve picked one day during Black History Month to reserve the first floor of our two-story library for reading books, shorts stories, poems, magazines, etc… written by Black American authors.  We pull out Black American #OwnVoices fiction and nonfiction and display it on top of all of our shelves, on our end caps, and as our outward-facing books at the end of shelf rows. On the day of the Read-In we also offer snacks (the library is usually a no food zone, so this is big), play music on an actual record player (from Motown to Jazz to Jimi Hendrix to Lauryn Hill), and enjoy a wonderful day of cozy reading.  We invite teachers to bring their classes and also are open for anyone – adult or student – to drop in when they have time. If a teacher’s class can’t make it on the actual day of the Read-In, we offer to schedule a time for them to come another day during the week.  

BHM titles

In addition to the Read-In event, we try to create interesting displays for the month each year. Last year’s display was my favorite by far, mainly because we got our high school’s Art Club and Multicultural Alliance involved in the process. Together, we created large-scale Black faces to hang on the front and side windows of the library.  On the backs of the faces, we wrote poems by Black Americans. (Credit to this tweet for the inspiration for this idea.) We displayed these again this year.

I wanted to make our displays this year feel more like a celebration of Black Present and Future, so I didn’t use the word History anywhere. I decided to focus our front display on current young adult and middle grades authors.  Using Canva, I created small posters with the picture of each author, surrounded by their books. I put books on display at the front of the library that were highlighted in the posters.

I also die-cut N.K. Jemisin’s book title, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?, and put that up along our back wall, with two more faces. This has sparked a few interesting conversations with middle school students, who want to know why they’ve never heard of Black Future Month.

Framed images of posters celebrating Black History Month.

Celebrate Black Voices is written on a window inside the library.

We are trying some new programming this year and hosting lunch-time book discussions two days before the Read-In (with desserts provided). In the middle school, we are going to watch video clips of current Black authors reading their works and discuss them. In the high school, we are having a discussion of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, which will include watching clips of the movie and part of this video of Tupac, responding to an accusation that his music incited violence against a police officer.  We are crossing our fingers for participation!

Silhouette of an african-american person painted on paper.

I know I started this post with my misgivings about Black History Month, but I want to end it with why I love this month so much. Any time I start to feel cynicism creep in, when I feel that change isn’t happening fast enough and we’re spinning our wheels, I remember a comment from a student that will always stick with me. She came in on the day of the Read-In, and as she looked around at all the books written by Black authors, she said, “I wish my mom were here.  This is our idea of heaven.” 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pull some books.  

Disclaimer: I focused on racial diversity in this post because it’s about Black History Month and it gets linguistically awkward to list every potential type of diversity. I believe that the same assertions I made about racial diversity apply for all the ways in which people can be marginalized or othered because of a part of their identity. 

 

Whitney Etchison currently lives in Maryland and is in her tenth year as a school librarian. The best part of her job is readers advisory, although teaching research skills is pretty cool too. She loves horror novels but can’t watch scary movies.

New Issue of YALSA’s Journal of Research on Libraries & Young Adults: Vol. 11 N. 1

Volume 11, Issue 1 of YALSA’s Journal of Research on Libraries & Young Adults (JRLYA) is now available online. This issue features research papers about the health-related information needs of public library teen patrons, Australian authors’ OwnVoices, and teen novels featuring characters who identify as LGBTQIA+.

Acknowledging the lack of health reference training for many public librarians, Jennifer R. Banas, Michelle J. Oh, Robin Willard, and Jeremy Dunn examine public teen librarians’ ability to help their patrons search for and use health-related information.  The research team’s results demonstrate which types of health-related issues teen patrons ask about most often, which issues librarians feel most competent to help locate and use appropriate information, and which issues they feel least competent to handle. A replicable tool was also developed by the authors so that other public librarians might improve the health literacy of their communities.

Emily Booth and Bhuva Narayan interviewed seven Australian authors who identify as Indigenous Australian, a person of color, or a member of queer or disabled communities in order to understand the extent to which these authors feel their stories should be used as tools for learning about marginalized people’s experiences.  The authors’ findings illustrate the challenges and expectations that authors from marginalized communities encounter when adding their OwnVoice to the field of youth literature.

Identifying that literature for teens may be a source of learning about sexuality and sexual health for teens who identify as LGBTQIA+, Kristie Escobar interviewed such a group of teens who read books from the Rainbow Book List.  The teens were asked to reflect on the authenticity of the depictions of LGBTQIA+ characters and the extent to which the books fulfilled an information need they might have about sexuality or sexual health.  The author argues that literature about LGBTQIA+ teens may help fill a void left by sexual education that is traditionally abstinence-focused in publicly-funded high schools.

JRLYA is YALSA’s open-access, peer-reviewed research journal, located at: http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya. Its purpose is to enhance the development of theory, research, and practice to support young adult library services. JRLYApresents original research concerning: 1) the informational and developmental needs of teens; 2) the management, implementation, and evaluation of young adult library services; and 3) other critical issues relevant to librarians who work with teens. Writer’s guidelines are located at http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/author-guidelines/.

Robin A. Moeller, editor, JRLYA

Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff: Teen Growth and Development

This year’s Presidential theme of Striving for Equity using YALSA’s Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff, has provided a unique opportunity to examine the competencies and talk about some practical applications for both school and public library staff who work with teens. I’m hoping this post will provide you with some research and ideas to help you develop, practice, and transform your work regarding the first competency: Teen Growth and Development. If you haven’t already done so, please watch Linda Braun’s webinar on this topic!

While there are basic benchmarks that relate to teen development it is important to consider cultural differences that are unique to your community in order to best plan programs and evaluate library resources. The following bibliography is in no way a comprehensive list of resources available, rather, it is meant as a starting point to investigate ways you can meet the needs of your teens. Not all resources are library specific, these links are meant to not only provide ideas for immediate use, but also to provoke thought on this important topic. Please comment with any links that you think are relevant to this topic!
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New Issue of YALSA’s Journal of Research on Libraries & Young Adults: Vol. 10 N. 2

Volume 10, Issue 2 of of YALSA’s Journal of Research on Libraries & Young Adults (JRLYA) is now available online at http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/.This issue features research papers relating to public library teen youth services staff, cultural depictions in award-winning young adult literature, and the digital practices of teens.

With their paper,“Perspectives on Youth Data Literacy at the Public Library: Teen Services Staff Speak Out,” Leanne Bowler, Amelia Acker, and Yu Chi present data and analysis from the second phase of a three-year study exploring the relationship between teens and data literacy with regard to public library teen services.  Through their focus on teen services staff, the authors present a model of youth data literacy that is intended to prepare teens to thrive in a data-driven society.
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Apply now for YALSA’s 2019 Diversity Program Stipend

YALSA invites diverse individuals to apply by August 1 for a chance to present a literacies focused program at its 2019 YA Services Symposium in Memphis, TN. The program will take place on Sunday, November 3rd of the symposium.

If selected, the recipient must become a YALSA/ALA member and will be provided $1,500 to offset that cost, as well as registration, travel, lodging, and meal expenses at the symposium. Funds for the stipend are generously provided by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

With this opportunity, YALSA hopes to create a more just and equitable symposium by providing more professional opportunities for diverse individuals from underrepresented populations, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origin, age, disability status, ideology, religion, power differentiated groups and professional skills.

Only one session proposal per person will be accepted. Literacies, as defined by YALSA, extends beyond traditional literacy and includes, but is not limited to visual, digital, textual and technology literacy or serving underserved teens. Before accepting the award, the recipient must become a member of YALSA/ALA. Learn more and apply by August 1.

YALSA’s 2019 YA Services Symposium will take place Nov. 1-3 with the theme: Show Up and Advocate: Supporting Teens in the Face of Adversity. Now through early bird registration (September 15), those who join YALSA and register for the symposium will be automatically entered for a chance to win free registration for the 2020 YALSA symposium, which will take place in Reno, NV. More information about the symposium can be found at www.ala.org/yalsa/yasymposium.

JRLYA Down Under!

Last summer, I had the extraordinary opportunity to co-direct a month-long University of Washington iSchool study abroad children’s literature course to New Zealand (also known by its Maori name, Aotearoa) and Australia with Michelle Martin. The course had an Indigenous focus – we met Maori and Aboriginal authors, publishers, librarians, storytellers, and more! Through this immersive experience, all of us — ten grad students, two undergrads, and the co-directors — developed a deep appreciation for the richness and breadth of the children’s literature scene Down Under. Needless to say, I was very happy to see Dr. Kasey Garrison’s JRLYA article, “What’s Going on Down Under? Part 1: Portrayals of Culture in Award-Winning Australian Young Adult Literature,” which brings more of these titles to the notice of readers in the US. You’ll find it in the March 2019 themed issue, “Movements That Affect Teens.”

