Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Librarians: It’s Time to Get on the Front Lines

October 23, 2017 3 min read

By Angie Miller

Turn on the news and there seems to be hate engulfing the world our students walk through right now. A sudden public upsurge in white supremacy, anti-immigrant, antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-gay declarations affront us, and while racism and prejudice have always simmered beneath the surface of our society, the underbelly has been sliced open and an unsettling ugliness has been granted permission to pour out, amplified by social media.

Enter the library.

In schools, we sometimes take extreme measures to avoid politics in the classroom in order to escape being caught in uncomfortable crosshairs. We teach our content and leave what’s happening outside to the outside. But school libraries cannot (and must not) assume neutrality. Our silence when staring into the face of hate speaks to a complicity that does not coincide with library values.

Libraries may be the last truly democratic space in our communities. Rooted in the resolute voice of freedom, we accept patrons of every sexual orientation, religion, color, or heritage without judgment or bias.

But we do not and will not accept malevolence.

And so when hatred and division knocks on our doors, we must work transparently to promote equity and acceptance in our schools and communities. We must let our students know that we support and respect everything they are. We must be willing to stand on the front lines for the cause of justice, humanity and peace. And we cannot remain silent on the backs of our students.

Librarians have always been at the forefront of civil rights battles. Now we just have to be as open and vocal about it as possible.

What does that look like?


  • Play the news. Mounting a television on the wall that is tuned into news opens up intelligent, thoughtful conversations about truth and bias for our students. Images and commentary that scroll across the screen alerts them to what is going on and encourages them to ask questions.
  • Create thoughtful and authentic displays. Make sure books that promote tolerance and acceptance are visible to students at every turn.
  • Read books that inspire conversation and debate in book clubs. Dystopians, memoirs, historical fiction... read books with students that make them question societal roles and outcomes.
  • Hang the right signage. Be sure to hang signs, motivational quotes, announcements, statements that make it clear that you harbour students of all kinds. Announce loudly and transparently that compassion is the heartbeat of the library and is expected of its patrons.
  • Make diverse literature available. Flood your displays, your teachers’ mailboxes, your shelves, and your students’ hands with books that represent all walks of life. Reading culturally diverse work develops empathy. It is important that our students understand their own lives, but also see others’ perspectives.
  • Be transparent and vocal. Call out any behavior that intimidates or judges another patron. Be open when students ask you about your positions. Tell students why you believe certain pieces of work are valuable contributions to our societal conversations. Don’t back down.

Librarians have long embraced tolerance and equity. But embracing is no longer enough—we must safeguard those persecuted and promote benevolence with unapologetic ferocity, reminding everybody: We will not watch hate from the sidelines. We will not be complicit to any ideals that could threaten our schools, communities, and families. Instead, we will grab books and media and unflinchingly step straight into the line of fire to defend those who are most vulnerable to any deconstruction of our democratic future: our students.

Angie Miller is the 2011 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). She is a TED presenter, a National Geographic Teacher Fellow, a freelance writer and school librarian. Angie can be followed at www.thecontrarianlibrarian and @angieinlibrary.

Photo credit: Creative Commons image from Pixabay.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion What Your Students Will Remember About You
The best teachers care about students unconditionally but, at the same time, ask them to do things they can’t yet do.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Teaching Profession High Risk for COVID-19 and Forced Back to Class: One Teacher's Story
One theater teacher in Austin has a serious heart condition and cancer, but was denied the ability to work remotely. Here is her story.
9 min read
Austin High School musical theater teacher and instructional coach Annie Dragoo has three underlying health conditions noted by the CDC as being high-risk for coronavirus complications, but was denied a waiver to continue working from home in 2021.
Austin High School musical theater teacher and instructional coach Annie Dragoo has three underlying health conditions noted by the CDC as being high-risk for coronavirus complications, but was denied a waiver to continue working from home in 2021.
Julia Robinson for Education Week
Teaching Profession Photos What Education Looked Like in 2020
A visual recap of K-12 education in 2020 across the United States.
1 min read
On Sept. 24, 2020, distance learners are seen on a laptop held by teacher Kristen Giuliano who assists student Jane Wood, 11, in a seventh-grade social studies class at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn. Many schools around the state have closed temporarily during the school year because of students or staff testing positive for COVID-19. Within the first week of November 2020, nearly 700 students and more than 300 school staff around Connecticut tested positive, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Teacher Kristen Giuliano assists Jane Wood, 11, during a 7th grade social studies class in September at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn., while other students join the class remotely from home.
Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP
Teaching Profession Teachers Are Already Getting COVID-19 Vaccines
Some counties in Indiana began vaccinating teachers this week, ahead of schedule.
4 min read
Valerie Kelly, a 5th grade teacher in Vincennes, Ind., receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 28, 2020.
Valerie Kelly, a 5th grade teacher in Vincennes, Ind., receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 28.
Courtesy of Valerie Kelly