Tag Archives: equity

Ottauquechee’s Diversity Detectives in:

The Case of The Library Diversity Audit

Whose stories are being told in your library? Whose stories are being left out?

Look around your library. It is such a beautiful space. It’s filled with vibrant colors and flexible furniture, student art and encouraging signs and posters. Maybe it has a makerspace. And it’s stocked full of books of all shapes, sizes and colors. Every book imaginable is available somewhere, from a YA-version Hamlet, to Winnie the Pooh and The Big Friendly Giant. Plus of course, Catcher in the Rye. You’ve got some new classics as well: Twilight, Hunger Games, City of Bones. Your collection is amazing. Why on earth would you need a library audit?


What’s a library audit?

Librarians audit their collections for any number of reasons. Books like to live, they like to find readers. Part of library management is curating which books to add and which to discard.

But recently, quite a few librarians have noticed that their collections represent only a minority of voices in the communities they serve. Publishing has favored a limited number of narratives. Those narratives feature a large number of protagonists who are white, who are male, who are able-bodied, who are straight. Those characteristics taken together reference a small set of the population. Therefore, many librarians are finding it useful to use lenses of diversity in conducting their audits. As you buy new books, and as you discard older ones, having lenses of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation and economic class — even a subset of those lenses — can make a collection more useful to its community.

And why did Ottauquechee need one?

“I thought about my students. Do they see themselves in the library?”

The Ottauquechee School, in Quechee VT, is home to an amazing library space. Work tables cluster under a wall of windows. Beanbags and soft, plush reading chairs beckon invitingly. Laptops sit ready atop a tech bar, and a whiteboard asks students to write questions for an upcoming discussion. And Ottauquechee School librarian Becky Whitney wanted to make sure the collection was just as welcoming as the space itself.

I was inspired from the Deeper Learning Conference we attended in 2018, and in one session we attended, called Little People have Big Ideas: Implementing a Social Justice Lens in Elementary, with Jeffrey Feitelberg, elementary students did a classroom library audit. And I always felt, because I didn’t have my own classroom, that I couldn’t make systemic change. I only see the students for 45 minutes a week  — and then sometimes there’s holidays or vacations and field trips and then it’s two weeks until I see them. And I thought, “There’s really no way to make these great PBL projects in library.” It’s just not enough time to make it meaningful.

But when I went to that session, and the presenter talked about the kid’s classroom library, I just thought “I could do that with a very small segment of the library,” and then use it as a research project.  The diversity audit, it kind of takes my responsibility and my passion and melds them.

Then I thought, there are a few students of color at our school. Where are they reflected in the library? 

Becky knew that conducting a diversity audit of the library would not just improve the range of the collection, but teach students to be more critical readers. It would teach them to think powerfully about empathy and inclusion. So she got to work.

The Diversity Detectives are on the case


Becky began by showing this inspiring video of 11 year old Marley Dias, a Black 6th grader who wanted to see herself in more books. Marley noticed the books she was reading in school were mostly about “white boys and dogs”. She wanted more books with characters who look like her.  Her mother asked her, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” What Marley did was begin a movement demanding more racial diversity YA books. She went looking for #1000Blackgirlbooks, crowd-sourcing a collection of books with a Black female protagonist. She distributes the books to school libraries. The movement went viral, and kicked off a lot of powerful conversations for librarians around race in YA publishing.

But for Ottauquechee students, Marley’s activism provided a relatable example. Whose stories would they find in their own library? Whose stories did they want to find? Could everyone see themselves in the collection?

Dream of a Common Language

Becky introduced and unpacked the 4 Agreements of Courageous Conversations (Singleton & Linton)  to her students:

  • Stay engaged
  • Speak your truth
  • Expect discomfort
  • Expect non-closure

They would use these four guidelines as a way to move through tough topics together.

Becky also worked with a community partner in this project, John Hall, the chair of the committee for Racial Inclusion and Equality in Hartford.

And what he said was, “Just the discussion was the important and powerful piece. The research is great, buying new and diverse books for the library is great,” but I would have done that anyway. So, including the kids in the discussion, including the kids and giving them agency, and giving them a voice in what kind of library, whose story are we telling — making them realize, the lack of diversity not okay. 

Becky also defined specific lenses students could use in the audit. They could look for stories that featured diversity around race, religion, disability, and culture. Becky and her students chewed over the vocabulary together. They examined current data on the state of children’s book publishing and representation, then they moved into interest-based groups. They in effect became Diversity Detectives, studying Ottauquechee’s library collection for clues to inclusion.

Tackling the stacks…

library audit rubric

…and making the case

The Diversity Detectives studied different sets of books in Ottauquechee’s library, using their Courageous Conversations agreements and the diversity lenses. They worked on analyzing the data they collected, then they created infographics in Canva. Here is a single point rubric Becky created for assessing the infographics. Lastly, students will share the infographics with their whole school community in the hopes of continuing discussions of inclusion.

Now be the change you want to see in the world.

