Reenvisioning Libraries. There's a Project for That. | From the Editor

While we're rethinking everything, how would you better serve youth in your community? SLJ is supporting a project to devise a new, crowdsourced vision for libraries. 

These times—I’m sure plenty of us are rethinking a lot of things. The epidemic has turned life upside down and caused massive upheaval, culturally, politically, professionally, and personally, and that was before the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May sparked widespread protests and a national reckoning with ­systemic racism. 

The opportunity to shake things up was not lost on Mega Subramaniam and Linda Braun. The two approached me early in May with a proposal. Their goal: To crowdsource a new vision for library services to youth and, with the help of volunteers, craft a practical plan for public libraries to put it into ­action. SLJ was all in to support it. (See “COVID-19 Is an Opportunity To Rethink Youth Librarianship | Reimagining Libraries.” 

“The way we did things before…” Subramaniam, an associate professor at the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, mused, “wasn’t all that great.” Indeed, a system, organizations, the way just about anything works can be improved. The pandemic provided time and space to reflect and devise a plan for a new, improved model of librarianship, which could then be applied as libraries reopened. 

Read: "Retire Those Legacy Approaches. It’s Time to Be Bold and Innovative. | Reimagining Libraries"

Has the project changed with the nation’s attention to racial oppression? The intended approach has always had an equity perspective, says Braun, a consultant with LEO (Librarians and Educators Online). “Given the pandemic and injustice we are seeing in our country, we want to focus on nondominant youth,” who could be kids of color, non-English speakers, LGBTQIA, and those lacking basic resources or technology access.

Crowdsourcing change

More than a hundred people signed up to join virtual gatherings, from which Subramaniam and Braun will synthesize the group work in succeeding posts on SLJ. The project will culminate in August with a phased plan for revamping youth librarianship.

The sessions, held via Zoom (two as of this writing), have been well attended, with librarians representing public, academic, and K–12 institutions taking part. While Braun explicitly raised “the ­crisis” as a discussion point in one session, ­participants needed little prompting that way. 

“We are centering race in our decisions as we ­create virtual services and reopen for limited services, starting with programming aimed at families from underrepresented groups,” offered Danielle Jones, a librarian at Multnomah County Library Hollywood branch in Portland, OR. This had been the library’s commitment, she told me. “What has changed since the protests was that we let the community know what was guiding our decisions.” 

Multnomah has also adjusted its subscriptions, so that in-demand titles on racism, antiracism, and social justice would always be available to users. Jones adds, “Kirby McCurtis [MCL regional manager and ALSC 2020-21 president-elect] and I are trying to turn a series we would teach about talking about racism with young children for primary caregivers into a self-guided online curriculum that we could do discussion groups around.”

Tapping local partners can help libraries more ­effectively connect with their communities. That’s a challenge if library staff haven’t already established relationships with potential allies, says Braun. One PA library director she knows has used the pandemic as an opportunity to contact organizations that she had wanted to partner with but hadn’t had the chance. 

In practice, “being the change you want to see in the world” takes work. And it stands to reason that the more inclusive of ideas and varied perspectives you are throughout the journey, the better the outcome for your communities. 

It’s a good time to reach out.


Kathy Ishizuka


Author Image
Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing