#WeNeedDiverseBooks in Academic Libraries

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from AJ Robinson, Islamic Studies & South Asian Studies Librarian at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Some people don’t expect to see themselves in the library.” This comment from Vivek Shraya, 2015 recipient of the South Asia Book Award, was a moment of clarity at the Conference on South Asia in Madison. The conversation among book award authors addressed #WeNeedDiverseBooks, an online campaign that has highlighted issues of exclusion in mainstream literature industries. “Diverse books” generally feature characters of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTQIA identities, and/or varying abilities. Many libraries with a strong focus on serving young readers have embraced the campaign with displays, booktalks, and new collection development strategies. There has yet to be significant traction for this campaign in academic libraries, so as academic librarians we must ask ourselves: do our users see themselves in the stacks?

Despite the influx of university diversity and inclusion programs, minority students at many schools continue to report feeling like outsiders. The topic of diverse books exposed a critical gap for supporting my students—a visible collection that explicitly recognizes their presence. Making diverse books prominent in academic libraries is a necessary component for welcoming all users.

At my library, I started expanding the Popular Literature (PopLit) collection with novels and other non-scholarly titles representing authors, protagonists, and themes related to South Asia. PopLit is located on the main floor next to study spaces and arranged by genre for browsability. I also noticed other gaps in the collection, including a need for representation of my other subject specialty, Islamic Studies. Working with PopLit had the benefit of collaborating with other bibliographers, reducing strain on subject-specific collection budgets, and (most importantly) placed the books on shelves more accessible for casual browsing.

The push for diversity in books speaks to wider issues in systematic exclusion, including standard selection tools such as mainstream publishers and reviewers. Booklists such as the South Asia Book Awards and blogs like Arabic Literature (in English) have been instrumental in building a core collection. I also sought out alternative publishers such as Arsenal Pulp Press, Other Press, and Seven Stories Press. In selecting books, I prioritized finding authors who speak directly from personal experiences to balance popular journalist, travel writer, or ghost-writer accounts. I also sought materials with a wide variety of genres and formats, such as graphic novels and poetry.

To reach a wider spectrum of genres, my most useful tool were lists on GoodReads. Lists like “Desi Chick Lit,” “South Asians in Contemporary YA,” “Fiction featuring Muslim Women,” and “Queer Islam,” among others, were useful for identifying novels appropriate for pleasure reading, and the user-submitted reviews helped evaluate literary and content quality. Although GoodReads is now owned by Amazon, it’s possible to change the interface to easily check availability through BetterWorldBooks or IndieBound.

In processing new titles, student workers curate books for display on the centrally located New Books Shelf. The YA novels have eye-catching covers that draw interest to the shelves even from a distance. I also found an opportunity to promote the books through collaboration with the campus Center for Diversity and Inclusion, which is housed on the second floor of the library. We arranged to display a monthly book exhibit related to their programs. New PopLit titles complemented and balanced relevant academic texts. Books circulated from the exhibit each month, and several students expressed appreciation for the display.

If students immediately recognize that the library is intended for them, they are far more likely to see the rest of the services we provide. As librarians we must be deliberate and proactive to “meet users where they are.” Building and promoting the collection has challenged perceptions of the library to open conversations and outreach on campus. While a book collection alone cannot address the deep inequalities embedded in higher education, it is an important opportunity to show users that we see and value them in the library.

August Thoughts on the National Diversity in Libraries Conference

As the school year is about to begin, it seems like August is the month to scramble. At least, that’s how it feels for me. It’s been a month of deadlines, projects, vacation, but also conferences.

I had the opportunity to attend the National Diversity in Libraries Conference (NDLC) at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Libraries and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). The purpose of NDLC is to “highlight issues related to diversity and inclusion that affect staff, users, and institutions in the library, archive, and museum (LAM) fields.”

