ALA Annual 2022

An Invitation to Curious Families to Explore Race and Culture at the Library

As a lifelong student, I don’t mind an academic, lecture-style presentation at conferences, but a great panel with an engaging interactive component is always a delight, and at #alaac22, a team from Evanston Public Library (EPL) offered exactly that with their session titled, “Beyond Booklists: Family Engagement Through Race and Culture Education at the Library.”

Upon arrival, participants found a “place setting” at each seat, with a paper towel under a disposable plate. Centered on them, in lieu of a napkin and silverware, was a Ziploc-style bag containing some colorful handouts and a paint set and brush. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this piqued my interest tremendously!

The point of the presentation was to share details of the development and implementation of a comprehensive anti-racism program at EPL called “Dedicated to the Dream.” They also shared some of the challenges and lessons they learned through their first cohort and the improvements they hope to make moving forward.

The curriculum is free and can be modified to suit the needs of any library, large or small. The basic idea is to invite families to register, hoping they will commit to the full program of orientation followed by 7 monthly collaborative sessions and supplemental activities at home. Though still in its early days, the program has already reaped benefits, and EPL hopes to see it spread throughout the country by sharing their process and their product.

But what about those paints and that paper plate? Attendees at the session got to sample one of the curricular activities designed to affirm the unique identity of each participant and to consider skin tone in a positive or neutral manner. Using a video walkthrough created with their partner, award-winning artist and illustrator Cozbi A. Cabrera, participants are guided to mix the paints until they are able to create a tone that closely matches their own skin. Harder than it looks, this activity flummoxed some of the folks at my table, but everyone ended with some approximation of a skin tone and a strong feeling of satisfaction.

This program focuses specifically on race, with lots of examples from Black culture, but interested users could use it as a springboard for other cultural issues pertinent to their local population. Though a significant undertaking, the presentation made it feel accessible and possible at any level, even offering a self-guided curriculum in their Curiosity Lab for those who aren’t able to mount a full program at this time. To request more information or to gain access to the full curriculum, visit and fill out the form.

(Photos courtesy of guest blogger)

In defiance of her childhood dream of providing the voice for the next big Disney movie, Conference guest contributor Sara Beth Coffman (she/her/s) has managed to grow up to be a library services specialist serving youth and children at the Chattanooga Public Library. Also a freelance writer and reviewer, her work has appeared on the ALSC and YALSA blogs, and other outlets such as Chapter 16, The Southern Review of Books, and Library Journal. After several years of virtual conference attendance, she is looking forward to being in-person at ALA Annual, hoping to run into new friends and familiar faces. She previously served as YALSA’s Member-Manager for The Hub and is a member of the 2023 Morris Award Committee. 

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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