This 15-minute podcast is from a conversation between ALSC Blog Manager, Teresa Walls, and Stacy Dillon. Stacy is the lower school librarian at LREI, a private school in New York City. There are 562 students enrolled in the school as of our conversation which took place September 3, 2008. She attended and was part of a panel discussion at the 2008 ALA Diversity Leadership Institute Preconference. During our conversation, she described her school and its commitment to diversity and community, as well as some specifics from the preconference.
Mentioned in the podcast are:
- LREI’s Diversity and Community Director
- Worth the Trip
- The Brown Bookshelf
- LREI’s Diversity Bulletin Board
- Mark Winston, Ph.D.
- Patty Wong of Yolo County (CA) Library
An edited transcript of our conversation is below.
ALSC Blog: Hi, I’m Teresa Walls and I’m speaking with Stacy Dillon. And Stacy is a member of ALSC and she is also the lower school librarian, — is that correct? — you go by lower, higher school, is that how you say it?
Stacy Dillon: We have early childhood, lower, middle and high school.
ALSC Blog: Describe your school and your role within the school.
Stacy Dillon: O.K. Sure, I am the lower school librarian here at LREI which stands for Little Red Elizabeth Irwin, and we are a progressive independent school located in the West Village of Manhattan. It’s relatively small. We are a campus school though. Our high school is in a different location down the street from us.
So, my responsibilities besides the general librarian responsibilities that anyone would have is the curriculum development and teaching of the first through fourth graders as well as everything librarians in a school have to do along with that: collection development, reading, reader’s advisory, and things like that.
ALSC Blog: In Anaheim, you were part of a preconference…
Stacy Dillon: The preconference which was called Diversity Leadership Institute. I was part of a panel where we were specifically talking about diversity, mission statements, and also how libraries, especially in academic settings, could support diversity efforts of the whole institution.
ALSC Blog: Let’s define diversity.
Stacy Dillon: Well, this is always a tricky thing. I was speaking with one of my colleagues about this the other day. Defining diversity is kind of hard because as soon as you really define it, chances are you are being a little exclusive. We look beyond what many people might assume. The first idea that pops into mind after “diversity” tends to be race and ethnicity, and we try to look beyond that to the hidden diversity as well with different learning styles, religion, family make-up, and things like that. So we try to encompass as much of the community as we can within our lens of diversity.
Um, I recognize that we work in a pretty unique place in that we really have a lot of support for diversity in this school, at the top, at the bottom, throughout. Our school has the position of director of diversity and community which came about, I believe it was three years ago when that position was officially formed. And that came out of a board initiative. The board of trustees also had a diversity committee there where we were looking at how we could showcase and focus our efforts a little bit better. Diversity informs the classroom in that it is a curriculum virtually on every grade level in an appropriate way. And, teachers are expected to deal with diversity issues, to teach to diversity throughout the year, we are not a school that believes in just teaching Martin Luther King through Black History month or just doing something during Hispanic History Month. It should be woven throughout the curriculum through the entire year.
ALSC Blog: How is support for diversity incorporated into everyday student life?
Stacy Dillon: Well, as I said before, it’s in the curriculum very heavily. We teach to a social justice curriculum where we try to pull out some voices that weren’t always heard, especially in the history classes as the kids get a little bit older. And we teach the kids to question as well, which is sometimes a little bit tricky. But you want them to ask and challenge some of the traditional ideas.
We have affinity groups for students and for parents and for families, so the younger kids might be part of Parents of Children of Color, where there would be activities and events specifically for those kids. And the lesbian and gay families, we have groups for their parents and activities that are based around that. Some of our biggest, most popular social events in the school are based around multiculturalism. We have a big festival that is called Karamu. That’s a celebration of everybody’s heritage, and it’s really the most popular thing in the school.
We try to make sure that kids are reflected in different ways. Books in the classroom will always be made up of different family orientations, different colors of kids, kids who come from different countries, so that kids are seeing not only themselves but also the faces and experiences of people they may not have come in contact with yet.
The four of us, we’re really lucky because we have four MLS librarians in this relatively small school. Karyn Silverman’s our high school, Jen Hubert Swan is middle school, and I, along with Jesse Karp, do the lower school. And we’re always looking through that lens. We are active in ALA which helps because a lot of books come to us, but we are also all voracious readers. When we are reading we are always looking through the lens of where is the hole in our collection, is there a hole in our collection, how can we support this curriculum on diversity, and find fiction and nonfiction for children in the classroom during the year.
We also do these book nights every year, called Librarian Book Night, and in the past we tend to choose topics of diversity as well. We did one that was called East Meets West looking at the idea of culture clash with either new immigrants trying to adjust or just different idealogies. We also did one that was all about social class and looking through the lens of social class and finding that many of the books, that you might not have thought examine social class, really do in a subtle way.
ALSC Blog: So you try to have the whole range of age?
Stacy Dillon: Yeah, for sure. From the four-year-olds, our very youngest, all the way through high school. It is challenging. We look to the smaller presses if we can. And, being in New York, we’re kind of lucky ’cause we can go around to as many bookstores as we can. But we really look to blogs as well, like blogs like Worth the Trip and the Brown Bookshelf and stuff like that to inform our collection development. as well.
ALSC Blog: I noticed your school has the Diversity Bulletin Board display and I was curious to hear a little bit more about that.
Stacy Dillon: Yeah, one of our middle school teachers had sat in a meeting a few years ago. She had visited a different school and said that their commitment to diversity in their mission was evident when they walked through the door. And the people who were on the diversity committee at the time just, I guess, really had this brainstorm about the Diversity Bulletin Board which literally is the first thing you see when you walk in through the front door of our school,
And every classroom that’s in this building, which encompasses the lower school and the middle school, is responsible for putting something up a child made, something they pulled out of their curriculum during the year that reflects diversity. So from the smallest children, you’ll see some collages in art of talking about the different ways we play or self-portraits which will just show the different impressions of who the kids are, how they see themselves. Towards the eighth grade they study Emmet Till and they might have some personal reflections in poems about him on their week. So, it’s great because it’s always changing and always so different. It really is a focal point as you walk into the school to get a real taste of what’s going on in the classroom.
ALSC Blog: What about the work you do with the teachers? Do you have set-aside times that you work with individual teachers? How does that collaboration come together?
Stacy Dillon: Well, in the lower school, their kids come to us once a week. All of the classes have library once a week, so I get a little bit of contact with the teachers then. But, it’s really up to us. We make ourselves available to them, but I also have no problem just coming into a classroom and I’ll know what their social studies curriculum is so I’m constantly looking for books that will support that. It’s a very open-door sort of school so I can wander into anyone’s classroom at any time and just sit down and listen for awhile or go through their classroom library and make suggestions. We’re constantly bringing materials to teachers and they are usually very grateful for it.
ALSC Blog: What are the challenges that you have witnessed or experienced in supporting diversity?
Stacy Dillon: One of the hard things is that we, as a school, deal with situations as soon as they pop up, so if something does come out of someone’s mouth that is degrading or is out of line with how we are thinking, we have to deal with that right away. So that’s kind of hard sometimes because sometimes you need a little bit to process it. Dealing with situations right away is a little bit of a challenge.
And also teaching kids, who don’t consider diversity to be a part of their life necessarily, about being an ally, being a straight ally, being a white ally, and how their voices can be and should be involved in the diversity discussion as well. It’s amazing when kids are guided, but given the freedom at the same time, what they rise to. It’s great to see, and that is definitely one of the rewards of working here: watching kids develop over time into these really passionate and articulate kids around issues of social justice.
ALSC Blog: All right, now let’s go ahead and move to the preconference.
Stacy Dillon: It was really, really rewarding. Looking at different issues of hiring practice and language and just the need to keep fighting the fight that people have been talking about for years. How do you recruit when kids who are coming up aren’t seeing themselves in that position? Mark Winston (he’s at UNC Chapel Hill School of Library Science) talked about that, and he talked about how if libraries aren’t institutionally making a commitment to diversity then things really aren’t going to change. So, if the whole institution isn’t making a primary effort to recruit people of color, you’re at a stagnant point.
Patty Wong, another person who was there, is from the Yolo County Library in California. She was talking about the need for looking at diversity in the widest sense regarding recruitment and advancement. She had some really interesting things to say about offering bilingual pay for people who might speak Spanish and English on the job. And to give diversity inspired sabbaticals so people would bring diversity more into their practices as well.
And it can’t be, “Oh, we are looking at diversity this year. Oh, we did that last year, let’s move on.” It’s got to be something that becomes the fabric of the actual institution. But, the mission statement, the diversity statement, is really the first place to start. It will give you something to check back to. It will keep you on track as the year goes on.
The public libraries, again, it’s making that commitment, following through and maybe having displays that might garner you some complaints but being ready to deal with the inevitable backlash that could come depending on what community you are in. There’s a lot of hidden diversity that you might not know about, and there may be people who just aren’t coming into your library because they don’t feel like it is a place for them. So once you make it more of a place for everybody, you could probably increase your patron base as well.
There’s no reason not to make some kind of a pathfinder that deals with diversity issues that you could just click to. I think that would be a nice baby step, or first step, for people to take if they don’t have a lot of support or they’re not quite sure where to start. That’s even something I would definitely do here. I’ve never made a virtual pathfinder before for the kids, but that would totally work with my third- and fourth-graders.
The other thing we do have at our school that other people might be able to spring board from, we have a diversity action plan. It’s kind of like a living, breathing document of how we’re addressing diversity, the issues that might come up and things we want to try.
ALSC Blog: Yes. Could you give us an example of something that you’re working on or toward?
Stacy Dillon: Sure. For Lower School specifically, things in the classroom like making graphs that demonstrate that we are all alike, we are all different, just to show the similarities that come along side the differences. And to make sure that we teach to the wide range of students that we have and understanding that all kids don’t learn the same way.
Then we have a newer initiative, looking at things globally, like teaching kids a little bit about global play and how they can incorporate that into their lives and noticing that there are children all over the world and we are all different but that we all play. How do we play differently? And working that into a curriculum. I guess looking at things as a global perspective too, and not getting stuck in the idea of our own neighborhood all the time.
Keeping it active and lively, and keeping the kids involved in everything makes it work here.
ALSC Blog: I think that’s an excellent way to end our conversation. I want to thank you so much, Stacy, for talking with me.
Stacy Dillon: Thank you.