For librarian Becky Whitney, this wasn’t just a theoretical exercise. The Diversity Detectives’ research will directly inform the direction Ottauquechee’s library collection takes as it grows. Taking the infographics and associated research into account, she will be partnering with the Diversity Detectives on recommended new purchases and culls. She also reached out to a local bookstore, in Norwich VT. The Norwich Bookstore’s proprietor, Liza Bernard, has agreed to share with students how she purchases books and what influences those decisions. All part of making sure this exercise remains more than academic. Becky hopes to come home from Norwich Bookstore with about 20 new titles based on the students’ research. Conversations around inclusion and diversity will have real-world relevance in Ottauquechee. They will shape the library collection, and hopefully extend to other areas of students’ lives.

Teaching the library audit

Becky ponders how she has challenged herself to move beyond her own initial discomfort with addressing these issues in school:

I’ve forced myself to be uncomfortable. I’m forcing myself to be aware of the language I use. And I had never understood that as fully as I have now because of the amount of research that I did, to make sure that I knew what I was talking about. It’s kind of like the whole — white fragility thing, and the whole thing about “I’m uncomfortable talking about race, and so I’m just going to not really talk about it.”

Students are leading these conversations and growing their agency, voice and understanding of critical issues in the process. And teachers are giving them the opportunity to share power and critically analyze their library spaces.

What does your library collection look like? How do you choose whose stories are included?

Further reading:

Vermont schools have a transportation equity problem.

When I travel to schools around Vermont, I hear many versions of the same concerns:

  • Going anywhere from our school costs hundreds of dollars.
  • We want to take students into the community, but we burn through our budget by October.
  • Transportation funds are running low (or are gone).
  • We know it is so important to give our students community and field experiences.
  • Technology can support this work but nothing takes the place of getting students out into the field for hands-on experiences and opportunities.

How is this supporting the promise of Act 77?

Specifically, the promise “to extend and validate learning experiences in our communities, campuses and beyond”?

It’s a complicated issue in Vermont schools, but it comes down to two things: what we know works best for students, and equity. So let’s take a look at some of the transportation equity issues Vermont schools are facing — and what a few rural educators have to say about them.

What we know works best for students,

First of all, why do middle level students need to have access to community and field experiences?

(Hint: it has to do with engagement, motivation and transferable, lifelong skills). Let educator Morgan Moore sum it up for you:

These allow authentic audiences for our students. Seventh and eighth grade students are much more motivated to research, write, present, etc. when they know they will be presenting outside of the school. In a K-8 school we provide many leadership opportunities for them in the building, but after nine years they need new, challenging, audiences. They also learn more while out in the community, by interacting with other students and places. It is imperative that they are on college campuses, at fish hatcheries, local libraries, ordering food on Church Street, etc. In all of these experiences they learn about the resources in their community and state, and apply school skills to real life experiences. After thirteen hours in Burlington for Vermont History Day last Saturday, students went home and immediately started researching for next year’s project — that is not the norm in a typical social studies classroom.

-Morgan Moore, Humanities Teacher, Burke Town School

And what we know inequity looks like.

Reducing isolation and increasing access — across the board

Vermont is a rural state. Many students live in rural locations, with limited access to transportation and activities beyond schooling. Teachers often marvel how many students have never been to Vermont largest city, Burlington, or even to a park in their own towns.

This impacts our students living in poverty most of all.

Families who can provide transportation to extracurricular activities do so. They bring their kids to lessons, activities, and sports regularly. This is not available to all of our students, creating an opportunity gap for learning key transferable social skills, growing social capital, developing interests and purpose in the community. Providing increased transportation equity to field experiences for students can reduce some of this isolation and the associated opportunity gaps.

The majority of our student population have limited resources to plan experiences beyond the local area. Most families have two parents who work. As a result, children (esp. in rural areas) do not have access to a variety of experiences; they are limited to what is available in their particular community.

Students of all ages need a wide variety of experiences to build background knowledge, language development, an understanding of the wider community, and an understanding of people and places outside their limited communities.

-June Murphy, literacy coach

Reducing dependence on parents — and teachers — hauling students

Many times we hear that students getting out into the community in support of their project-based and service learning experiences hinges on teachers driving students to these locations. This is, of course, incredibly generous of these teachers, but can put them in a difficult spot, driving students in their personal cars. Do we want to place this extra burden on our teachers? Often, teachers doing this is the only way they can make these experiences happen.

At The Cabot School, in Cabot VT, a trio of middle school students have the opportunity to spend school time working on one of Vermont’s oldest organic farms, Molly Brook Farm, over in West Danville, as part of the Cabot Leads program. West Danville is about 10 minutes from Cabot, by car. The students describe the experience as invaluable and engaging. Farmers Myles and Rhonda Goodrich teach students math, biology and economics on the farm — and the only way for students to get to Molly Brook is through the good graces of Cabot’s school librarian and her electric blue hatchback.

