Representing the Underrepresented
During my secondary fieldwork placement I had the opportunity to assist the librarian in making purchasing choices for her fiction collection. When making her choices, she started by surveying students informally through an interactive poster displayed in an accessible and public area of the library. The poster simply asked students what books they would like added to the collection. Of course it was anonymous, which is what made it great. Students requested all sorts of titles and anyone could add to the poster without restriction. When the teacher librarian received approval for funding, she kept an open mind and added every book her students requested. Surprisingly, there were funds leftover so she asked me for advice on what else to add. I was thrilled! What a great opportunity for me to influence the books that teenagers have access to, especially those titles that tell the stories of underrepresented groups, that give voice to authors from silenced communities and offer perspectives outside of the status quo. Hurriedly, I added all the titles I could think of to her Permabound shopping cart. I then realized I had a lot of ideas but not a focused plan of action for engagement. Even though, I had lists of books to recommend I didn’t think it was enough to just add the books to the collection; could I take the leap of faith that if they were on the shelves they would be read? Maybe eventually, but how else would the librarian encourage students to read these new titles?
During my time with this high school library, I made several displays for Women’s History Month and African American History Month. I pulled books that had low circulation and had been buried in the stacks for a while, in an effort to expose students. I also created short book lists for these new and old titles, for and by people from underrepresented groups, like people of color, the transgendered community and the LGBTQ community. The TL and I briefly talked about starting a book club and/or displaying student book reviews in the library to encourage engagement with these titles.
All of these things seem like the surface level answer to exposing students to diverse books and authors. This is vital for schools that are both relatively homogenous racially and ethnically, as well as schools with more diversity. It is important for a library to be inclusive, but to be both the mirror and the window into student identities. This is particularly true for students of LGBTQ identities whose experiences tend to be scarce in literature and informational texts.