CE Blog 2019_5: Working Towards Something Better :: NEWS

CE Blog 2019_5: Working Towards Something Better

03 May 2019 Share

It’s May and CE Blog number five already – where is this year going?!

It’s May and CE Blog number five already – where is this year going?! I think the speed at which it’s passing is an indication of how much is going on at the SLA, some of which is exciting, and some of which is required (paperwork!), but all of which is positive as it’s moving us forwards.

Yesterday I was at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education as they hosted CILIP (the library and information association)’s event ‘Building a Nation of Readers’, which was primarily focused on the issues surrounding diversity and representation across the industry. I was pleased to be there representing school libraries – as the discussion proved they are genuinely a central piece in moving the situation forward. The ability to guide children to books that they see themselves reflected in (in a positive way!) and the ability to ensure that they encounter role models within industries so they can picture themselves doing that job – whether as an author; publicist; graphic designer or something else entirely.

I was reminded of the difficulty I had in sourcing books which showed young children in books in positive ways – not just always being the bullied one, or involved in gangs or the one in care. Books that tell positive stories about children of different classes, races, abilities and that show them there is a positive future waiting for them.

I had an interesting discussion about othering[1] and the difficulty of displays. As guides we want to highlight books that deserve attention, and ensure that pupils know of their existence, but it was raised that doing an ‘LGBTQ’ or ‘Diversity’ display is really pointing out the difference, rather than celebrating them as being part of the norm. I completely understand the point, and do agree, but it is complicated – as school staff I wanted to provide role models for all the pupils, and in order to do this we have to highlight those authors… however, it’s made me reconsider whether a purposed display is the right way of going about it – it may be that a mixed purpose display with those diverse voices is actually more poignant. Or have those books on display but without any labels.

While being in this role I have had more than one conversation with someone who feels, for whatever reason, that the job/conference/sector wasn’t inclusive, and wasn’t ‘for them’. We need to do all we can to change this – it’s on those of us who are already working in the space to make it more welcoming. Some of that is big change, such as the economics and making sure jobs are paid at a reasonable rate, part of that is medium change – such as bearing in mind when discussing the ‘need’ for qualifications that the education system is weighted against certain groups, and some of it is personal – keeping an eye on the authors we bring into schools and making sure they come from a range of backgrounds. Even with restricted budgets we need to be searching for the diverse books, because it’s not just about the books – it’s about society. It’s about empathy and perspective and understanding – it’s about making sure that every child can see a future that has choices in it, a chance for them to be different, live differently to their family should they choose to.

The school library sector has an important role to play, in setting children’s expectations, and in contributing to change within the publishing sector. Bearing in mind that reports to Prevent regarding far right sentiments are on the increase (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46556447) we need to be having these discussions, making diverse material available and not shying away from getting involved.

At times yesterday the discussion was uncomfortable, anger and bitterness were laid out for everyone to see, but it is important that these discussions are happening because it’s only by listening to people’s experiences that we can start to understand the challenges and how we need to change. We need to learn how to be better, and do better and we need to choose who to learn from carefully. We can’t expect people to simply take our word that things are changing – they need to be invited in, to see it for themselves. We can't expect people to be grateful things are changing – it’s where they belong, opportunities they deserve, and prospects they have earnt.

At the SLA we are aware of these issues, and are looking at things we can put in place so we are an association for everyone. Things take time, and we may make mistakes along the way, but we are listening, learning and doing what we can to put the pressure on to activate change.

It’s a bank holiday so I’m going to end with 5 things to help create change based on the discussion we had yesterday:

1) Re-think displays – you may still feel that LGBTQ month deserves a big display – just make sure those voices are included in other displays too.

2) If you have to buy books at huge discounts it does impact what the author gets paid – maybe do this strategically, and choose carefully who’s book you buy at full price, and who you ask for freebies (remembering that the industry as a whole suffers from an economic problem as this article shows: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/17/writers-earn-less-than-600-a-year).

3) Make sure speakers that are invited into school show the breadth of who exists in the world – as someone said yesterday they are all just stories, and most people will find something human to connect to.

4) Notice what is being taught – are there women, people of colour, different classes and abilities being taught on your curriculum? Is the homework that is being set focused one way or the other? Have you got resources on offer to balance the narrative? Could you discuss this with the teacher/curriculum leader/child?   

5) Maintain your book knowledge with a specific focus on diversity and inclusion – recognise when a book only has white, able bodied characters in it. It doesn’t make it any better or not, but recognising it is important (this is also really interesting to do with adverts). For every book like that read one that represents a range of people. Letterbox library (https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/) is great for this, and of course, our own journal The School Librarian has significant numbers of book reviews.  

Enjoy the bank holiday!