Giving Voice to the Unheard in a Middle School Library

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Kirsten Wall

Throughout the week at the Teachers in the Movement Summer Institute, we read articles, heard lectures, and discussed the topic of how the Civil Rights Movement is taught in schools. K-12 curricula has often focused on specific stories about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, the March on Washington, and other topics that have been accepted as part of the dominant narrative. It is too easy to avoid other people, events, and stories that might be messier or more difficult to discuss in a classroom. But when these stories are not told, our understanding is incomplete. As a middle school librarian, I can do my part to help draw awareness to these often neglected stories that are not part of the dominant narrative. A few ways in which I can create awareness are through using annotated bibliographies, book talks, and book displays.

Part of my responsibility as a school librarian is to stay abreast of new materials in order to be able to order and recommend new books and other materials for our library. To do that, I must read reviews of new resources and search for appropriate resources I might come upon in bookstores, other libraries, and through personal recommendations. I will definitely pay closer attention now when I come across books that focus on those whose stories are less well known. But simply knowing about the sources is not enough–I must work to ensure that my teachers are also aware of these materials and that these materials are available for their use. Sometimes it is effective to have chance meetings with the teachers, and it is wonderful when these sources are available when they ask for them. But often teachers are so busy that they do not know the full extent of resources that are available to them.

Therefore, I plan to create annotated bibliographies that will highlight titles appropriate for middle school students, either for classroom use (perhaps a picture book that could be read to an entire class) or that students could read on their own. These annotated bibliographies will highlight people and groups who have traditionally been overlooked and will include a summary of what the book is about, how it can be used, and the formats in which it is available (i.e. print, e-book, e-audiobook). In addition to providing print copies of these lists, I will also include them in the library section of our staff’s Google Drive, post them in our Library Canvas course to which all students and staff have access, and display them in our library. These lists will be accessible in many different locations so patrons will more likely come across them. Furthermore, the annotated bibliographies will be updated regularly and will be easy to read, engaging, and visual so that they will be as accessible as possible.

Performing book talks is also a valuable way to disseminate information. We regularly host sixth grade reading classes and all grades’ English classes come to the library to find books to read. I will introduce these books when possible and will ensure that social studies teachers understand that I am available to present relevant book talks to their classes. Most of the time, when I talk about a book with a patron, it is with a single student or staff member who has come in looking for their next read. It is important to keep all stories in mind when recommending books.

Our library regularly changes our book displays to showcase certain books that focus on a particular theme. I will make sure that my library is not only focusing on dominant historical narratives but that we are attempting to present a fuller picture. To draw attention to the books on display, it will be important to use signage. This signage will need some sort of explanation–maybe sticky notes or folded tents of paper summarizing the book. It would also be very interesting to pair up books such as: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose with a book on Rosa Parks; or Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tomatium with a book about Brown v. Board of Education.

As this project proceeds, it will be essential to include a wide array of books: nonfiction,  biographies, fiction, picture books, and audiobooks that address all reading levels. So far, I have been discussing materials related to the Civil Rights Movement. It is important to remember that many groups of people have been marginalized historically, including women, the LGBTQ community, the poor, and the imprisoned. All of these voices, many of which have been historically not heard, are important to tell in order to understand the whole story of who we are and where we live. As a librarian, I can do my part to introduce students and teachers to these unheard stories.

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