Moving Forward One Book at a Time

Moving Forward One Book at a Time

post by Michele Fowkes, Associate member of The Educator Collaborative

Moving Forward One Book at a Time

My son’s bookcase is filled with windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. I intentionally curated such a collection for him thanks to the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (1990).  Dr. Bishop’s metaphors are enduring.  For those who are unfamiliar with her work, a mirror is a text in which children can see themselves and/or their communities reflected, whereas a window is a text that allows children to see individuals and communities that differ from their own.  When envisioned as a sliding glass door, a text can allow a child to enter that new world.  (Both Uma Krishnaswami and Dr. Debbie Reese have since expanded upon Dr. Bishop’s metaphor.)

To ensure that students in my school district have access to such shelves, we’ve conducted classroom library diversity audits. During a time marred by COVID-19 and political unrest, moving forward has not been easy. This work is happening, though, and it will continue to happen in my district. I would like to share my process here so that, perhaps, it can happen for you, too ,in the future if you are wondering how inclusive your classroom library is.

It was decided that, due to a K-5 ELA pilot, our piloting teachers would be the first to engage in a classroom library diversity audit.  In School Library Journal, Karen Jensen (2018) defines a diversity audit, noting simply that it “takes inventory and determines what’s in a collection and what areas need to be better developed.” There are many ways to engage in a diversity audit, and some school librarians, like Kelsey Bogan, have been very open and detailed regarding their steps.  Technology continues to improve the process, making it more efficient.  For example, Follett Titlewave and Mackin now provide tools that allow librarians to analyze their collection regarding diversity.  But what about classroom teachers? What tool is out there for them?

Booksource has a free management tool that creates an online inventory of classroom libraries once teachers enter all ISBN numbers in their collections.  Known as Booksource Classroom, this tool permits students to check books in and out digitally.  It also allows a teacher to run a diversity audit through LibraryLens in order to see more clearly whose voices are represented in their collection and whose voices are missing.  

As a curriculum supervisor, I wanted to do what I could to lighten the load for teachers during a school year punctuated by pivots as we moved from virtual to hybrid to in-person teaching.  One way that I could do this was by entering the twelve classrooms chosen for the audit and ensuring every single book was added to each teacher’s account.  Using a USB barcode scanner, I was able to speed up the process, and I highly recommend using one versus typing ISBN numbers manually.

Once each book’s ISBN was scanned in a classroom library, both the teacher and I could see the diversity breakdown.  To help us consider how culturally responsive one’s library was, we looked at the report’s Achievements (things one is doing well), Suggestions (ways to improve), and Issues (items needing immediate attention).  Covering a variety of identity markers, this report is fairly comprehensive.

One limitation is that Booksource can only verify the titles they have reviewed, so not all books in one’s collection may be a part of the audit.  However, this tech tool provided insight that we otherwise would not have gained. 

Since it is a bookseller, Booksource not only identifies gaps, it suggests titles to help fill the gaps.  Whether or not you choose to fill in the gaps via this provider, the important part is to act upon the concrete data that you have been provided. Do not allow the diversity audit to be a merely performative act.

In the case of my district, I met with each teacher to review the classroom library diversity audit results and debrief.  Teachers then considered their classroom community and worked with suggestions to create a book order.  For example, in Grade 1, a teacher acted to fill the gaps she saw related to Asian American protagonists and Native American protagonists by purchasing books like Joanna Ho’s Eyes that Kiss in the Corners and Kevin Noble Maillard’s Fry Bread. Such books are becoming what I like to think of as our district’s Windows and Mirrors Collection.

Indeed, I hope to continue this work, classroom by classroom, and continue to have dialogue about what we will do with the results of a diversity audit and how we can go beyond the audit to ensure change is not surface-level.  After all, there is a criticality (Muhammad, 2019) that must also come as we interpret literature.

Ultimately, one goal is to ensure full representation across classrooms. As Dr. Bishop noted, “[W]hen children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read…they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”  

All children deserve shelves filled with windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors.  What work are you doing to ensure this is true?


Screenshot of a Diversity Report using Booksource Classroom