Saturday, December 31, 2016

Children’s Services Led the Way: Social Justice and Library Services to Children + Some Thoughts on 2016

2016 has been a horrific year for me personally and, of course, politically--but I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the brighter parts of the year. I:

  • said goodbye to one library and hello to another
  • survived my first MLIS course through Wayne State University 
  • organized a snail mail exchange and got a pen pal
  • was both delighted and mortified by the revival of Gilmore Girls
  • ended a ridiculously toxic relationship
  • started managing my first collection
  • started a Preschool STEAM program at my new library
  • learned how to be happy alone
  • continued to fall in love with my cat more and more everyday 
  • picked apples and made my very first homemade apple pie with my best friend
  • took risks, got out of my comfort zone, and made a commitment to grow and learn continually
  • practiced self-care like never before
  • found a beautiful community of internet friends
  • fell in love with Hamilton (and Daveed Diggs!)
  • spent even more time with my lovely little sisters
  • bought health insurance (that will hopefully not be taken away from me in 2017)
  • learned to love the little things and small accomplishments that happen day to day
  • reminded myself it's okay to not be okay

I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite accomplishments of 2016. In September, I started my first Master of Library and Information Science course, and I had the opportunity to write about my specific interests and passions regarding library work. I have always believed that library work and social justice are inextricably linked, but what a joy it was to actually sit down and get lost in research on just a few of the incredible, radical children’s librarians, and the myriad ways in which they advocated for our young people. This paper explains why I’m so passionate about what I do, and why I always strive to do more, and to do better.

Children’s Services Led the Way: Social Justice and Library Services to Children

Youth services librarians are widely known as curators of information, storytellers, customer service providers, kindred spirits, teachers, and bibliophiles, but most importantly they are advocates for one of our society’s most vulnerable populations. For children, who are perpetually governed by adults, the children’s department of the public library is a safe haven, a liberatory, radical place, where their needs and interests are prioritized, and their fulfillment is essential. I will argue that from their inception, librarians that serve youth champion diversity, cultural responsiveness, and equity of access. My aim is to examine the ways in which my values and beliefs regarding youth services librarianship, including a commitment to multiculturalism and cultivating a safe space for all children, align with youth services librarians in the field, past and present.

The First Children’s Librarians

Promoting diversity and multiculturalism in children’s literature is a trend that has gained an incredible amount of popularity over the past few years or so—especially with the creation of campaigns such as We Need Diverse Books and blogs such as Disability in Kidlit—although this growing trend is nowhere near a new phenomenon. In “Milestones for Diversity in Children’s Literature and Library Services,” a timeline of diversity milestones in the field written for Children and Libraries, Kathleen T. Horning argues that “as a group, children’s librarians have been on the forefront for diversity from the beginning, striving to serve all children.”

Although the first tax-supported library was established in 1854, it wasn’t until the 1880s and 1890s that libraries began serving children under twelve years of age. In “Libraries and Information Organizations: Two Centuries of Experience,” Christine Pawley spotlights Caroline Hewins and Anne Carroll Moore, who “led a new field in which librarians managed specially designed children’s rooms and services such as storytelling and became cultural authorities in the rapidly growing area of children’s publishing.” Establishing a separate field and space for children was a radical act of advocacy. In “The Librarian Who Changed Children’s Literature Forever,” Laura Miller brings attention to Moore’s revolutionary contributions to the space reserved for children at libraries:

Until the late 19th century, libraries weren’t even considered a fitting place for children under 10, and the first children’s rooms, installed in the 1890s, were initially meant to cordon off noisy young patrons so they didn’t bother the adults. Moore pioneered the children’s room as we still know it today: a homey space with plenty of comfortable, child-size chairs, art on the walls, space for events like storytelling, which Moore almost singlehandedly made a regular feature at libraries. All children’s librarians adopted her credo of the Four Respects: respect for children, respect for children’s books, respect for one’s colleagues, and respect for the children’s librarianship as a profession. None of these was a given before Moore and her cohort came along.

