10 Ways to Fight for Social Justice in Storytime
Libraries, librarians, and the work we do for inclusivity, social justice, privacy and freedom have been in the news a lot lately. As an antidote to fake news, hate speech and xenophobia, our libraries and our jobs should be spaces of learning, inclusiveness and diversity. We must be a welcoming and safe space for everyone and stand up for all members of our community. And this starts with even our littlest patrons. The following are 10 ways you can fight for social justice in your storytimes and your libraries.
1. Read Diverse Books in Storytime
We know that there is still a significant deficit of children’s books with characters of color. It is vital that kids of color, kids with disabilities, LGBTQ+ kids and families, Native kids, and kids who speak another language or come from another country can all see themselves in books. Try to include diverse characters in all your programs, and seek out #ownvoices books, books written by marginalized authors about their own experiences. Looking for book suggestions? Check out these resources:
- Everyday Diversity from Anna Haase Krueger
- Kindness. Peace. Booklist from ALSC
- Book suggestions from Amy Koester
- LGBTQ Booklist from Advocate.com
- We Need Diverse Books
- Challenging Current Events from Brightly
- Books with a Message from School Library Journal
- Books for a Global Society from the International Reading Association
- Supporting Libraries Post-Election from ALSC
- Book Suggestions from Angie Manfredi
- We Love Diverse Books Pinterest Board from Demco
2. Sing Diverse Songs and Songs that Teach Empathy
We all love to shake our sillies out, but what about “The More We Get Together”? Or Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”? Add songs in other languages, or add ASL signs to your songs. If you have families who speak other languages in your storytimes, ask them to teach you and the group an easy song. Even if you can’t sing them perfectly, try to include songs in the languages that are represented in your community. Check out CLEL’s Storyblocks for songs in many languages and Jbrary’s ASL videos for ideas.
3. Display Diverse Books
This one isn’t exclusive to storytime; it’s something you can do every day to make your library more inclusive. Make sure that all of your book displays include faces of diverse characters on them, including diversity of race, gender, sexuality, religion and more. Create displays that center around diversity and inclusivity, and keep them well stocked for your patrons. Kids and parents will notice and appreciate seeing mirrors of themselves proudly displayed in your library. Check out these great Libraries Are for Everyone images for instant display signs.
4. Book Talk Diverse Books
Whether you are talking to older kids, a crowd in storytime or one-on-one with someone in the stacks, make sure you have plenty of diverse books to enthusiastically share. In storytime, as you read books, point out what you love about them — that they include kids of all colors, have LGBTQ characters, embrace other languages or teach us about another culture.
Say things like, “Look at all these children! They all look different and they are all so beautiful. All of us look unique too, and it makes me so happy to see you all.” Teach caregivers the importance of acknowledging and appreciating our differences rather than teaching colorblindness or ignoring ways that kids are different.
5. Have a Welcoming Environment for All
What can you do to make your storytimes more welcoming for everyone? Say or sing hello in other languages, or add sensory elements throughout. Make storytime flyers in multiple languages, and make sure they have pictures of diverse kids on them. Have chairs available for those who may be unable to sit on the floor. Use gestures and a welcoming smile to help those who speak another language understand that they’re welcome. Make sure your website and signage feature diverse kids and families. And if you use hand stamps in storytime, make sure to have ink that is visible on all skin tones.
6. Work on Your Name Pronunciations
To add to a welcoming environment, set aside time to learn everyone’s name. Make sure that you don’t treat names that you are unfamiliar with as odd or difficult to say. Take time to learn the correct pronunciation and ask grownups to correct you if you mess up. When you give random names to characters, make sure you are choosing ones that sound like the names of kids in your community.
7. Use Multiple Languages
Now that you’re singing in other languages, what else can you add? Learn a new word (Hello, the colors, or your storytime theme) each week in another language. You can ask families to teach words in their language, or introduce words yourself. Seek out ways to offer bilingual storytimes, or storytimes in other languages. If you don’t have staff for this, ask someone from the community to help out.
8. Use Inclusive Language around Movement Activities
My favorite song in the entire world is the “Elevator Song,” and I love watching all those happy babies being lifted up high in the sky, but not all grownups can lift babies up and down. Not all kids can stand up and dance and shake, or sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” super-duper fast. Present movement as an option that you are modeling, but offer modifications or the option to pass for those who can’t or just don’t want to participate. Pay attention to your kids, and be ready to make modifications, such as making room in your storytime set up for a wheelchair, multiple caretakers, or a child who needs extra room to move.
9. Use Gender-neutral Terminology
When you sing songs and do flannelboards, are you making sure that you use female pronouns as much as male? What about using gender-neutral pronouns (they, their, them)? When you sing name songs, avoid gender pronouns (“We’re so glad he/she is here”) and address the child directly (“We’re so glad you’re here”). Let kids and families tell you which pronouns they prefer before making assumptions.
10. Take Your Storytime Out of the Library!
Maybe you already do a ton of outreach, or maybe you can’t do as much as you would like, but I challenge you to take a long hard look at the outreach you are doing and the ways you are serving families and kids who do not come to the library. Talk to your boss or your team about priorities and how to fulfill them.
- Are you reaching a diverse audience?
- Are you reaching kids with the highest need?
- If not, what can you do better?
And, as an important bonus, remember to acknowledge and reflect on your own biases. Does your library or city offer implicit-bias, LGBTQ-sensitivity or racial-equity training? Seek out these resources in your community to help you bring social justice into your storytime and your library.
And check out these additional resources:
- Deliver Diverse Storytimes with Multicultural Activities from the Experts
- 10 Diverse Children’s Books for Your Library Storytime
- 6 Myths about Diversity in Early Childhood Storytimes