I was fortunate enough to not only participate as a panelist, but also as a poster presenter.  While it was my intention to write about the panel I presented with, I kept thinking of the whole conference itself. I have decided to divert just a little bit. Please bear with me, my thoughts might be a little scrambled.

I want to write about how great, insightful, and inspiring the National Diversity in Libraries Conference (NDLC) was. My favorite library conference so far, NDLC brought together a diverse, intelligent, and amazing group of librarians. The participants were met with warm welcome by not only the librarians and organizers of NDLC, but the UCLA staff that kept the campus running and beautiful.

The opening keynote was given by Lakota Harden, who is an organizer, poet, and activist. As I listened to Ms. Harden’s keynote, I was blown away at the honesty and the passion that Ms. Harden gave. The keynote by Ms. Harden set the stage and mood for the rest of the conference.

“If you walk out of this, know this: You have power.”

The night before, I sat down with the NDLC program and wrote out my schedule. Looking through all the sessions and panels, I saw a variety of topics, issues, and librarian presenters and participants from everywhere in the country.

Like many other librarians there, I chose sessions/panels according to my duties and research interests. One of my (many) memorable sessions was the very first one I attended after the opening keynote. “Discovering and Accommodating the Needs of Target Communities in Academic Libraries” was a session that was composed of lightning talks from librarians throughout California and the rest of the United States (and one librarian from Canada!).

When I attend conferences and pick my sessions, I want to be informed and learn about how other librarians are serving their students. That was the thing, “students.” I am ashamed to admit that I have (i am working on it) tunnel vision. I was so focused on what the students need, what they want, and what we can provide them with, that I completely missed others. I had missed faculty, community users, and staff.

One of the lighting talks that really exemplified serving the needs of all people at their institution were the librarians at Loyola Marymount, Raymundo Andrade and Jamie Hazlitt. Andrade and Hazlitt designed some workshops for underserved staff members at Loyola Marymount. These workshops, taught in both English and in Spanish, were library orientation sessions that were held according to the Facilities staff schedules.

Like any other workshop, it had its challenges, but also brought success and allowed the librarians to form relationships with other groups on campus. This presentation made me think of the power and impact of libraries. Not only for students, but other communities within the university. These workshops not only provide a gateway to information literacy, but they provide a deeper connection to the institution. After all, a university is not just composed of students and faculty, but staff who cook, clean the buildings and dorms, and work on the landscape to keep the university beautiful and welcoming.

There were so many great sessions and panels, but the work that the librarians at Loyola Marymount are doing stuck with me for the rest of the conference.

This is what libraries can do. This is what we should be doing.

I reflected on my own work and what I can do to further engage other communities on campus. I am still brainstorming, but more to come this semester. The rest of my time at NDLC was filled with sessions and panels about archives, community outreach, and many other topics. Of course, no library conference is complete without networking and getting to know your fellow librarians. NDLC truly felt like home to me. It provided a space where I was able to marvel at all the other librarians who are doing work that inspire me. Of course, this conference was made possible by a couple of people who I think deserve a huge thank you:

-To UCLA, UCLA Libraries, and ARL for hosting this great conference and giving us all a warm welcome.

-To the people with the blue t-shirts standing around campus, giving directions to the attendees, thank you. Without you, I would have literally walked around in circles.

-To the librarians who presented, I hope you continue to do the work you are doing. It’s important and should not be put aside.

Finally, to the librarians who I presented a panel with. I was so glad to finally meet you in person and I am glad that NDLC was the place for it.

Seeking First Year Academic Librarian Bloggers

With the new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank Quetzalli Barrientos, Callie Wiygul Branstiter, and Heidi Johnson for their terrific posts this past year in our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series. We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, please use the ACRLog Tip Page to contact us by September 10. Along with your contact info, please send:

– a sample blog post
– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog

Please send any questions to msmale@citytech.cuny.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Finding and Valuing My Own Voice

Today is my birthday. I am 24 years old. Today also marks the end of my time as an ACRLog blogger. I wanted to use this last blog post to reflect on how much blogging for ACRLog has been foundational to my development, not only a librarian but as a whole person.