Photo Credit: Miss Moore Thought Otherwise

Moore saw the humanity in children, rather than seeing them as merely a nuisance, and she found a way to honor that humanity by serving a marginalized population within her library. This act in itself is nothing short of radical, but additionally, she demanded respect for the literature provided for children, and the librarians who serve them: children’s librarianship in its simplest form was born out of advocacy. In Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children, a children’s book about her life and accomplishments, Jan Pinborough describes the influence Moore had not just on the creation of youth services departments, but also the culture of the departments:

Miss Moore pushed for other changes, too. She urged the librarians to take down the SILENCE signs and spend time talking with children and telling them stories. She pulled dull books off the shelves and replaced them with exciting ones such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Swiss Family Robinson. She wrote book reviews and made book lists to help parents, librarians, and teachers find good books for children—and to encourage book publishers to publish better children’s books.

Photo credit: Miss Moore Thought Otherwise

Charlemae Hill-Rollins and Other Trailblazers of the Field

Moore, however, was a white woman, a critic, and held quite a reputable position within New York literary circles throughout her life. Moore may have championed a diverse department, but the heart behind Charlemae Hill Rollins’s advocacy was purely intersectional: she advocated for children, but she also made it her life’s work to push back on stereotypical representations of children of color, and cultivated tolerance and empathy with everything she touched. In a spotlight on her legacy called “Leading Ladies of LIS: Charlemae Rollins,” Catoni describes her activism and cultural responsiveness to her community:

Rollins’ role as an advocate made her a leader in the field. Libraries are community centers, and she worked to change the library in order to suit the community’s needs. She persuaded her fellow librarians in the Chicago Public Library system to remove books that stereotyped African Americans and wrote to publishing companies to request more realistic representations of African Americans in children’s books. Her bibliography of African American children’s books reached a large audience, which shows how strong her leadership was.

Photo credit: Flickr

Rollins may have not been the absolute first librarian participating in this kind of activism, but she was the first African American librarian to serve as head of children’s services at the Chicago Public Library, and in 1957, she became the first African American to be elected as president of the American Library Association’s Children’s Services Division. In 1941, Rollins published We Build Together: A Reader’s Guide to Negro Life and Literature for Elementary and High School Use through the National Council of Teachers of English, a compilation of recommended books that represent African Americans in a humanizing, well-rounded way. “Representation matters” is a phrase that has recently gained a significant amount of attention, and Rollins was one of the first trailblazers to take this stance publicly and to push back on the dominant culture. “Mirrors and windows” is another phrase that has gained a great deal of traction within the realm of children’s literature, and Rollins was no stranger to this idea either. She believed that representation mattered not only to the African American children who were being represented in a text, but the ways in which children were portrayed mattered for white children and those of different cultures, because those texts provided a window to see into an unfamiliar world:

Children as they are growing up need special interpretations of the lives of other peoples and must be helped to an understanding and tolerance. They cannot develop these qualities through contacts with others, if those closest to them are prejudiced and unsympathetic with other races and groups. Tolerance and understanding can be gained through reading the right books.

Photo credit: Mapping the Stacks

These texts were more than just literature, but social tools in creating a more empathetic society.

Photo credit: NPR

Pura Belpré, another trailblazer in the children’s literature world, “started her career by offering library services to children at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, making her the first Latina librarian to work in the New York Public Library.” She championed bilingual storytelling and provided library services to Spanish-speaking children and in 1996, the Pura Belpré award was created through a collaboration between the Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA) “to encourage books by Latino/a authors and illustrators about Latino experiences in the United States.”

Photo credit: NPR

Charlemae Hill Rollins and Pura Belpré are just two advocates out of a myriad of children’s librarians who have worked toward creating more inclusive and safe library spaces in collections and through programming, and while I believe I would never be able to live up to their immense degree of accomplishments, I would like to follow in their footsteps with my library practice to the best of my abilities, and look to them and those like them as mentors and role models.

Public Librarians as Defenders of Human Rights

As an aspiring librarian, and one that is drawn to the field because of my equal love for literature and social justice work, I have always thought of the public library as a community space where all can gather—one that acknowledges and celebrates the unique nuances that make up our individual personhood. More than that, the public library is charged with the duty of serving its specific community’s needs, and plays a huge role in providing equity of access to its most vulnerable patrons. I was unaware, however, that certain communities of librarians have developed a philosophy of librarianship that is derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In “Public Libraries and Human Rights”, Kathleen de la Pena McCook and Katharine J. Phenix describe the intersection of library services and human rights advocacy:

Public libraries provide the resources for the still voice within each person to be nurtured and to grow. Public libraries provide a public space for discussion of issues important to the common good. These opportunities occur because public librarians in the United States have developed philosophies of collection development, outreach, and community building that are expansive and inclusive.

Through my research, my ideas about social justice work and public libraries (especially services to children) have been supported and bolstered, and I have discovered that my quest to fuse librarianship and advocacy is not a new one.

Photo credit: Lost and Found Books


In “No Ordinary Place,” Clare Coffey writes of the solace and refuge she received from her local public library as a child:

But what libraries meant to my childhood cannot be divorced from the physical place…The silence, the anonymity, the apparent vastness of the place, the long rows of shelves and side rooms stocked with forgotten books and hung with oil paintings of forgotten patrons, made the library a more than ordinary place. Owned by no one in particular, it seemed imbued with a wealth of possibility that teemed beneath and on the edges of everyday life. In the library, among books I learned to love and curate, the terms of my encounter with the world slowly shifted. Anyone could be a someone here—and that included me.

Coffey describes the ways in which she could be considered “a someone” within the walls of the library, and it was those advocates for the creation of children’s spaces, for inclusive and accurate collections, and for programming that serves diverse populations of children regardless of their race or native tongue—that made the children’s department of public libraries the sanctuary and safe haven that it is today. Youth services librarians have always, and if I have any say, always will be advocates and activists standing up for the rights of all children, upholding the safe spaces that comfort, teach, and entertain their community’s young people. Anne Carroll Moore, Charlemae Rollins, Pura Belpré, and countless others have set the highest examples and standards, and it will be my absolute honor to follow those examples, to defend those standards, and to champion a new generation of “someones.”

Photo credit: Pinterest

Brown Bookshelf. (2007). A brown bookshelf trailblazer. The Brown Bookshelf. Retrieved from
Catoni, L. M. (2015, March 18). Leading ladies of LIS: Charlemae Rollins. The Diverse Library Universe. Retrieved from
Coffey, Clare. (2016). No ordinary place, The Hedgehog Review, 18(2). Retrieved from
Felicié, A. M. (2014). The stories I read to children: the life and writing of Pura Belpré, the legendary storyteller, children’s author, and New York public librarian, Centro Journal, 26(1), 193-195.
Horning, K. T. (2015). Milestones for diversity in children’s literature and library services. Children and Libraries, 13(3), 7-11.
McCook, K. P., Phenix, K. J. (2006). Public Libraries and Human Rights, Public Library Quarterly, 25(1-2), 57-73. Retrieved from
Miller, L. (2016, August 5). The librarian who changed children’s literature forever. Slate. Retrieved from
Pawley, C. (2015). Libraries and information organizations: two centuries of experience. In S. Hirsch Editor, Information services today: An introduction (10-19). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Pinborough, J. (2013). Miss Moore thought otherwise: how Anne Carroll Moore created libraries for children. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.
We Need Diverse Books. (2016). Looking back: Charlemae Hill Rollins. We Need Diverse Books. Retrieved from

Monday, December 5, 2016

Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair Reflection: Part I

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 15th Annual Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair. This is one of my favorite events, and I really admire the work that the organization is doing in the city of Chicago. The conference was held at Uplift Community High School in the Uptown neighborhood, and the school is committed to college prep, community involvement, and social justice work. The theme of the event was "Defund Policing: Fund Schools and Communities."

