Case Studies

Many of you have told us that you wish there were some way you could practice identifying and responding to injustices before you are faced with them in the real world. Some of you have described how challenging it is for you to identify inequities. Others have reported feeling unsure if what you are interpreting as prejudice is really happening. Others have talked about feeling overwhelmed in the moment, and not knowing how to process what is happening. Still others have said you know you need to respond (and you want to respond), but you don’t know how. Challenging the biases and presumptions of our colleagues, or pointing out to the administration the ways inequity and oppression are built into our libraries or schools, is difficult. It takes more than just understanding theory or having a list of practical strategies. It involves “recognizing conditions and contexts you might not usually recognize or seeing what you might be conditioned not to see” (Gorski & Pothini, 2018, 14), “considering challenges and opportunities [and] … imagining positive and equitable outcomes” (Gorski & Pothini, 2018, 17-18).

Paul Gorski and Seema Pothini, equity specialists at the Equity Literacy Institute, recommend using case studies as a way to bolster our abilities and to prepare us to “think, teach, lead, and advocate more equitably and justly” (2018, 7). Using Gorski and Pothini’s Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education as a model, we have created 14 scenarios describing actual events in school and public libraries that we have observed or have heard about from our colleagues. Each case is written in narrative style and presents fairly common injustices that BIPOC youth and their families experience in schools and libraries. Each scenario is followed by a set of questions designed to encourage you to think deeply and reflect critically about the situation described in the case. Like Gorski and Pothini, we recommend you work through these cases in small groups, or with at least one colleague. 

As you work through the scenarios, instead of immediately focusing on coming up with a “solution,” use the scenarios to practice and hone your skills. Analyze the cases critically – take time to uncover the inequities, forms of oppression, and dominant narratives occurring in the case; interrogate how race is central to what is going on; recognize intersecting forms of oppression; and identify larger social issues at play. Then, you can begin to think about how to take action and promote social justice. And remember, there are no “right” answers. As you read the cases, ask yourself the questions listed below. [We have provided a worksheet for you to use to record your ideas and questions.]

  • What issues of prejudice, disparity or inequity can I identify in the scenario? Who are those prejudices, disparities or inequities most impacting? 
  • What dominant narratives are represented in the scenario (i.e. color blindness, meritocracy, deficit frameworks, surveillance as safety)? How do those dominant narratives harm the youth and community described in the scenario?
  • Who holds the power in the scenario? Make sure to notice the power differentials not only between adults and youth, but also between the adults involved.
  • Whose voices and perspectives are included? Whose voices and perspectives are left out?
  • What societal systems (e.g. the criminal justice system, the education system) are at play within the scenario, and how? What library systems and services (e.g. staff, instruction, collections, policies, library space) are implicated, and how? 
  • What biases do I bring to the scenario?
  • How might I respond to the inequities I’ve identified? What concrete steps can I take as an individual; as a member of my organization?  How can I ensure that my responses are actually making a difference? Making full justice possible?

Our goal in providing these cases is to help you be able to apply what you have learned from completing the Project Ready curriculum, to be able to recognize and respond to biases and inequities (even subtle or implicit ones), and to be able to create bias-free and equitable library programs and services for BIPOC youth and their families.

Reference: Gorski, Paul C., and Seema G. Pothini. 2018. Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education (2nd ed.). New York: Taylor & Francis.

Table of Contents

Case Study 1: Whose Library Passes Get Checked?

Library PassOne day, Ms. Langley, a tenth grade English teacher at Maryville High School, realizes that Anya is no longer asking for a pass to go to the library during her lunch time. Curious, Ms. Langley approaches Anya and asks her why she has suddenly stopped going to the library with her friends at lunchtime. “You and your friends used to go everyday”, she says, “What’s up? Did something change?

At first Anya seems hesitant to respond, but after giving it some thought she explains, “The previous librarian was happy to have us visit the library everyday, she even let us eat our lunch in the library so we would have more time to read or look for books. The new librarian – she doesn’t make us feel welcome. So we just stopped going.” 

Confused, Ms. Langley asks her to elaborate.

Anya continues, “Well, we’ve always had to have a pass to go to the library, right? The previous librarian checked everybody’s pass. Now, when we go to the library, it feels like the new librarian is only checking our passes. White kids? She’ll let…them walk in and out. And then when it’s ours, she’s like, ‘who signed this pass?’ and she’ll ask the library assistant, ‘do you recognize this signature and this teacher?’ We don’t do anything wrong and we’re just coming here to get a book and to read but she always – she never checks, like, the white people passes but when people of color come in, she checks their passes a lot of the times… And she’s, like, always wary of us for some reason. Not just us…She, like, gets onto – people of color. Yeah. I don’t really like going there that much.”

