Accessibility, Joy and Inclusion: My Librarian Philosophy

This entry is something I wrote for an amazing job agency that is helping me explore jobs in the independent school world. They asked me to write a statement about my educational philosophy and this was the end result. I’m posting it here as it brings together a lot of ideas that I have written about earlier on this blog.

a boy sitting on a stool by a fireplace reading.
Image from the University of Michigan Museum of Art website.

On my desk, there’s a notecard of a painting called Boyhood of Lincoln by Eastman Johnson. In the image Lincoln, as a boy of perhaps twelve, is reading by the fireplace and so concerned with his book that he is almost falling off of the stool he’s sitting on. He has moved as close to the fire as possible to take advantage of all the light and is deeply lost in his book. This is an old image of reading but it holds within it many lessons that I believe are still important in the currently changing landscape of books and writing. The boy in the image can read his book where he wants to, he finds a joy in his reading as he borrows the firelight to not miss anything and he’s a part of a community of readers. This image captures for me many meanings about reading and librarianship. Accessibility, joy and inclusiveness are major themes in the way I think of myself as a librarian and educator.

One of the simple powers of a book is that it can be carried everywhere and historically this possibility created a new type of access to information and enjoyment beyond the elites of society. Current technology has increased this accessibility even further. Although not everyone can read an ordinary printed book, there is now an array of digital tools to provide ways for children who might not consider themselves readers to discover that in fact they are. Children with dyslexia can discover how to manipulate the text on an e-reader so that it makes more sense to them thus opening up entire worlds of books. E-books with audio capability are a helpful channel for people with visual impairments, compared to the bulkiness and difficulty of Braille materials. Electronic links to dictionaries can help a student find a word without being pulled away from the book and students can share their thoughts about what they are reading through social media. These are all tools with great potential, but it is the teacher-librarian who must figure out which ones each student needs to succeed in reading.

Once students have been introduced to the most comfortable way for them to read then it’s time for the fun part of helping them learn what to love about reading. A reader is part of a community, now more than ever through social media that allow connections to authors and other readers. A young reader can find out about how a book got started, why it was chosen by a publisher and most important, who else is reading it and what they think about it. The sharing of reading experiences reveals the variety of the lives of readers through the diversity of what they read about and in which formats. This offers encouragement to young people who may not have read what their parents or teachers are most familiar with. Classics have their place but it is also important to let the child who grew to love reading through comic books or fantasy feel that this makes them a reader too.

A sense of inclusion combines access and joy and is another necessity for every reader. A key responsibility I feel as a teacher-librarian is to make sure that every reader knows that they will be able to find books that include characters like themselves. This doesn’t have to be every book but there need to be options; our books need to be as diverse as our students.

I look forward to carrying this image of Lincoln with me as a talisman for my journey as a teacher-librarian, providing access, joy and inclusion to today’s young readers.


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