Establishing Identity Affirming Library Spaces & Doing Self Work: Interview with Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera
Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera is the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer for Hamilton Southeastern Schools. She has also served as an elementary teacher, an assistant principal, a principal, and a director of curriculum prior to this role. During her doctoral program, she specialized in culturally responsive, inclusive environments and identity validation. She has penned multiple published articles including these two that I will reference in some of the questions: Shifting Toward Equity: The Educator’s Role and Identity-Affirming Schools Need Race Conscious Educators. On Twitter she is @ericabrivera.
conditioned to process differences and the idea of inclusion in various ways. It is important to reflect on that conditioning process, how it has impacted our decision-making and social contexts, and the ways it has shaped our beliefs.
Equity is the concept of giving individuals what is needed for their success and survival, which requires us to understand identities of those we serve as well as the barriers that hinder achievement. However, before we can delve deep into unpacking the needs of others, we have to learn how to decenter ourselves. Equity work involves an ongoing examination of self. I believe in the power of critical questions which guide steps toward educational excellence. For teacher librarians, it may be helpful to ponder some of the following questions:
It’s difficult to counter the biases of others if we do not recognize the biases we harbor within ourselves. Therefore, I continuously tell educators to start with self-work in efforts to avoid action steps that involve doing things to people without fully understanding the needs that exist.
I had the privilege to hear you talk at ISLA about what identify safe spaces look like in a classroom with having cultural connectivity, identity affirmations, intentional spaces, personal touches, and authenticity and examples of those. How do you see that translating in the space of a library? What might stay the same or change in that environment?
Guest post written by:
- Meg Boisseau Allison (she/her), U-32 Middle & High School, Montpelier, VT (@meg_allison)
- Peter Langella (he/him), Champlain Valley Union High School, Hinesburg, VT (@PeterLangella)
We believe, at its core, that a library should be centered around providing equitable access to information and the wealth of knowledge within. Not only do we ensure that our physical buildings allow for differently abled people to access our spaces, but we believe obstacles are also invisible and must be interrogated, including our policies, practices, and programming, as well as the implicit biases and/or privileges embodied within those working in the library from directors to instructional designers, library assistants, and volunteers.
We believe, at its core, that the art of librarianship is centered on building relationships that enlarge our students, our communities, and our own capacities for empathy. We do this through stories and books that, as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop explores, become “windows, mirrors, and sliding doors” for our readers, and as Uma Krishnaswami posits, prisms. Librarians know this intuitively, and it is confirmed by brain research: stories build neural pathways that make us kinder (and smarter!). No one says it better than author and current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jason Reyonds, “You read my books, you know my life, you know my secrets. We are connected.”
In addition, we build relationships by creating bridges toward understanding by cultivating spaces for dialogue and for questions. We do this by creating safe spaces - we think of them as pockets - for our students, but especially those who are marginalized, traumatized, or struggle with belonging within the larger community, to find a nest within our shelves, sometimes literally. One of Meg’s students recently offered this perspective:
During middle school I hid behind shelves. It was a bit difficult to do; the shelves at the U-32 library are too short to do anything more than kneel without your head peeking above the top. These shelves weren’t made to hide anything; the open spread of the tables and the wide windows make it impossible to hide; the bright lights make it so we can see each other and everyone else walking around in the library. Libraries allow all of us to be seen. In book groups and conversations by the shelves, we share our minds with each other, see each other in a new way. Libraries create a temporary world in which we can rediscover ourselves and each other.
How will you fight against different -isms and -phobias this year? (Not sure what I mean by -isms and -phobias here are a few examples: racism, sexism, Islamophobia, transphobia.)
What inequitable systems within your sphere of influence will you work on disrupting? How will do you so? What needs tackled first?
Whose voices or work can you amplify this year? Whose work can you credit and consult? (Be sure to cite ALL. Check out #citeblackwomen on Twitter. Women of color too often do not receive proper citation credit for their work. For example, how many of us heard about windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors long before we heard of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop?)
What personal growing and learning do you need to do?
While folks are reflecting on the last decade and possibly setting resolutions or goals for the upcoming year, let's also make time to set goals for equity work.
Personal Growth and Learning Resources
Here are some resources that may help with the personal growing and learning part of your equity work:
Dr. Sheldon Eakins has served in various roles as a K-12 educator and administrator. He has taught at every K-12 level and served as a school principal in two different states.
I know you’ve served roles as both teacher and administrator in different education systems and schools. I am hoping you had some opportunities to work with school librarians in some of those positions. What do you see as librarians’ role with equity work? What are things all librarians could be implementing?
Dr. Eakins shared that he used to work in the Virgin Islands. The librarian there was an amazing grant writer that would get money for various resources such as DVDs, books, tech, etc. The librarian also ensured they curated materials and books relevant to the students in that school and reflecting the black culture on the islands. The librarian pulled a diverse pool of materials that could extend beyond race, sexual identity, ability, or even some religious information. But there’s just a plethora of information that librarians can offer. It’s not just about one pool of books that might appeal to the librarian, but it’s about really taking the students into mind.
The books in his current school’s library on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation is approximately 88% indigenous related. The librarian makes sure the collection is relevant to tribal members at the school. There are other books as well. He’s working with ELA teachers to bring in more culturally based material as well.
He urged librarians to be intentional about the content that we’re getting - the magazines, graphic novels, all of those things. It’s crucial to intentionally think about our students and have them in mind. Sometimes we might get a grant for a specific niche but that might not be relevant to our students or school. Don’t do it just because the access is there, but be intentional that it’s relevant to the kids.
What do you think would be a common misstep or two for librarians who don’t see an inequity or are perhaps trying to resolve it ineffectively to try to avoid?
The purpose of the ISTE Librarians Network is to promote librarians as leaders and champions of educational technology and digital literacy. The key mission is to provide a professional learning community where librarians can leverage technology knowledge and expertise to improve school library programs, increase access to information, and foster strong teaching and learning environments in a connected world.