We also frequently call on parents to provide transport. This comes with its own set of concerns. Insurance, safety, and yes, equity. Does every parent in your class have the ability to take time off work? Do they all have their own vehicles in good repair?

Also, many districts require parents to undergo a background check, complete with fingerprints. It’s a long process, and a complicated one and extra expenses for the district to pick up.

So, classes with more parents available and willing to do this can go more places.

How is this equitable? Who might it leave out?

Buses are expensive

Buses in rural locations can be prohibitively expensive. In school budgets, teachers can blow through the allotted amount for field trips by October, and often with one trip. Sometimes schools only budget for one field trip a year for each class. Do we really want just one performance, presentation, community visit, field experience and opportunity per year? How does that limit the experiences of our students, especially those who have a one somewhat traditional field experience (such as a museum visit or theatre performance) in the spring?

What about collaborating with other students regionally? Or presenting at state-wide conferences such as Dynamic Landscapes and Vermont Fest?

This spring, three schools took part in the first ever Battle Physics tournament. The tourney was located at Green Mountain Union HS in Chester VT. Now, Leland & Gray students wrote a grant application to support their tournament entry, and it included bus rental. At the same time, The Dorset School, in Dorset VT, provided funding for student bus transport. Two schools, two school budgets, one big disparity.

Incredible learning opportunities cost money for transport.

Buses are very expensive and we are not able to take frequent enough trips to allow students to pursue personal interests and flexible pathways, within their school day. Therefore, it means that only students who have transportation can truly pursue flexible pathways. I wrote a grant to address this challenge, but then found out that buses are only available within school hours – so we are not able to use the buses for trips that end later. Being in a rural area, it often takes us 1-2 hours to get to a destination, which leaves us only two hours at most to be in a location (often this is not long enough and we need to leave conferences or experiences early, or miss them due to timing).

-Morgan Moore, Humanities Teacher

Often, schools have a limited budget for transporting students on longer trips by bus. Many classes rely on parent chaperones/drivers in order to plan field trips. This is an obstacle for some classes. This also poses inequities from class to class. If there is a grade level where there is a “pocket” of parents who are available to chaperone AND have larger vehicles to fit more students, those classes tend to have more field trip experiences than others.

-June Murphy, literacy coach

Arranging transport shouldn’t be a teacher’s responsibility.

We know authentic audiences want to hear from students. We know students benefit from sharing their learning widely. But all the time and effort it takes teachers to plan opportunities for their students to share their work makes my head spin. Fundraising and grant applications take hours of extra work. Work that takes teachers away from teaching and their personal lives. All of this impacts the sustainability of teaching as a career.

Coordinating and leading these experiences is no small task. Adding “find funding” to this list makes these experiences only available to students where the teachers take this on.

The promise of act 77

The two tenets of act 77 are flexible pathways and personalized learning plans. According to Vermont’s Agency of Education, flexible pathways (bolds mine):

Flexible Pathways Flexible Pathways are any combination of high-quality expanded learning opportunities, including academic and experiential components, which build and assess attainment of identified proficiencies and lead to secondary school completion, civic engagement and postsecondary readiness. Flexible pathways allow students to apply their knowledge and skills to tasks of personal interest as part of the personalized learning planning process. This does not refer to a finite menu of pre-selected pathways from which a student must choose, but also includes school-based course offerings, virtual or blended learning opportunities, community or work-based learning opportunities, and post-secondary learning options among others.

If we are designing ways students can have equitable access to expanded learning opportunities, we must address all facets of the system.

And transportation’s one of them.

If we had access to affordable transportation students could regularly meet with community partners, engage in field activities, present at conferences, visit other schools, see performances, art, etc. A teacher could truly create captivating experiences at the start, and during lessons, that would engage middle school students. Students would be interested in learning because they would see the real life applications and be able to present to real audiences, win awards, prizes, recognition, etc.

-Morgan Moore, Humanities Teacher

Leaving students out of learning experiences based on access to transportation is a serious problem. Plans for Act 77 implementation have to include district-wide plans for transportation.

No really: #fleetofvans

The hashtag #fleetofvans first emerged in a #vted Twitter chat about equity and flexible pathways. Lindsey Halman of UP for Learning, tweeted #fleetofvans as she highlighted this problem and ignited a hashtag, but really, a way of thinking about this issue.

Is a fleet of vans the answer to the transportation issues faced by Vermont students?

Imagine if all Vermont schools had a fleet of vans — or affordable buses — at their disposal.

Imagine if those vans and buses could be booked by students as part of taking the reins of their opportunities.

I’ll leave you with a quote from teacher Kim Dumont, from the Ottauquechee School, in Quechee VT.

In order to provide authentic, meaningful learning experiences to all children, regardless of location, transportation is crucial. Children in rural areas would particularly benefit from having readily accessible vehicles at their school. Without vehicles at their disposal, valuable opportunities may be out of reach. In this case, investing in a fleet of vans is truly an investment in our future.

Districts, schools boards, communities, and school leaders: how could *you* address the transportation equity problem in Vermont?