Photo credit: Creative Resistance

The conference started with a keynote by former Chicago activist Mariame Kaba, founder of Project NIA, an organization that works to end youth incarceration. Kaba discussed ways in which Chicago residents can practice abolition daily, assuring us that Chicago is a place that has a strong foundation for transformative change. She focused on three questions that help us to reshape and redefine our vision for justice:

1. How do we reduce contacts with police?

2. How to we erode police power?
3. How do we repair the harm caused by policing?

She believes that "abolition necessitates that we change everything." "Policing," she said, "is not a broken system--it works exactly as it's supposed to." She urged us to not settle for the "justice" provided by individual indictments or police body cameras. She reminded us that in order to abolish policing, we must abolish capitalism as well.

If anyone was feeling overwhelmed by the work ahead, Kaba offered a myriad of ways to take action, and organizations to support. I've listed a few highlights below:

I recommend listening to the full recording of the keynote, which can be found here. I also recommend keeping up with her blog, Prison Culture, which can be found here.

After Kaba's keynote, we participated in a grounding exercise which consisted of some breathing exercises, and a collective recitation of “In Lak’ech,” a Mayan unity poem:

Tú eres mi otro yo.
You are my other me.
Si te hago daño a ti,
If I do harm to you,
Me hago daño a mi mismo.
I do harm to myself.
Si te amo y respeto,
If I love and respect you,
Me amo y respeto yo.
I love and respect myself.

More information about "In Lak'ech" can be found here.
Since there's a lot of ground to cover, I'm going to split this up into a three-part series, so you have a little bit of time to process each portion separately. Part II will cover the workshop I attended called "Anti-Racist Pedagogy in Early Childhood Education," and Part III will focus on "Understanding and Transforming Whiteness," a workshop facilitated by representatives from the Chicago Freedom School.

If you have any ideas or suggestions for practicing everyday abolition, or organizations to get involved with, feel free to share in the comments.

In solidarity,

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Undeniable Joy of Working with Children

I’d like to share an interaction that I had with a toddler today that absolutely made my week.
Toddler: For you! (While handing me the teeniest piece of playdough you could ever imagine.)
Me: Thank you!
Toddler: You’re welcome. (In a very “duh, of course” sort of way.)
(Repeat 5+ times.)
Life has been pretty difficult lately. Personally, I’ve been dealing with a great deal of stress, and processing a lot of trauma. If you’re anything like me and you live in the United States, you’re probably pretty exhausted and possibly triggered by election coverage and all of the misogyny, racism, islamophobia, xenophobia, and all the other –isms and –phobias that go along with it.
There’s a lot of work that goes into library programming, even more than you might imagine. It often takes days and weeks and even months to put together a program that may only last an hour. This is not to minimize all of the behind the scenes work, but let’s put that on the back burner for now. I’d like to focus your attention on that hour of programming when you’re in the zone and you’re bringing all those plans to life. There is something so incredibly therapeutic about dancing to Motown hits with toddlers, or being given the gift of a speck of playdough. For that hour, I am not Stefanie Molinaro with all the baggage and stress and worry I carry as an adult living on planet Earth—I am Miss Stefanie and I am here, safe within the magical walls of the library, to read stories, to have dance parties, and to provide a space that encourages imagination, creativity, fun, and kindness.
These programs don’t last forever, and while I treasure each and every memory with the kids I work with, these moments are fleeting. Regardless, those small reminders of humanity, those moments when I’m experiencing “flow” and am completely in my element, are enough to recharge my faith in humans, and our possibilities for the future, if only just a little. Sometimes that’s the push we need to keep going and to tell ourselves that it’s going to be okay.
Maybe you don’t work with children, and maybe you don’t even like kids, but I hope you’ve found something or are able to find something that brings you those moments of joy and purpose, especially when the world is rapidly becoming even more of a dark, heavy, and scary place.

