Ileana teaches secondary English in the panhandle of Texas.
Not bragging, but I had ten bookcases full of books, divided by genres, like a real library. I have revelled in building my classroom library. It has been a joy for me. So many books I had found in bargain bins and garage sales. Others came to me as teachers retired or moved away. Some had been bought brand new. I have spent countless hours organizing and planning around these beautiful tomes. They were the jewels in my teacher's crown.
But on this day I noticed something revelatory in my library; two-thirds of my books were written by white men. Books about Vietnam and India: written by a white man. Books about Hispanic females: written by a white man. Books about African Americans and Africans: written by a white man. So much white perspective of other races and cultures, and very little authentic perspective was represented.
Don’t get me wrong, I love many of these authors. I am white. It never occurred to me the complete imbalance of the texts I was offering. I had already tried to ensure that my library was balanced between male and female authors, now I realized I needed to do more.
So, I took every book off the shelves that were written by a white author. I covered four tables with these books. I took the rest of the books off and labelled them based on race and culture. Then I divided every table by sexual identity: male/female. Next, I divided each race and culture group by the genre’s we all know.
Then I reshelved. Then I cried. I had six book shelves full of books written by white authors. My campus is 70% Hispanic and 10% Black. I needed to do better. How can my students find mirrors of their own life in the books I had to offer? There were many texts that offered foggy windows for them to find systemic whiteness of the American education system. I had to do better.
So, I reorganized by library based on race/culture of the text, followed by the sex of the author and finally by genre.
Everything changed. My students started the 2020-2021 school year looking for books on the shelf that mirrored their own culture. Next book club round they were to find windows into other cultures very diverse from their own. That was the important part, from there they could choose whatever fiction or nonfiction they chose, but the racec/culture of the author was the guiding force.
I did two Donors Choose book grants getting more and more of the books my library needed. It’s not enough, but it was a start. Since each race/culture has its own bookcase, it is all too apparent which cultures are represented with abundance and which need shoring up.
This opened many conversations with my administration and my fellow teachers. Some were supportive and others were perplexed that genre specific book study had been put aside. For me, this felt right. I was honoring my students in the best way I could using my curriculum. I felt charged to gather as many more books written by people of diverse cultures. I was on a new mission to decolonize my library.
I will continue to rebuild.
FreedomReading, A. H. (2019, January 17). Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Doors. Retrieved from https://ncte.org/blog/2016/02/windows-mirrors-sliding-doors/
What It Means to Decolonize the Library. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/85127-what-it-means-to-decolonize-the-library.html