We finally moved! Thank you to everyone who has followed us to our new platform and has patiently dealt with our technology issues… One advantage to the website format: it allows readers to comment. We hope you will feel free to comment on our newsletters and start a conversation!
As part of our commitment to engaging in an on-going discussion about systemic oppression in libraries, Allie has written up a great section on implicit bias. We also highlight an article from American Libraries about police and security presence. Please let us know how these issues are playing out in your libraries. Highlighting articles is a start, but it’s even better when we can hear from librarians doing the work on the frontlines.
Thank you for being such committed readers, and showing up for others (and for yourselves!) during this pandemic.
Learn: Implicit Bias
Last month Katherine did a great job giving an important overview of structural racism in libraries. To piggy-back this conversation, I want to have an open conversation about implicit bias.
The term implicit bias was first coined back in 1995 by psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, where they argued that social behavior is largely influenced by unconscious associations and judgments (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). As children’s librarians we need to not only be able to recognize our own personal implicit biases as we interact with the public, but also institutional implicit bias.
Individual Implicit Bias
In 2019, CityLab posted an article, Is Your Librarian a Racist? that garnered a lot of attention. The article cited a study that examined whether racial discrimination existed in access to public services in the United States. The researchers emailed 19,000 public services and found that emails from “black-sounding” names (examples: “DeShawn Jackson” and “Tyrone Washington”) were 4 percent less likely to get a response, compared to identical emails from senders who signed the email with white-sounding names (“Greg Walsh” and “Jake Mueller.”) The difference in response was particularly stark in emails to sheriffs’ offices, but also statistically significant in libraries. While some have pointed out some flaws to the study (is it really a librarian answering the emails, are emails the best way to contact libraries, etc.), I think this study shows the subtle ways implicit bias can creep into our individual day to day duties. Implicit bias is not just racial stereotypes, but can be gender, age, and LGBTQ stereotypes as well.
In the 2017 State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review, the Kirwain Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity cited some key characteristics of implicit bias:
–Unconscious and automatic: They are activated without an individuals’ intention or control.
–Pervasive: Everyone possesses them, even those avowing commitments to impartiality.
–Do not always align with explicit beliefs: Implicit and explicit biases are generally regarded as related but distinct mental constructs.
–Have real-world effects on behavior: As discussed in this publication and other editions of the State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review, significant research has documented real-world effects of implicit bias across domains such as employment, education, and criminal justice, among others.
–Are malleable: The biases and associations we have formed can be “unlearned” and replaced with new mental associations.
Individual implicit bias includes library staff who unintentionally waive charges for white patrons more often than they do for patrons of color. Or maybe it’s how librarians interact with children in the children’s area. Research from the Yale Child Study Center showed that preschool teachers primarily watched boys (specifically black boys) for bad behavior. Who are we “shhing” or asking to leave for the day and why?
Taking an Implicit Association Test is a good place to start the conversation. While there has been some debate on how accurate the test is, it can be a good place for us to begin to think about our own implicit biases.
Institutional Implicit Bias While most of our readers are not administrators or supervisors who might have more “power” to make the appropriate changes, I do think we need to discuss institutional implicit bias. It’s important we recognize that even our library’s policies and hiring practices are influenced by institutional implicit bias. Gordon Goodwin of the Government Alliance of Race and Equity said it best, “Institutional implicit bias comes in the form of policies that negatively impact one group more than other groups, such as “enforcement of fine collection disproportionately creating barriers to people of color, who are overrepresented among low-income populations.” Bias frequently occurs in cataloging and subject terms. People who do not represent dominant groups find demeaning labels and undercurrents of prejudice within the organization of the library system. As we have mentioned in the last newsletter, our field is predominately made up of white women. It is likely we are unknowingly perpetuating our own cultural viewpoints in our policies and day to day operations.
Play: The 90% Myth
There’s a good chance you’ve heard a statistic similar to the following: 90% of a child’s brain develops by the time they are 5 years old. It’s a statistic that’s often used to justify investment in early childhood development and programs, and to incentivize parents to engage in their children’s learning. The Harvard Center on the Developing Child put out a podcast episode dispelling this as a myth, and describing how it is based on a faulty understanding of brain science. The “90%” statement implies that there’s such a thing as a “100%” developed which isn’t accurate – it’s more accurate to talk about the development of brain connections or neural pathways. It’s true that young children form many neural pathways through learning and play, but they don’t hit a point of saturation at 5 years old.
Dr. Jack Shonkoff points out that this misunderstanding inadvertently causes two problems: 1) parents of young children feel an incredible amount of pressure to provide as many opportunities for their kids as possible 2) parents and educators may feel like learning after 5 years old isn’t as valuable or meaningful. Interestingly, he claims the myth stays alive because it’s provocative and gets a message across. Basically, it’s good marketing. As the podcast host mentions at the beginning of the episode, “Earlier is better, but it’s never too late.”
I have to admit this is a myth I have heard and shared, especially since it helps justify investing time and resources into early childhood programming. I’m really thankful I came across this podcast episode to correct my own thinking, and to remind myself to always look for reputable sources. Additionally, I hope it’s a message I can share with caregivers to help alleviate pressure to perform and be a perfect parent.
Consider: Police in Libraries
What does it look like for a library to rethink its relationship with police? American Libraries featured several different libraries’ attempt to answer this question. Here are some of the solutions:
–No longer having armed or uniformed guards in the library
–Having social workers in libraries to better serve people experiencing homelessness, who are more likely to have negative interactions with police
–Using a trauma-informed approach
–Talking with local police force about how they can best serve the library (for example, not sending multiple officers at once)
–Involving police as a means of last resort
–Training staff in de-escalation
Police are not a de facto security service and shouldn’t be used that way. As a general rule, if you have to think about whether you should call them, don’t. Shootings, fistfights, kidnappings—these are situations in which you should reach for the phone. Not when a 13-year-old shouts unkind words at you. That child doesn’t deserve to be traumatized and funneled into the criminal justice system, likely with lifetime effects, for impulsive behavior.
Librarian and activist Alison Macrina from the Library Freedom Project has started a listserv “about how we can divest from police in our libraries” – you can subscribe here. They are having great conversations!
To close, I’d like to highlight the work of library workers in St Louis and in NYC who are actively lobbying their institutions to change policing in libraries. If there are any readers from these libraries who would like to share anonymously about their experience, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Connect: Robin Ha
Tell us about your new book, “Almost American Girl” and what it was like writing your memoir.
Almost American Girl is a memoir about my unexpected move from Korea to Huntsville, AL in 1995, and dealing with the culture shock and the language barrier as I struggle to adapt to life in the United States. I grew up in Seoul, Korea, and I was raised by a single mother. When I was 14, my mother took me to Alabama on a vacation then she got married to a Korean American man who lived there. I was thrown into an American middle school that had no ESL without speaking any English and I also had to adjust to having stepfamily at home. It was definitely one of the most challenging times in my life and I wanted to share with the readers how I was able to get through with it.
What are some books that have had an impact on your life and writing?
There are so many books and comics that have impacted me. As a kid, I was into reading mostly fantasy, romance, and science fiction Manhwa (Korean comics) and Manga (Japanese comics). Some of my favorite authors then were Shin Ill Sook, Won Soo Yeon, Clamp, and Ikeda Riyoko. As a teenager, I got into American horror and mystery fiction by authors such as Neil Gaiman and Anne Rice. As I grew older, I started reading all kinds of literary fiction and memoirs. Some of my favorite authors are Murakami Haruki, Kurt Vonnegut, and Herman Hesse. The books that inspired me greatly in writing my own memoir were Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.
How can our readers connect with you? (website, social media, etc.)
You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @RobinHaART, and my website https://robinha81.wixsite.com/robinha
Read: Back to School Books
I know we are all in great fear and wonder at what the opening of our schools will look like this Fall. When students come back to school after closures, whenever that may be, they will bring with them an incredibly high level of need and anxiety. In the most dire cases, students will have experienced trauma as issues of housing access and food insecurity are compounded by grief, loss, and even abuse. At the most basic level many kids are just wondering what school will even look like. While I’m not sure there have been any books written about the experience of starting school during a pandemic (and if there has been, please share!), we can provide families with back to school titles that help start a conversation and can help normalize any anxieties (pandemic related or not) for the child about starting school. Below are some of our favorites. Click on the picture for a full list.
Reflect: Library Awards and Recognition
Library awards, specifically the Library Journal’s yearly “Movers and Shakers” recognition, have been scrutinized for years. Specifically, it is unclear how winners are selected, and they can unwillingly create discouragement among the thousands of librarians who do incredible work every day but don’t have the opportunity to be nominated by a peer. The Library Journal also selects a Library of the Year which comes with a prize of $10,000. In 2019, LJ granted the award to the Seattle Public Library in spite of criticism that they hosted an event organized by a group known for making exclusionary and dehumanizing statements about transgender people, specifically trans women. In response, some former Movers and Shakers have signed a letter condemning the award and asking that their “Mover and Shaker” status be revoked. Fobazi M. Ettarh has written about her decision to have her award revoked, but why she will continue to list it on her CV. As a follow up, Library Journal released a statement standing by their decision to grant the Library of the Year award to the SPL. I encourage you to read through the comments on the LJ statement. They reflect the on-going debate in the profession around neutrality: can libraries be neutral? Should they be neutral? This will be a topic in our September newsletter but I wanted to highlight how this plays out in the real world, and how neutrality can be used as a shield against examining our own biases.
Share: Flannel Activities
Flannel activities are so much fun to use in storytimes! So many of you have moved to virtual storytimes and flannel activities can be a great addition to your virtual worlds. Flannel activities encourage participation and are a great visual tool. Here’s how to include flannel letters when singing the song BINGO. You can watch a video of this activity here.
What you’ll need: flannel letters B,I,N,G,O and five flannel hand shapes.
When sharing this song, you can ask your attendees the names of each letter and share that together the letters spell BINGO. Then sing the song. There was a farmer who had a dog…
Before starting the next verse, share that you are going to place a hand over the letter B because this time during the song, everyone will clap instead of saying the letter B. There was a farmer who had a dog…
Now cover up the letter I with a flannel hand and share that everyone will now clap instead of saying the letters B and I. There was a farmer who had a dog…
Continue adding flannel hands until all the letters are covered up and you have reached the final verse of the song where everyone is clapping instead of saying any letters.
Take time to ask the attendees the names of each letter and give them time to answer. Review the name of each letter before you place a flannel hand over the letter. You can also incorporate math by counting together how many times everyone will be clapping.
Recommended Books to Share Virtually
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea. 2008. Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Reader; Large illustrations, large text, can discuss meaning of word vs., children can participate with each roar of dinosaur
Snip Snap! What’s That? By Mara Bergman. 2005. Publisher: GreenWillow Books. Large illustrations, large text, suspense, children can participate with repeating phrase
Duck on a Bike by David Shannon. 2002. Publisher: Blue Sky Press. Large illustrations, sounds of animals in story, predicting what Duck will do on end page
Follow up about REALM project
On July 20, the REALM (REopening of Archives, Libraries, and Museums) Project updated about it’s most recent tests on library materials. Materials in Test 2 consisted of:
-Braille paper pages
-Glossy paper pages
-Children’s board book
It took 4 days of quarantine for the book-based materials and 2 days of quarantine for the archival folders before the SARS-CoV-2 was undetectable on the items.
You can sign up to receive project updates to get the most up-to-date information about their research.