Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

The Urgent Work of Equity

“May you live in interesting times.”  This old curse seems to be visiting us en masse, as 2020 delivers an endless stream of astonishing and devastating developments.

As always, librarians have a role to play in helping children and their families to navigate the world in which we find ourselves. To meet their needs, it’s more important than ever that we strive to understand and connect with everyone in the community.  Inclusiveness is a foundational idea of intellectual freedom, and it starts with knowledge about the challenges faced by people whose experience may be different from ours.

“No Justice No Peace” by geoffalexander4 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Given that roughly only 12% of credentialed U.S. librarians are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), it’s safe to say that most of us could learn a thing or two about the BIPOC experience in America. And considering the fact that as of 2018 less than half of children under 15 in the U.S. are white, it seems clear the work of children’s librarians will benefit from better multi-cultural awareness.

Cultural awareness and empathy seem particularly critical in our current reality when the Black Lives Matter movement is helping bring to light systemic injustice and violence, long familiar to people of color but relatively absent from the larger national conversation.

Impact on Youth

In working with and caring for the children in our libraries, it’s important to understand the impact these social issues have upon them. A recent piece in The Hill discussed the fact that repeated exposure to images and stories of violence directed at people of color creates racial trauma for both children and adults:

“Racial trauma is a form of race-based stress, and refers to the reactions of those who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC) to dangerous events and experiences of racial discrimination, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).”

Somvichian-Clausen, A. (July 1, 2020). Are you experiencing racial trauma? If you’re a BIPOC, most likely. Changing America. Retrieved from https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/accessibility/505418-are-you-experiencing-racial-trauma-if-youre-a-bipoc

Social media can intensify this type of trauma, and it certainly has a profound effect on children, who often don’t receive the support they need to grapple with it.  A recent study documents the routine nature of discrimination in the U.S., with Black adolescents experiencing racial discrimination more than 5 times per day, on average. Heart wrenching statistics like these can motivate many of us to seek a better understanding of how the BIPOC children we serve are experiencing life in American society, whatever our personal background may be.

After all, we’re in business of connecting people with the information they need, which is certainly a pillar of intellectual freedom. We’re concerned with the healthy development of young people.  We strive to create connections and build strong communities.

For many of us, this seems the perfect time to expand our understanding, so that we can bring that care and empathy to every aspect of our work –from collection development, to programming, to outreach and hiring practices.

Something for Everyone

Fortunately, there is a tremendous range of resources readily available, for both children and adults. Here are a few suggestions. Do you have others? Please share them in comments, and happy browsing!

  • We Are Teachers shared this collection of short videos dealing with how parents, teachers, and other caring adults can help children understand what’s going on in a way that encourages them to examine their feelings and move forward.
  • Teaching Tolerance has been providing diversity resources and curricula for teachers since 1991. This article describes the mental stress facing Black youth every day and things to consider when working with Black youth.
  • School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog included a keynote presentation with Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi co-authors of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You on May 27, 2020. This 46-minute presentation includes much to think about in terms of working with BIPOC children and helping us to recognize our own biases. The presentation is a follow up to the SLJ article of the interview of Reynolds and Kendi by Nikole Hannah-Jones.
  • The author of Raising Antiracist Kids, Rebekah Gienapp, created a list of 15 books to help children/youth to understand Black Lives Matter.
  • Anti-Racism Resources for All Ages is a collection being compiled by Nicole A. Cooke, Associate Professor and Augusta Baker Chair in Information Science at the University of South Carolina.

Our Guest Bloggers today are Liz Hartnett and Allison Kaplan, Co-chairs of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. Liz is Program Coordinator for the University of South Carolina’s Center for Community Literacy. Allison is Faculty Associate in the Information School at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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