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Diversity Discussed At Westchester, Putnam Library Conference

Sixth annual School Libraries Systems Conference sponsored by Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES and Southern Westchester BOCES
Sixth annual School Libraries Systems Conference sponsored by Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES and Southern Westchester BOCES Photo Credit: Submitted

HARRISON, N.Y. -- Librarians were urged to become agents of change by creating libraries that meet the needs of diverse students at the sixth annual School Libraries Systems Conference sponsored by Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES and Southern Westchester BOCES.

The conference, held on April 15, brought together librarians from Westchester and Putnam counties for a series of workshops on topics including diversity, coding, augmented reality, and more.

Participants also had the opportunity to explore new books for young children, tweens and teens. When children read books that are relevant to their lives, their reading comprehension improves, their ability to remember what they have read improves and even their ability to decode the words improves.

Yet, Keynote Speaker Sandra Hughes-Hassell said, many students of color as well as immigrants and those who identify as LGBTQ, cannot see themselves in the books their school libraries offer. That is why it is imperative that school librarians embrace diversity, equity and social justice, she said.

Hughes-Hassell began her keynote address with some familiar statistics illustrating lower literacy rates for Latinos and students of color, and higher rates of being bullied for Asian American students and LGBTQ youth.

She went on to show how inequities in schools translate over to inequities in life outcomes.

“We need to look at these statistics and the challenges these kids are facing,” Hughes-Hassell said. “These are warnings that there is something wrong with the system.”

Hughes-Hassell urged the librarians in attendance to “turn the narrative on its head” by becoming culturally competent, adopting an asset-based approach that looks at what diverse students bring to the table rather than what they lack and by setting higher standards for diverse students.

“Being labelled at-risk is like being voted least likely to succeed,” she said.

Kara Ross, a library media specialist from the White Plains School District, said “The conference is incredible. You get to hear fresh ideas and validate your practice.”

What’s more, Ross said, Hughes- Hassall’s message was important because “libraries are sanctuaries for everyone.”

Sudha Narsipur, library media specialist at Ossining High School, said it was important to understand students of different cultures.

"The literature and collections librarians build should not only reflect the diversity of the student body but also celebrate it," Narsipur said.

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