Originally published October 28, 2016

Self-Challenge: Stop (Mis)Gendering Animals & Other Non-Human Characters During Storytime

I’ve noticed something about myself recently that completely contradicts my values: I have been consistently assigning male gender pronouns to animal and non-human characters who in most cases have not been otherwise assigned a gender by the author. When telling flannel stories, I almost always use “he” and “him” to describe the characters in the story. Even when I’m talking about a pig or other adorable animal I saw on the internet with my partner, I needlessly assign said pig male pronouns as well.
Why do I do this? I am a self-proclaimed feminist (an intersectional one at that) and am often told that my political and social beliefs and values are somewhat radical (to which I usually disagree, but that’s a story for another day). I have mentioned before that I wholeheartedly subscribe to the bell hooks pedagogy that puts the souls and well-being of students (and in my case, patrons) before anything else. I am fully aware that misgendering and failing to represent all genders is particularly harmful to young girls, gender-nonconforming, gender fluid, queer, and transgender children. But that does not mean I am immune to participating in and perpetuating oppressive systems.
In “Why Are There So Few Girls in Children’s Books?” Jennie Yabroff cites a study that discusses this very topic:
“A 2011 Florida State University study found that just 7.5 percent of nearly 6,000 picture books published between 1900 and 2000 depict female animal protagonists; male animals were the central characters in more than 23 percent each year. (For books in which characters were not assigned a gender, researchers noted, parents reading to their children tended to assign one: male.) No more than 33 percent of children’s books in any given year featured an adult woman or female animal, but adult men and male animals appeared in 100 percent of the books.”
These findings, while disheartening, are not necessarily shocking. I could place all of the blame on the publishing industry, (and yes, there are some major issues that Lee & Low does a wonderful job explaining here) and you know, patriarchy for that matter. But instead of focusing on the daunting task of dismantling multiple oppressive institutions, I’d like to emphasize a task that could possibly be just as daunting, but much more attainable and on a much smaller scale.
Part of being a radical educator, librarian, or storytime provider is the desire to continually look inward and really reflect on the ways in which your thoughts, beliefs, biases, actions, and practices intersect and manifest in your lessons, or in your storytime delivery. I could choose the most progressive books in the library, that represent many of the populations of people present in my community—but if I am not consciously reflecting, challenging myself, self-educating and growing habitually—there is a very high risk that I will end up harming one of my kids or parents, regardless of my intent.
Which is why I’d like to take responsibility for my errors and own up to what I consider to be very clear-cut microaggressions. Misgendering and lack of representation are both incredibly dehumanizing practices, and internalization of those microaggressions can start quite young. With that said, I have challenged myself to stop gendering and misgendering animal and other non-human characters in children’s books (etc.) in both my professional and personal lives.
So, how exactly can I implement this practice?
When I began to notice my constant use of “he” and “him” I tried to correct myself by saying “he or she” and “him or her,” but that was incredibly problematic because it reinforces a gender binary (which I reject entirely). I’ve seen other publications (like the Anti-Defamation League) suggest switching back and forth between “he” and “she” to equal things out, or to alternate between “male” and “female” names, but again, this implies that only two genders exist and that names are inherently gendered. I do believe it is important for female-identified children to see themselves reflected in the stories we read, because of the overwhelming amount of male-identified characters in children’s books—but such a simplistic solution is not nearly enough, especially because we ignore a prevalent population of children when we assume everyone falls into the category of “he” and “she.”
So now I’m wondering…are gender-neutral pronouns a solution?
Should I use “they” and “them” or other gender-neutral pronouns? How might caregivers react to this? How should I respond to pushback from caregivers?
I’m not sure if I have the authority to answer any or all of these questions, but based on my research (which I will cite below), it seems as if striving to use gender-neutral pronouns in the case of children, animals, and other non-human characters who have not already been assigned a gender might be an appropriate goal for myself.
In an interview with Huffington Post, Maya Christina Gonzalez discusses why she chose not to use gender specific pronouns in her book Call Me Tree:
“As a parent, I see the first few years of a child’s life as a time to grow into the fundamentals of who they are. This can include gender identity. Our culture has a powerful trend toward the boy-girl gender binary and conformity comes into play from a child’s earliest possible moment. By being gender free, Call Me Tree provides for some a much needed break from the constant boy-girl assumptions and requirements. It can also provide a moment to pause and consider those assumptions, requirements and their impact.
Despite the fact that there are no gender specific pronouns, reviewers have assumed the main character is a cisgender boy. The main character is actually based on someone assigned girl. The specificity doesn’t matter as much as the opportunity to notice the assumption. Many of us assume a child with short hair, dressed in a t-shirt and pants is a cisgender boy. What does an assumption like that fully communicate? About gender requirements? fitting in? living up to expectations? being accepted? Who does it leave out and what is the impact of being excluded?”

I love Gonzalez’s response, and the questions she is posing truly get at the heart of why I have decided to take on this challenge.
If any of you have any thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to send them my way, as I am still working out the proper ways in which I should navigate this particular task. Let me know if you’re interested in taking on this challenge with me—it would be lovely to be part of community of radical storytime providers helping each other reflect and grow.
Below are some resources that discuss microaggressions and gender neutral pronouns that I found to be especially enlightening:
Originally published March 31st, 2016

Welcome to Radical Storytime

My name is Stefanie and I’m an aspiring youth services librarian (with a heart for revolution, but we’ll get to that). After a great deal of thinking and mulling and such, I recently decided to embark on a not-so-drastic change in career path. My current position as an Early Literacy Facilitator for three- and four-year-olds at a library in southeastern Wisconsin helped to nudge me in the right direction and develop a somewhat specific understanding of the most fitting professional environment for me. I’m still figuring that out–but I have a much better idea after months of working at a library I love.
I love books and I love working with kids, so naturally, teaching seemed like the perfect career choice for me. Just five months ago, I was still en route to becoming a middle or high school English teacher, and for some reason, that path seemed like my only option. I was incredibly unhappy, became thoroughly disillusioned with the current state of the public education system, and most importantly–I felt trapped. I thought that since I had been working toward this career for years of my life, that I was somehow bound to that choice. I soon realized that if I kept working toward a career that I knew wasn’t for me–I would be doing my students, and myself, and abhorrent disservice. I admire education activists and radical teachers who are working day and night to create more equitable classrooms and schools for all students. I knew deep down, however, that I didn’t have that same will to fight. I decided to make a change, and in the process, I fell completely in love with library work.
While I’m a bit disheartened that it took me so long to figure out where I want to be professionally, my coursework and experience working with middle and high school students has given me a unique perspective as I work toward establishing myself in the library and information science community. Both care and critical thinking have always been at the crux of my teaching philosophy, and my work is always executed with empathy in mind and a critical lens. I worship bell hooks (and if you think I’m joking–just look at my desktop photo) and will reference her work constantly in my writing. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom is one of my favorite books about feminist education, but can easily be applied to other realms–including library programming. hooks stresses that “teaching in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” I meditate on this quote often and it’s something that has stuck with me for years. I consider this approach as I work with preschoolers and will keep it at the forefront of my mind in any position I hold in the future.
One reason I’m drawn to literature is its ability to invoke empathy in its readers. Psychologist Keith Oatley, in Tough Talk, Tough Texts: Teaching English to Change the World by Cindy O’Donnell Allen, says it best: “In literature we feel the pain of the downtrodden, the anguish of defeat, or the joy of victory–but in a safe space. In this space, we can, as it were, practice empathy. We can refine our human capacities of emotional understanding.” He goes on to say that “we can start to extend ourselves into situations we have never experienced, feel for people very different from ourselves, and begin to understand such people in ways we never thought possible.” Storytelling in literature is a force for social change–for building a more compassionate and humane population. My desire is to advocate for unheard voices and expose young people to stories that will grow their hearts and minds.
The name of my blog is Radical Storytime because I one day hope to work in an environment that allows me to utilize my passion for social justice in my library programming. My dream is to implement a “radical storytime” that amplifies diverse voices and social justice issues in a way that is accessible and exciting for young children. I strongly believe we must allow our children spaces to cultivate empathy and develop a critical lens in order for future generations to live in a world that encourages a culture of community and solidarity (one that our society, as a whole, is currently lacking).
I’m completely new to the field, so my writing will reflect my utter lack of knowledge and experience, but also (hopefully) my heart for learning and growth as I embark on this new path. I have a lot of work (and reading!) to do, but I am thoroughly embracing the challenge, and am looking forward to every twist and turn that awaits me.
Originally published January 10th, 2016