Alarmed, Ms. Langley asks, “What are you saying Anya? Do you think the new librarian is intentionally treating students of color differently?” Anya, becoming visibly uncomfortable, responds, “So maybe it’s not a color thing – maybe she’s, like, strict to everybody.” Then she turns and quickly walks off.

Watching Anya walk away, Ms. Langley feels unsettled and unsure of what to do next. Clearly, Anya is upset. She has never heard Anya talk about feeling unfairly treated at Maryville, and certainly not because of her race. What is the right way to handle this, she wonders.

  1. How is race central to what is going on in this situation? How does Anya’s comment “So maybe it’s not a color thing” demonstrate the ways youth of color have been conditioned to question whether their experiences of racism are indeed “real”? 
  2. What are the implications of Anya’s experiences with the new librarian? How might the librarian’s actions impact the students of color in the school? The white students?
  3. If you were Ms. Langley, what would you have said to Anya? How would you have validated Anya’s experiences?
  4. If you were Ms. Langley, what would you say to the new librarian? How could you approach the topic with a focus on systemic issues and policy versus individual behaviors? 

[This scenario is based on research discussed in Gibson, A.N., and Hughes-Hassell, S. (2023). “Maybe She’s Just Strict to Everybody”: Race, Belonging, and Surveillance in the Library. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 93 (3), 227-293.]

Case Study 2: No Wandering in the Library 

Library building with a security guard hat in frontVanessa, an adult librarian at Farmington Public Library, was having dinner with her friend José, a teen librarian in the next town over. As soon as they had ordered, Vanessa said, “I am so glad we had planned to meet tonight. I really need your advice. You know I just started my new job, right? Well, I was sitting at the circulation desk today when I saw a girl get kicked out of the library. She was, maybe 16, with long braids. She was in the library with a group of her friends. They were all sitting together, looking around the library at the displays and posters in the teen area, talking quietly with each other. Doing what I had seen teens at my former library do all the time.”

Vanessa took a sip of her drink and continued, “All of a sudden, these two guards showed up from opposite ends of the library. One stepped really close to the girl. You know, the way adults do when asserting dominance over Black teens. When the guard spoke to her, the girl flinched, and her face flashed with anger and indignation. She said something back, and the second guard pointed to the exit. She and her friends got up and left. The guards just wandered back to their stations as if this was normal.”

José sighed and shook his head. Before he could say anything, Vanessa continued, “I was so confused. They hadn’t done anything wrong. They were being quiet and respectful. I couldn’t figure out what in the world was going on so when I had my break, I told the teen librarian what I’d seen. She assured me that the girl must have been making noise, or wandering (neither of which was allowed in the library). She said that teens who use the library space have to be sitting, and engaged in active study, or they are asked to leave. That makes no sense, José.”

José responded, “I wish I could say I’m surprised, Vanessa, but I’ve heard about things like this happening at the Farmington Library before. Some of the Black teens from your library get their parents to bring them to the programs at my library because they don’t feel welcome at Farmington.”

Shocked, Vanessa replied, “That’s not right. All teens in the community should be welcome in our library! There must be something I can do.”

  1. What aspects of power are apparent in the scenario Vanessa observed?
  2. How does what Vanessa observed reflect broader discussions about policing and youth of color? 
  3. What role do security guards play in libraries? What equity issues arise from their presence? What strategies can library workers use to ensure that marginalized youth are not over surveilled by guards?
  4. How does this scenario reflect (in)equity in library policies – both explicit, written policies and de facto policies (“how things are done” in the library)? 
  5. If you were Vanessa, what would you do? Who would you talk to about the incident? What information would you gather? What would you recommend?

[This scenario is based on the introduction to Gibson, A. N., and Hughes-Hassell, S. (2017). We Will Not be Silent: Amplifying Marginalized Voices in LIS Education and Research. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy,87 (4), 317-329.]

