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Access to Librarians in Schools Leads to a Greater Sense of Belonging

Published onMar 30, 2023
Access to Librarians in Schools Leads to a Greater Sense of Belonging

Last spring, I was interviewed for an article in School Library Journal which sought to highlight library spaces and programs that were inclusive, particularly for LGBTQ+ students.1 It was a joy to share the mission and values of my school - especially how our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging impacts the student experience in our library space. Then, in November, I had the opportunity to chaperone a group of students who were attending the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in San Antonio, Texas. The conference takes place each year along with the People of Color Conference (PoCC). It is a unique experience bringing youth and educators together for a connected experience. The youth who participate are partners in the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts occurring on their campuses and are some of the most inspiring young people I get to work with each year. This year, I noted once again how many of the educators responsible for the equity and justice work in their schools were also school librarians. A favorite moment was when poet Nikki Giovani, one of the keynote speakers, commended librarians for the inclusive spaces they create. 

For many reasons, librarian advocacy shouldn’t come as a surprise. Libraries are often the heart of a school. They are places where students, employees, and families can see themselves represented in books and resources. Libraries are where many people get to experience the joy of discovering “that book” that puts them on the road to a lifelong love of books and learning. They are places where learners of all ages can explore new perspectives and ideas in a space that is welcoming and non judgemental, and sets them free from academic labels that can stigmatize rather than support. 

The school librarian is often one of the trusted adults in a student’s life, who gets to see them progress and grow over multiple years. Librarians  collaborate with colleagues across disciplines and grade levels and they understand the needs of students more broadly, as well  as the specific needs of students and their individual learning differences. Because of this breadth of observation and knowledge, school librarians can create collections, select learning tools, and partner with specialists to get the best resources in place for students with learning differences in order to help them overcome barriers. It is essential that students with learning differences receive the support they deserve, and it is almost always the case that any tool, structure, system, or resource that benefits a particular learning difference, also benefits every student who has access to it.

In January, WLA, along with the School Library Division and the Legislative Committee, worked to propose a bill (SB 5102/HB1609) in the Washington State Legislature that would ensure all schools have trained librarians or access to a teacher librarian.2 We know that school librarians make a positive difference in the academic outcomes of students.3 We also know that districts and schools don’t always acknowledge library programs or librarians as essential. This contributes to systems of inequity all over our state. As I write this, the bill is still making its way through the legislative session. Our hope is that the bill becomes law and assists in creating equitable learning experiences for all students. Accessibility starts with access; providing students with access to the expertise, understanding, pedagogical knowledge, and the lens of justice, equity, inclusion, and belonging that librarians bring to a school community is one step that we can take in the effort to ensure, “that everyone knows they belong”.4

A smiling person with short, dark brown hair wearing a blue shirt and jacket poses next to a brick wall outside.

Sam Harris, M.Ed., MLIS lives in the South Puget Sound area and has been a school librarian for almost two decades. She is passionate about advocating for and partnering with youth in libraries. 
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