Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Diversity in Elementary School Libraries

Recognition of the need to address diversity in education has steadily increased in recent years yet a clear definition of what diversity means remains elusive. The Council for Exceptional Children defines diversity as “understanding and valuing the characteristics and beliefs of those who demonstrate a wide range of characteristics. This includes ethnic and racial backgrounds, age, physical and cognitive abilities, family status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religious and spiritual values, and geographic location” (CEC website). This broad, yet accurate, view of diversity must drive the work of elementary educators including information professionals and library staff. Specifically, the approach and strategies used by school libraries to address the needs of a diverse student population must be as wide-ranging and all-encompassing as the definition of diversity itself.

Ethnicity, Race, and Culture
Perhaps more than any other element, differences in ethnicity, race, and culture are traditionally thought of when discussing diversity. It remains critically important for school librarians to recognize and respect the needs of the increasingly diverse school population. Minority students are more likely to face challenges in accessing information, technologies, and educational opportunities. So, while important, addressing cultural diversity is more than simply stocking books and materials that reflect the cultural and racial background of each student. In addition, students from minority populations may also belong to one of the other areas of diversity, creating complications and conflicts in the librarian’s ability to meet their needs.
What is more, even in the most homogeneous school populations, the library must be the arena to promote awareness of cultural diversity. A reading program in which students are presented Cinderella stories from a number of different cultures can be used to increase student understanding and appreciation of different cultures.

Physical and Cognitive Ability
In today’s public schools, students with varying physical and cognitive abilities are being increasingly mainstreamed. This mainstreaming does not stop at the door of the classroom. School libraries can make an important contribution to the education of students with disabilities, especially in teaching them information skills that will assist them in accessing information that will be important to their daily living. School librarians must understand these needs and, specifically, work with the Special Education staff to ensure these needs are met.
According to Murray (1999), school libraries can, and do, positively contribute to students facing physical challenges, “particularly in providing opportunities for collaboration and teamwork, in exercising independence, and in creating perceptions of value and acceptance.”

Credaro, A. (2006). School Libraries: Catering to the Special Needs of Children. Warrior Librarian. http://www.warriorlibrarian.com/LIBRARY/kidsneeds.html. Accessed November 29, 2009.

Love, E. (2007). Building Bridges: Cultivating Partnerships between Libraries and Minority Student Services. Education Libraries, 30(1), 13 – 19.

Murray, J. (1999). An Inclusive School Library for the 21st Century: Fostering Independence. IFLA Council and General Conference, August 20-28, 1998.

Murray, J. (2000). Training School Library Staff To Cater for Diversity. Education for Information. 18(4), 313-23.

Murray, J. (2001). Teaching Information Skills to Students with Disabilities: What Works? School Libraries Worldwide. 7(2), 1 – 16.

Murray, J. (2002). The Implications of Inclusive Schooling for School Libraries. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education. 49(3), 301-322.


Monica said...

This was very interesting -- I don't normally think of libraries in terms of how they relate to the disabled. Certainly it is very important that school libraries collaborate with special education staff. I wonder what types of programs, specifically, the library could implement?

J Moses said...

I currently work in a media center and have experienced several issues with diversity this year.

I am currently responsible for the congnitively impared students. There are only four students but they each function at such different levels. Not having a background in special education, I have to rely on their teacher for guidance and suggestions for how to adapt lessons to suit their needs. It is a major challenge and more times than not, I feel like I should be doing more for these students.

The other challenge that I have faced this year is that of poverty. Our district has typically trived economically...with the loss of jobs in Michigan, the impact has been noticable. I felt very uncomfortable this year when we held our annual book fair. The media center gets transformed into a book store for two weeks. I found myself reassuring the students that when the book fair was gone, we would still have great books for them to borrow for free. Our past philosopy was that it was a great opportunity to earn money for the media center while giving the students a chance to grow their personal libraries with quality books at a reasonable price. We might need to re-consider the size and length of this event for next year if the economic climate does not improve.

DJ said...

This is a great post. I have a son that is Aspergers and found this very helpful.

Adrianne said...

Often times people living in homogenous communities forget that we should educate our children on other cultures that might border our cities. It is important to realize that just because we do not live in heterogenous areas, it does not mean we don't need to think about it. I especially liked the idea of reading Cinderella to students from authors of different cultures. Students might be enjoy these different culture ideas and be surprised. Enjoying something similar to a different culture can help us be more understanding and considerate of other's backgrounds.

William Zunich said...

I strongly agree with Murray that school libraries can, and do, positively contribute to students facing physical challenges, “particularly in providing opportunities for collaboration and teamwork, in exercising independence, and in creating perceptions of value and acceptance.”
This is applicable to student with Moderate-Severe cognitive impairments. At my school, our librarian always welcomes our students with moderate-severe impairments. He has set up reading groups and social hour that involves the general education students.
It is a great beginning for creating perceptions of value and acceptance.

Craig Buno said...
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