The PLA conference was over a month ago, but I’m still unpacking the preconference I attended. “Best Practices for Summer Learning Based on Racial Equity” was a half day workshop presented by Christy Estrovitz from the San Francisco Public Library, Sheryl Evans Davis from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, Christi Farrah from the Massachusetts Library System, and Elizabeth McChesney from the National Summer Learning Association.
The workshop revolved around the 2021 “Everybody Reads” summer program sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library along with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Like everyone else, the Library had to think fast about how to offer a summer reading program during the pandemic. The program consisted of a kit that included a 38 page full color booklet that featured eleven books for a variety of ages. Each book is a positive portrayal of an underrepresented community. The booklet includes activities to go along with the books. 2,500 kits were distributed to kids through various community programs. Recipients of kits also received hardback copies of all eleven books! The booklet was also available online at the Library’s website, and it still is. The booklet is available in English, Spanish, and Chinese. The Library also hosted weekly virtual events.
It was exciting to hear about this ambitious project. But the meat of the workshop was Evans Davis’ discussion about community engagement. I like preconference sessions because you have more time to delve into issues and ideas. I am going to share just a few things that I took away.
The pandemic has exasperated and made inequity in our society even more apparent. I think we’ve all known for a while that the traditional model of summer reading programs doesn’t work for everyone. Lots of things are not going back like they were before. Now is a good opportunity for those of us who plan summer programs to implement change.
It’s time to, in the words of Evans Davis, “swing the bat to meet families where they are.” Libraries have to engage with the families we serve and the communities they live in. We need to start looking at what the kids and families need from us and align our programs and services to providing that. Libraries need to own the distrust we may have sown in BIPOC communities. We need to be real and intentional about showing, with action, that we are changing. We need to move away from being gatekeepers and move towards being true partners with authentic collaboration. That means giving up some control and giving way to allow communities to lead in the development of programs.
Evans Davis also talked about something that has been important to me in my career working with children. How much is a child worth? Of course resources are scarce and we need to use all means available to get books into kids’ hands. We often pass on donated books or discards to kids who don’t have books at home. But, what are we telling kids? They are only worth a second hand book? The value of that special feeling a child has in owning something fresh is much greater than the cost of a new book. We need to find resources and opportunities to get new books into kids’ hands.
The beauty of the Everybody Reads program and the partnership was that all of the necessary pieces were in place. An opportunity arose. Funds were available. There was a need for a new way to reach kids during COVID. Because there was trust, true collaboration, and an investment in the partnership between the public library and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, the two agencies were able to swing the bat and provide kids with an active summer reading program in which they could see themselves and their community.
Today’s blog post was written by Tanya DiMaggio, Assistant Director of Support Services at St. Tammany Parish Library in Louisiana, on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. [She/He/They] can be reached at email@example.com
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, V. Outreach and Advocacy, and VI. Administrative and Management Skills.