Sunday, April 26, 2015


"You have to go to SCHOOL to be a Librarian??" is not a unusual question. Always makes me smile. Nobody knows what school librarians do. Our work is largely invisible. We are the only teacher in a school who must, upon being hired, have a Master's degree. Most of us simultaneously earn our K-12 teaching certification with our Master's, but in Pittsburgh, we are categorized as "Non-Teaching Professionals." Those semantics cause a kind of cognitive dissonance.

School librarians do teach. We teach how to build a website, a resume, a bibliography, a stop-motion animation film, a book trailer, how to find vetted information. I'm co-teaching four classes right now with the Head of our English Department. It is divine. It allows me time with each individual student in her classes. I know all their names, and I am beginning to know each of them as people. I am starting to know how to teach each kid-- what motivates them, how to engage them, what they like and don't like.

Why would it matter if a school Librarian knows the kids? Because unlike every bespectacled, bun wearing, shushing, cardigan-rockin' Librarian stereotype you've ever seen, the Librarian needs to be the absolute center of the school. She has to know her kids because what they think, want and want to know are the heart of her work. THEY ARE her work. She has to build her collection around them. Knowing their learning styles, reading levels, interests and goals directly inform her decisions about how to plan lessons and how to use her book budget to purchase resources.

That's why I always ask kids for their input on collection development. If kids can't have a say about what goes on the shelf, why would they care about what's there? Kids at Perry Traditional Academy have not been shy about sharing what they want to read. And they want books and materials that reflect realities they live and know. They want DIVERSE BOOKS. They want books about African-American, urban kids living real lives. They want books about queer kids, pregnant kids, kids in jail, kids in foster and Ward homes, LGBT kids. They want nonfiction about wrestling and football. They want LOTS of comic books and graphic novels and manga and anime. They want books about intellectually gifted Black kids who make it. They want all of these things alongside the canon of Western literature, which they also want.

Working together, the staff, students and myself have started the Perry Traditional Academy Amazon Wish List. It's purpose is to DIVERSIFY our Library shelves to reflect our interests, lives, reading interests and ourselves. #WeNeedDiverseBooks definitely applies to us, and we have adopted it. I hope you might consider helping us by going to the Amazon Wish List and purchasing a book. We are the only high school on Pittsburgh's North Side. We plan on a massive revitalization of our school and by extension, our community. And it might just happen through our school library.

Now some folks might say--KIDS deciding what goes in the school library??? Clutch your pearls, right? Disorder, chaos, ruin and ruination!! Next thing you know, Fifty Shades of Gray will be in every school library!! Wrong. No need to run around screaming. Working with the school Librarian is key. A librarians' goal is to match the right resource to the right purpose. Fifty Shades might be great for a public library. A school Library is different. We collect books that connect to curriculum, build context and fluency, all while engaging kids.

Diversifying children's publishing is a national movement. Let me explain why. Try pulling a Cinderella picture book out of a fairy tale section for your Hispanic niece. Chances are good that the illustration on the cover will not resemble your little girl. And while we can blah blah blah about yeah, but Cinderella is actually a European fairy tale so why are you pulling the race card?-- we would be factually as well as morally wrong. The first known version of Cinderella is Chinese, circa 618. The story didn't show up in Europe until around 1634. Children of all races need to see themselves represented in stories. It shows them what is possible. That they are capable of transformation. That wishes can come true. That there is reason to hope.

That is the work of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, the movement begun this school year by children's authors Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo. Their discussion at a conference about the lack of diversity in children's publishing started others talking. Soon those discussions started folks organizing. We need to get all kids (and all people) reading about the lives of folks who don't look like them-- as well as demand that the publishing world represent all children. This is a pathway to peace and proper citizenship. Purchasing books written about diverse kids is a way to support this kind of movement. It sends a message to the publishing world that an all-white reading list is no longer acceptable. We want our kids to read for fun, for transformation, for hope, for change, to become more thoughtful, creative, broad and humane people. Help make that happen. Bring diversity to the world's book shelves. Share some with Perry's Library. With Love. Always.

UPDATE! Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian, wrote a great article about our effort!! Check out her article at: Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents