17 August 2023
Shelving with books in a school library

Realizing that the biography collection had some big gaps in representation while working with students was an inspiration for this RAILS grant. I wanted students to be able to see themselves in the collection of life stories and also be able to see outside their daily lives in Libertyville. This section of the collection is heavily used for independent reading book projects, particularly by sixth and seventh graders. Using Rudine Sims Bishop’s work “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” (1990) as a thought guide, I set out to create a more inclusive collection of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs.

After weeding, we conducted a diversity audit of the biography section. It was a process! I was thankful to learn from other librarians who were already engaged in this work. RAILS hosted a webinar Auditing Your Collection for Diversity and Inclusion in 2021 with librarians from the Glen Ellyn Public Library which got me started getting my brain around what seemed a daunting process. Kelsey Bogan’s blog series titled “Diversity Audits: A Practical Guide” using examples from her school library was helpful to visualize an audit in action. I worked with one of the Highland Library Clerks to develop a process using categories including gender, race, religion, LGBTQ+, disability, and neurodivergence to gather data about each book in the existing collection.

Lessons Learned

  • Finding materials took a lot of digging! Persistence paid off, but there are certainly gaps in representation within the publishing of engaging biographies for middle school readers. Ultimately we ended up adding about 270 titles to the collection.
  • Change is slow. Comparing our data before the project to the data after the addition of titles, showed shifts of inclusion within the collection in the targeted areas. This needs to be an ongoing, intentional effort. Having data is a helpful guide and something that I need to keep working on in other sections of the collection as well.
  • Without staffing support, it would have been not easy to engage in this process as it was time-consuming.

Student Impact

  • Students are excited and moved when they get to see their culture, their experiences, and themselves represented in books they can check out from the library. The world gets a little bigger for students when they can read to learn about someone else’s reality and experiences.
  • I saw students reading new materials added to the biography collection they encountered through engaging displays, book talks, and peer recommendations.

What’s Next? 

I want to create more buzz about the new titles in the biography section and encourage the power of the peer to recommend reads. I got some post-its branded with the project and will collaborate with my colleagues in the classrooms to incorporate more student book recommendations.

One part of the project that emerged during the process was expanding the collection of graphic memoirs. During the past year, I worked with a colleague to pilot a small literature circle project using these titles with a seventh-grade class. It was a big success with student readers! This year we’ll expand the work.

Highland is so grateful for this RAILS grant. It allowed the library to build staff skills to sustain more intentionally representative collections, and it strengthened the ways we connect students and teachers with stories that impact their lives, make them feel seen, and get a better understanding of the diverse experiences in our world.

Today's guest blog post is from Erin Wyatt, Ph.D. (she, her), Learning Center Director, Highland Middle School, Libertyville, IL