Articles in JRLYA are wide-ranging in their concerns, and relevant to both practitioners and researchers. With this article, practitioners may focus more on the collection development implications. The two appendices work well for this purpose – librarians can see easily which themes (class, disability, gender, immigration, Indigenous Australians, language, the LGBTQIA community, race/ethnicity/nationality, and religion) may be found in each of the twenty-four book sample, and the article introduces readers to two major awards: the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year for Older Readers (chosen by adults) and the Centre for Youth Literature’s Gold Inky Award (selected by teens). Researchers may be as interested in the method – the article is a critical content analysis – as in the findings.

Looking at portrayals of culture in YA books is timely, considering the robust discussion around diverse books in this country, and the paper extends this important conversation beyond books first published in the US. I am looking forward to Part 2, in which Dr. Garrison will look at the implications of the relatively poor representation of Indigenous Australians in the sample.

Annette Y. Goldsmith
Member, JRYLA Advisory Board

YALSA Board at #alaac19: EDI Leadership Training

The YALSA Board embarked on an ambitious plan to weave equity, diversity and inclusion principles into all aspects of their work. This began with the Board approval of an EDI plan in October 2018 and continues as the Board creates a new Strategic Plan. In this work it’s essential that the YALSA Board, staff and member leaders have a common understanding of EDI principles and how to move from EDI awareness to intentional implementation strategies. Board Document 28 proposes a way to accomplish this work through  a continuing education plan that begins with a full day training at ALA Midwinter 2020, the training will focus on :

  • An introduction to structural racism in the United States and its current impact on Black, Indigenous and Youth of Color
  • Developing a  shared EDI vocabulary
  • Leveraging a framework for engaging in difficult conversations about race, equity, diversity and inclusion

At Annual in Washington, D.C., the YALSA Board will review recommendations for the EDI focused full-day training for YALSA Board and staff. Learn more in Board Document 28.

See the full agenda of the Board of Directors at ALA Annual in Washington, D.C. All Board meetings are open to attendees, and you can learn more about the Board meetings on the YALSA Conference wiki.

Libraries Welcome All Families: A Conversation with Urban High School Students about Representation in the CT Nutmeg Nominees

This post was first published on the ALSC Blog on April 23, 2019

Jillian Woychowski is the Library Media Specialist at West Haven High School and a member of the ALA Interdivisional Committee for School and Public Library Cooperation

Kymberlee Powe is the Head of Children’s and Teen Library Services at the West Haven Public Library

I am very lucky as a school librarian to work so well with my public librarians. Our city’s children’s and teen services librarian has held card drives and visits me on a regular basis. We’ve coordinated getting materials for each other and worked together on summer reading. We also share the experience of serving on our state book award committee. I served on the High School Level 2018 Nutmeg Committee and Kym just wrapped serving on the Middle Grades Nutmeg Committee for 2020 (see nutmegaward.org). Being on the committee for a state book is a serious time commitment, requiring reading 75-150 books and monthly meetings to discuss them. For both of us, making sure our students were represented in the eventual nominees was very important.

Kym comes to West Haven High School once a week to hold a book club with students in our Program for Accelerated Credit-recovery in Education (PACE) program. Students in PACE “have had difficulty succeeding in the regular setting. The program offers credit recovery and and intensive support system so that these students can learn the appropriate skills and behaviors needed to be successful in school and beyond. The program takes a unique outside-the-box approach to teaching and learning in order to re-engage students in their own education, with a focus on college and career readiness” (Program of Studies, whhs.whschools.org). Students receive 90 minutes each of Language Arts and Mathematics a day, along with contemporary issues and environmental education to give students an awareness of their own community. Technological literacy rounds out their curriculum.

This March, Kym and I sat down for a conversation with two PACE students to talk about being an urban librarian and the challenges for equity, diversity, and inclusion in potential award-winning literature.

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Book Tastings

In November, I was able to attend YALSA’s Young Adult Services Symposium with one of my coworkers. It was a wonderful experience, and we came home full of ideas for the 6-12 independent school library where we work. One idea we immediately wanted to try at our library was book tastings, which we heard about in a session led by Alicia Blower, librarian at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School.

