Selecting a “just right book” means choosing a book with a stretch goal reading level. What if “just right book” meant a book that enriches our view of ourselves and others by expanding perspectives on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)? As a library media specialist (LMS), I have worked to provide book collections that inspire personal meaning, connections, or reactions. My purpose is to nurture a positive reading culture with sensitivity to needs and goals, building student trust, respect, and self-efficacy. The American Association of School Librarians (2020) states an LMS curates a “current, diverse, and inclusive collection…that support[s] the developmental, cultural, social, and linguistic needs of all learners” (p. 2). DEI is our charge. I am still in the process (because you never finish building a culturally relevant library) to develop our collection to represent ALL our students.
Educators offering a culturally relevant library must consider who the students are in front of them. My district’s equity statement states we “ensure access and opportunity for ALL regardless of race, ability, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Our equity focus empowers ALL to thrive by actively dismantling systems while challenging biases and barriers to success.” The library and books are part of that system. Therefore, my focus is to ensure the library collection provides ALL students with access and opportunities. Over time, I have developed the SCCAN method to do so.
- Students: Who are the students? What identities do they (not) represent? How do I include student voice and choice? What are they requesting for topics and titles?
- Collection: What identities are in the collection? What identities are missing? Whose and what stories are (not) told? Who are the authors? Do the authors represent authentic experiences? How will I determine priorities (race, cultures, abilities, genders, etc.)?
- Curate: How will I choose titles? What sources do I use to find the titles? What needs to be removed?
- Advocate: How am I removing barriers to access? How will I introduce new titles? How will I reach who needs to see the books (students, faculty, staff, community)? Who needs to know what I am doing so I can continue to build a culturally relevant collection?
- Next Steps: Peel the onion. How will I build from here?
Knowing the students is the first step to provide compelling learning opportunities successfully. Looking at demographic data is part of the process, but so is getting to know the students. Who are they as individuals? What are their interests? What opportunities exist (or not) to experience other perspectives?
While the library collection is primarily driven by curriculum alignment, a school library helps students become lifelong learners. Students want to see themselves represented in books and hear authentic voices. The term #OwnVoices has helped identify these authentic voices. However, We Need Diverse Books (@diversebooks), an organization for culturally relevant practices, recently changed from using the term to using specific descriptions of authors focused on identity. Identity matters.
Curation is adding and removal. Misrepresentation is as important as the absence of culturally relevant materials. Conducting a diversity audit helps identify gaps to fill and resources to remove. Knowing where to find culturally relevant materials and creating lists is an ongoing process. Visiting websites such as Diverse Book Finder Tool and We Are Kid Lit Collective and following curators such as @brownbookshelf and @novelmindkitlit can build a professional learning network (PLN) for curating resources.
Time to get books in students’ hands now that the collection is more culturally relevant. Book talks, book displays, and book trailers are a few ways to advertise the books to students. However, barriers to access may become apparent as you advocate for a culturally relevant collection. Discuss the changes in the collection at PTA meetings, administrative and faculty meetings, and with community groups to open avenues for funding and support to continue the work.
SCCANning is an ongoing learning process. When gaps start to close, you know others become the focus. Circulation statistics tell one story of the changes, but you find a student left LGBTQ in the catalog search box and disappointingly see no search results. You find LGBTQ is not in any of the book records – so you immediately add LGBTQ to the book records. Next time, you know they will see results. When a quiet, first-grade student speaks up during a read-aloud to say she “is a Muslim, too,” because the book’s main character is a Muslim woman – you know. A staff member borrows books because they saw the new books about their culture and want their child to read more about their family culture – you know. A group of girls selected novels by Black authors and left the library talking excitedly about their choices – you know. You know the work makes a difference.
American Association of School Librarians. (2020). The school librarian’s role in reading. Retrieved