When I started blogging, I was a second-year LIS student. I saw ACRLog’s call for new bloggers and, desperate for more lines on my CV in preparation for my upcoming job search, I applied. I had no idea how much blogging would impact me and, someday, become much more than a credential. I had never read Hack Library School (HLS) or seen LIS students blog regularly. I am thankful that the administrators of the blog, Maura Smale and Jen Jarson, accepted and encouraged me. They believed that it was worthwhile to give voice to an LIS student perspective.

My first post, which was about Dr. Steven Salaita’s intellectual freedom case against the University of Illinois, was an amalgamation of many half-developed, disconnected thoughts. I wrote about what the case meant for faculty governance, scholarly communication, and evaluation processes in higher education. I was taking my first scholarly communication class at the time, which meant that I had already started grappling with these ideas. Writing the post gave me the opportunity and the space to piece my thoughts together and shed light on how all of these seemingly unrelated conversations were connected. I was empowered to imagine something new and, even more importantly, reflect.

Every post I have written since that first one has happened in the same way. While (I hope!) that my writing has improved, my process has stayed the same. Before a post, I find myself revisiting conversations, experiences in the classroom, blog posts, and Tweets that push me to think differently. I reflect on how these pieces connect or how they’ve shaped my practice. Often this means that my posts are disconnected, with multiple theses and tangents. But it also means that I’m always becoming a better, more introspective librarian. I know that ACRLog has helped me find this process. It’s something that I hope to continue long after this last post.

There’s a difference between finding one’s voice and valuing one’s voice. I share my age above for a reason. Before I started blogging, I had a hard time believing that anything that I had to say was worth sharing. As someone incredibly inexperienced, I did not have the courage to share my perspective. I hadn’t taught extensively. I was just learning about openness and scholarly communication. I felt like a true novice. When others started sharing, lifting up, and commenting on my ACRLog posts, it helped me realize that a novice perspective is incredibly valuable. It helped me recognize that I could reframe and question concepts that I was still learning about. I found that my new, fresh perspective could be an asset. I always knew that I had something to say. Blogging helped me realize that it was worth saying.

These realizations have solidified my commitment to lifting up LIS students. I have found that our field often conflates ability with experience. Like much of my first year as a librarian, blogging for ACRLog has taught me that newness is not always a limitation. Newness sometimes enables us to see brokenness when others can’t, particularly in ingrained and entrenched practices. That’s why I’m thankful for ACRLog’s collaboration with HLS last January. I’m appreciative of Maura and Jen, and their willingness to run with the idea. I know that we highlighted LIS student perspectives as well as Hack Library School’s blog. I hope that the collaboration gave regular ACRLog readers who might not read HLS an opportunity to recognize and grapple with LIS student concerns.

Finally, being a part of the ACRLog team has been refreshing and life-giving for me. It’s been a constant reminder of the generosity and kindness of many of my library colleagues. I applied to be an ALA Emerging Leader last month. As a part of the application, I was asked to describe effective leadership. I wrote the following:

Effective leadership creates space for others to grow to their full potential. Thus, for me, leadership is not centered on power or control. I believe that we can have the greatest influence when we teach, mentor, and help others develop to be the best that they can be. While it is time-intensive, the investment in others enables them to create lasting, impactful change in the future…It is centered on the principle that working with others always makes ideas stronger and strategies more thoughtful.

Working with encouraging, invested mentors and colleagues through ACRLog has made this abundantly obvious to me. From the writing suggestions they’ve given me to the example they’ve set for shared collaborative work, the ACRLog team has helped me grow to my full potential. Working closely with the First Year Academic Library (FYAL) bloggers has also given me the opportunity to help others grow. I’m thankful for the opportunity to grow while also playing a role in the development of others.