I like to think of book tastings as the library equivalent of free samples at the grocery store—you get teens to try a bite of various books, hoping they will find one they want to take home. The basic setup involves putting books out at tables, and having teens rotate through the tables in groups. At each table, they “taste” a book that looks interesting to them by reading the blurbs on the cover and the first few pages.


Tasting a book. [Photo Credit: Erin Lewis]

We had the perfect opportunity to run a book tasting just one week after we got back from the Symposium. All of our seventh grade English classes were coming in to check out books, so instead of the usual book talks we give to feature certain genres, we decided to set up book tastings based on the genre of realistic fiction.

First, we decided on our physical layout. Five tables was a good number for us, given the class sizes (18) and how much time we had to run the activity (40 minutes). On each table were books related to a specific theme within realistic fiction, based on what’s popular with our students. Once we decided on the layout, the next step was to pick the books for our tastings. I wanted to have six books at each table, one for each student in a group of four, and a couple of extras to give them alternatives. We also needed to replace the books that got checked out during each class, so I accounted for that when pulling books..

While making book selections, I also had the goal of providing a strong representation of diverse books. To do this, I got a piece of paper and tallied up numbers as I pulled books. How many books had I selected with main characters of color? How about LGBTQ+ main characters? Characters who were differently abled? What about books that were #ownvoices? I had to go back to the shelves quite a few times before I felt I had acceptable representation, and some tables still ended up with less diversity than others. For example, we simply didn’t have enough diverse books for the theme of survival (as in surviving the wilderness or a natural disaster), so now that’s on my watch list for collection development and content curation.

I made place cards to go at each table, with the theme of that table printed on the card. My coworker made tasting forms where students could write down the title and author of a book they looked at, give it a rating from 1-5, and put any comments they had. (See linked documents for examples.)

Filling out a tasting form. [Photo Credit: Erin Lewis]

Finally, I went out and purchased some real “tastings” to go along with the books. I got a variety of Hershey’s kisses, some miniature fruit-flavored candy canes, and a huge bag of Life Savers. At each table, we put two cups. We filled one with the candies; the other was for trash. I am proud to say that our students didn’t leave even one candy wrapper for us to pick up.

In the end, all of our work paid off. The students really enjoyed the experience. A lot of our selected books were checked out, and we were able to highlight the diversity in our collection. It took a little more time to prepare than book talks, but now that we have done it once,  there won’t be as much prep required next time.

Choosing which books to taste. [Photo Credit: Erin Lewis]

Does anyone do book tastings in a different way? I’d love to hear about it!

Whitney Etchison currently lives in Maryland and is in her tenth year as a school librarian. The best part of her job is readers advisory, although teaching research skills is pretty cool too. She loves horror novels but can’t watch scary movies.

YALSA Statement Against Racism and Discrimination in the Library Profession

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) joins our colleagues in ACRL, AILA, APALA, BCALA, GLBT, LITA, REFORMA, RUSA, and SRRT, as well as the ALA Executive Board, in condemning the recent incidents of racial harassment and discrimination that occurred at the 2019 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. As an association with an unwavering commitment to the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion, YALSA agrees that immediate and sustained action is necessary to redress institutional inequities and systemic power asymmetries that affect ALA and our society, to challenge bias, harassment, and discrimination, and to provide equal opportunity for all persons.

YALSA welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with the ethnic affiliates, ALA roundtables, other divisions, and ALA to promote and provide educational opportunities that will ensure that ALA is an inclusive place where differences are welcomed, where different perspectives are respectfully heard and responded to, and where every individual feels a sense of belonging and inclusion.

On behalf of the YALSA Board by Crystle Martin,  President Young Adult Library Association.

Approved by members of the YALSA Board:

Trixie Dantis, Director

Kate Denier, Financial Advancement Committee Chair

Dora Ho, Fiscal Officer

Franklin Escobedo, Secretary

Jane Gov, Director

Sandra Hughes-Hassell, Immediate Past President

Derek Ivie, Director

Todd Krueger, President-Elect

Melissa McBride, Director

Ryan Moniz, Director

Abby Phillips, Division Councilor

Colleen Seisser, Director

Mega Subramaniam, Director

Valerie Tagoe, Organization & Bylaws Chair

Josie Watanabe, Board Fellow