“Belonging” In The Library

Picture showing me showing off our new pronoun pin station in the library as well as the sign at the circ desk that lets students know we will honor & use the name and pronouns they want us to use for them.

Today I want to talk about “belonging” in the library. Over the past two years I’ve done a lot of reflection and PD to figure out how to build a library that is meeting the current and emerging needs of ALL of our students. As I tried to pinpoint what we could be doing better or what needed to change about our library, I finally found the framework I needed to keep me on track and heading in the direction our students deserve.

Essentially I started asking myself these questions:

  1. Who does this library belong to?
  2. What does “belonging” look & feel like?

As a school librarian, the first question is easy to answer, or at least it should be. The school library primarily and firstly belongs to its students.

The second question took a bit more reflection and consideration. I spent some time, and continue to do so in an ongoing manner, asking myself “what does belonging look & feel like.” Not in the library specifically! I just spent time trying to pinpoint how I know when I belong somewhere. What needs to occur for me to feel like a place belongs to me and me to it. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. I know I belong when a space is physically comfortable to me (as a fat woman places are definitely not always physically comfortable for me to occupy. Those spaces send a message with the way they choose to design a space: the furniture they use, the layout of the space/aisles, etc)
  2. I know I belong when a space is available to me on my time (if I work the hours of 7a-3p every weekday, and a space is not open after 3p on a weekday, then I can never feel that space belongs to me because the space isnt accessible to me on my time)
  3. I know I belong when the things I love, value, prioritize, or need are celebrated, centered, and made space for.
  4. I know I belong when things that harm (physically, psychologically, or emotionally) me are not allowed and when that rule is vigorously and publicly enforced and upheld.
  5. I know I belong when I see other people like me reflected positively in that space.
  6. I know I belong when I can be myself and not be judged and when the owners of the space don’t try to change me so that I fit their space, and instead change the space so that it fits me.

Feeling like you belong somewhere is a strange thing to try to pin down, its very much a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing. But after reflecting on it a bit I realized that it is something that can be pinned down. And if I can figure out what makes me feel like I belong somewhere, then I can use those insights to ensure I’m building a library program, space, and collection where students feel and KNOW they belong too.

Over the last year I’ve started using this idea as a framework around which I base my decisions. I started looking at every aspect of our library: the physical space, collection, programming, communication style & formats, policies, procedures, etc etc etc. Everything. Every single thing that makes the library the library, THEIR library. I looked at all of it and for every single thing I asked myself:

  1. “is this helping the library belong to ALL the students?”
  2. “is this harming or excluding any of my students?”
  3. “what changes can I make to ensure better inclusivity, representation, or access?”

And I found that, yes, actually there were A LOT of things I could change to ensure better inclusivity, representation, and access. So I started changing those things. And I’ll look at it all again this year and probably find MORE things I can change or improve upon. And that will be a continuous cycle for now on. Change is a good thing. When you know better, you can do better.

I hope you’ll take some time this year to consider if your library really belongs to who its supposed to belong to, which is the students. And to consider whether that fact is being successfully FELT by the students themselves. Do they feel belonging in the library? ALL of them? Which students are feeling it? Which students are not? Why not? What can you change so that more students can feel it?

Here are a few reflection questions to get you started:

  1. How do your students know they belong in the library… and that the library belongs to them?
  2. Do ALL students see themselves reflected on the shelves? In every genre? Without harmful stereotypes present?
  3. Do ALL students see their culture, beliefs, identities, & priorities celebrated, given pride of place, given equal space in the library? Authentically? All year long? Or only during certain months of the year?
  4. Do students SEE you go to bat for their right to exist, to be represented, to feel welcome, to fit in, to belong?
  5. If any student asked you for a book with a main character just like them… would you have a book to hand them? Would you have more than one?

Examples of things I’ve done / changed to ensure better inclusion, representation, access, & establish the library as a place every student belongs

  1. Diversity Audit – gaining an unflinching look, hard data, to prove what representations are present and absent from our shelves
  2. Updating all signage – primarily to ensure clipart characters range in race, ethnicity, physical ability, etc. You can see my signage here
  3. Clearly supporting Queer identities via pronoun pins and promoting our ability to add a student’s name & pronouns to their destiny profile if they want. A promise to address students by the name and pronouns they tell us are correct for them.
  4. Big, huge, super celebratory queer book displays all year round
  5. Ensuring diverse rep is present in EVERY SINGLE DISPLAY, LIST, RECOMMENDATION VIDEO, BOOK TALK, ETC ETC ETC. Also ensuring intersectional representation is present!
  6. Ditched Dewey Decimal System – you can read more about that here
  7. Advocating for curricular change where harmful texts are still being used
  8. Working with teacher colleagues to help them find alternative primary sources and novels to expand and diversify the voices being highlighted in class
  9. Utilizing diversity audit data to weed harmful content as appropriate and to purchase diverse new acquisitions
  10. Stopped decorating the library for christmas. I’ll do a full post about this later this fall but suffice it to say that I was NOT equally celebrating every holiday in the library, Christmas was getting WAY more attention and celebration in the space than any other holiday. I had to ask myself “can I really celebrate EVERY holiday EQUALLY? Or does it make more sense to keep the library secular?” After discussion with my students I determined that the best decision, the decision that harms the least people (actually it harms no people) was not to celebrate religious holidays in the library. Do you know what I celebrate instead? The students. Their successes, their failures, their artwork, their intelligence, their joy, their passion. Those are the things I focus on celebrating instead.
  11. Going fine-free to ensure students with families of all socio-economic status and financial ability feel welcome in the library.

Ok those are just a few examples. It’s like a snowball, once you start, even if its with just one little thing, you’ll find that your ideas will keep coming and coming and coming. And pretty soon you’ll find that there are lots of things you can do and change and add to ensure more students feel the belonging they deserve to feel in the library which is theirs.

Go and get ’em you awesome change-makers, you!

This is kind of a quick little post (you know my blog posts are usually MASSIVE and wordy) but I did a presentation in this recently and figured it would make a nice little addition to the blog. 🙂

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