I know that, while it’s difficult, leaving ACRLog will create space for new voices and give me time to pursue other projects (some of which ACRLog has made possible). I hope that the next set of bloggers finds and values their own voice—blogging has been an invaluable tool for helping me to do so.

Attempting to complicate students’ news consumption

“Anyone who isn’t confused doesn’t really understand the situation.”  –Edward R. Murrow

This past semester, per usual, a faculty member who teaches political science at my institution asked her students to read and watch the news. My colleague incorporated, as she normally does, discussion of current events into class time. The presidential primaries and accompanying media circus in the spring proved especially engaging for the students. The resulting class discussions were often productive, raising important questions and issues about government and politics. Yet the discussions also sometimes revealed students’ challenges with news consumption. Students, for example, seemed to bring information and perspectives to class that were mostly confirmations of what they already thought. Students were usually quick to label partisanship, but otherwise often missed bias in the media. Students sometimes seemed unable to tease apart reporting versus commentary.

These behaviors and challenges are likely not a surprise to most educators, especially librarians. Nor are they unique to college students. Many of us grapple with news consumption ourselves. How could we not, in this age of information overload? We are swimming (or is it drowning?) in a sea of information. To keep our heads above water, we skim just the headlines, we visit the sites or apps we’re most accustomed to, we rely on the stories that turn up in our social media feeds. These practices might make the wide and deep information ocean more easily navigable, but limiting our exposure in these ways can strengthen our confirmation bias and subject us to further filter bubbles.

When a first-year student in my colleague’s class last semester asked her for suggestions on where to go to get news, it gave my colleague pause. Sure, some quick suggestions for selected websites or apps could help that student, and perhaps others, engage with current events. But the student’s question prompted my colleague to think more deeply about students’ news consumption behaviors overall. Where and how were students getting their news, she wondered? How did they approach the news they consumed? She informally surveyed students in her courses to get a sense of their habits and perspectives. When she reached out to me to ask if we might work together to help students engage with news on a more regular basis and in more critical ways, of course I said yes. Now we’re aiming to connect students to reputable news sources, but we’re equally if not more concerned with developing their practices and capacities as news consumers and critical thinkers.

I’ve been exploring a number of news literacy resources for inspiration. And there are, indeed, plenty of inspirational projects already: the Center for News Literacy, The News Literacy Project, Why News Matters, and News Literacy 2016, to name just a few. And there are guides aplenty with lists of links to diverse news databases and sites, plus checklists with criteria for evaluating sources for accuracy and authority. But my colleague and I want to focus more on the important questions that can help students reflect on and shape their behaviors and attitudes about accessing and consuming news. We’re trying to distill those complexities into a simple and accessible (read: short) resource guide. Some of the organizing prompts we’ve been brainstorming so far include:

  • Why does news matter? – An understanding of the role of news in society; Motivation to seek news
  • How does news work? – An understanding of how news systems operate and make money; An understanding of who makes decisions in how news is prioritized, reported, produced in different systems
  • Finding (and diversifying) news – Identifying and selecting news sources; Developing a news consumption habit by integrating news into existing media/device usage; The impact of personal news choices on the diversity of information and perspectives encountered
  • What does “bias” even mean? – An understanding of bias as more than liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican; An understanding that “every source is biased and subjective and be able to contextualize such biases”; Considering what information and perspectives are left out of news; Considering the impact of tone, style, language, etc. on audience perception of news; Considering how personal beliefs and experiences impact individual perception of news
  • Cultivating a questioning attitude – An understanding of confirmation bias; Checking for corroboration/verification; Practicing using the lens of news production systems’ and authors’ practices and motives to examine news sources (Ashley, Maksl, and Craft published some helpful prompts in their News Media Literacy scale.)

I imagine this is a topic near and dear to the hearts and minds of many ACRLog readers, so I’m eager to hear your take. What news literacy work have you been doing? What are your favorite examples of news literacy guides and resources? What do you think are the most important news literacy concepts, questions, and tools for students? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.