Intellectual Freedom: A Pathway to More Diversity!
by: Andrea Jamison
The School Library Journal hosted its annual Day of Dialogue on Wednesday, May 30, 2018, at NYU’s Kimmel Center. The event attracted hundreds of librarians and book enthusiasts from across the country. The event featured keynote sessions and discussion panels with a few ground-breaking and diverse authors including Angie Thomas, author of the Hate U Give and On the Come Up; former poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera; Yuyi Morales, author of Nino Wrestles the World; Tomi Adeyemi, author of Children of Blood and Bones; Ngozi Ukazu, author of Check, Please!: #Hockey; and Ekua Holmes, illustrator for The Stuff of the Stars. Many publishers, like Lee and Low and Candlewick Press also attended the Day of Dialogue conference to showcase many of their new and upcoming diverse titles. Although the theme of the conference wasn’t technically centered around diversity, the proliferation of diverse authors and books spoke volumes about the paradigm shift that is currently taking place in publishing. It also appeared to be a trend of conference speakers to center their message on the importance of recognizing the value of diverse experiences. Most poignant was a keynote presentation by Angie Thomas. Thomas detailed a very personal childhood account of gun violence and the damaging effect that it could have produced in her life had she not experienced something to counter it. Fortunately for Thomas, and the world of literature, libraries played a significant role in helping to reshape her view of the world. The books that Thomas read as a young girl, exposed her to new worlds and new possibilities beyond that of her childhood experiences. Similar to Thomas’s childhood experience, so many children live in “small worlds” where their existence is marginalized, restrained by inequities in society. Thus, libraries have a significant role in helping to mitigate some of these disadvantages by ensuring equity in access to resources and services that could potentially transform someone’s life.
Fighting for intellectual freedom is one way that libraries can continue changing the narrative for marginalized groups. However, librarians must be invested in performing the work necessary to achieve intellectual freedom. More often than not, discussions about intellectual freedom are primarily focused on issues related to the censoring of controversial books. The connection between diversity and censorship is often viewed as two independent variables. However, diversity and intellectual freedom are not stand alone issues. According to Shannon Oltmann, “Many of the most challenged books, year after year, feature voices from diverse communities (including those of women, racial or ethnic minorities, and LGBT people).” Oltmann argues that intellectual freedom is actually a vehicle that helps advance diverse perspectives. This, of course, is only true if librarians are diligent in ensuring that patrons have equity in access to books that represent a myriad of different experiences (both cultural and social). Libraries have to be diligent about not only asking for more diversity in literature but also purchasing more books by diverse authors.
If SLJ’s conference is any indicator that publishers are finally heeding the outcry for more diversity in books, libraries must be prepared to “open their doors” and welcome these titles on library shelves. Suffice it to say, it would be a completely benign effort on the part of publishers to produce more diversity, if we as librarians aren’t prepared to build radically inclusive library collections.
Andrea Q. Jamison is a professional librarian, writer, and current Ph.D. student whose research involves examining the pervasive lack of diversity in literature. She has more than 17 years of experience working in schools and libraries, and she is the author of two books: Against the Waterfalls and Super Sonja. In addition to her full-time duties in librarianship, she is a mom, board member for ALA’s Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Roundtable, chair for the EMIERT Multicultural Awards, reviewer for the School Library Journal, reviewer for Indieview, freelance writer, avid blogger and social justice advocate. She also works with the Illinois School Library Media Association as a member of the advocacy and conference planning committees. Andrea thoroughly enjoys working with children and speaks nationally on issues related to creating diverse and inclusive learning spaces for youth. Find her on Twitter @achitownj.