Case Study 3: An Unwelcoming Entrance

Library building with a security guard outside the front door. Aaliyah is the teen librarian at East Regional Library. The community the library serves is 63% Black/African American, 14% Hispanic/Latine, 15% white, and 8% two or more races. The library is located across the street from the neighborhood middle school, something Aaliyah is thrilled about. This means the teens can just walk to the library after school, which has allowed her to develop a thriving teen program. She has a weekly D&D club, a monthly “Conversations with Mentors” event, and a yearly unconference that the teens plan and organize themselves. With its comfortable furniture, video gaming equipment, passive programming, and Aaliyah’s welcoming attitude, the teen area is a place teens want to be.

One day, Jamil, one of the after school regulars, asks Aaliyah if he can talk with her about something at the library that is bothering him and his friends. Aaliyah invites Jamil into her office and encourages him to share.

“Ms. Aaliyah,” Jamil begins, “You know how me and my friends like to come to the library after school, right?” Aaliyah nods. “Well, for the last two weeks when we’ve gotten here the library guards have been standing at the front door, watching us cross the street. When we get near the door, they kind of move towards us, with frowns on their faces. One of them even asked us the other day what we were up to and he wanted to know what was in my backpack. It’s like they think we’re going to do something wrong – like we are coming here to cause trouble. One of the reasons we like coming here is because everyone welcomes us and doesn’t judge us. We get to have fun and be ourselves. We know you have to have guards at the library…I guess, to keep people safe…but these new guards…I don’t know, they make us feel intimidated, not protected.”  

Aaliyah assures Jamil that he and his friends are welcome at the library. Jamil seems satisfied and heads off to play Super Smash Brothers with his friends, leaving Aaliyah to reflect on what to do.

  1. How does what Jamil and his friends are experiencing at the library reflect broader discussions about policing and youth of color? 
  2. What is the role of security guards or police in libraries? What kind of training should security guards receive? Whose responsibility is it to make sure they don’t oversurveil youth of color? 
  3. How does this scenario reflect (in)equity in library policies – both explicit, written policies and de facto policies (“how things are done” in the library)? 
  4. What would you do if you were Aaliyah? What would you do in the short-term to ensure that Jamil and his friends continue to feel welcome at the library? What long-term solutions might you propose?

[This scenario is based on research discussed in Gibson, A.N., and Hughes-Hassell, S. (2023). “Maybe She’s Just Strict to Everybody”: Race, Belonging, and Surveillance in the Library. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 93 (3), 227-293.]

Case Study 4: The Library is a Quiet Place 

Sign saying quiet pleaseGabe is one of two school librarians at Red River High School, which serves a student population that is 82% Black/African American, 8% white, 6% Hispanic/Latine, and 4% two or more races. When Gabe arrived at Red River four years ago, the library was unwelcoming and largely unused, thanks in large part to policies that prohibited most forms of social interaction in the space. Gabe was eventually successful in convincing the older librarian at the school to change those policies, and now he is the senior librarian in the space. Gabe and his co-librarian, a recent LIS graduate, have implemented a lot of changes in the past year to make the library align better with principles of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy. Signs now encourage students to talk, socialize, and move around the space; comfortable and colorful new furniture encourages interaction; and students have curated a music playlist that is played on one side of the library before and after school. 

Today, Gabe is being observed and evaluated by the school’s new Assistant Principal, Tanya. Gabe has asked her to visit the space during a tenth grade English class circulation visit. Gabe begins the visit by booktalking several new diverse titles from the library’s collection. The students are particularly excited about one title and a brief, but friendly, argument breaks out between a few students to determine who gets to check it out first. Gabe settles the argument by leading the students in a lively game of rock-paper-scissors. After the booktalks, students are released into the library to find other titles they’d like to check out. Just before the large group breaks up, one of the students asks Gabe if he can turn their shared playlist on. There aren’t any other students trying to work in the library, so Gabe agrees. Students begin to circulate the space, talking to each other while they do so and occasionally singing along or dancing to a favorite track. All of the students find a book to check out, and seem to leave the space happy. 

Gabe is surprised when he receives his evaluation report from Tanya a couple days later. Tanya has rated him quite poorly on several indicators related to student engagement and classroom management. In her observation notes, Tanya called the class visit “chaotic” and admonished Gabe for his “failure to keep the students in line.” Tanya also noted that Gabe should have insisted that students stay silent during the checkout period and should not have “given in” to the students’ request to play music, because “the school library is meant to be a quiet space for student research.” 

  1. If you were Gabe, how would you communicate with Tanya about the lesson and her evaluation? 
  2. One of the core principles of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy (CSP) is “valuing community languages, practices, and ways of being.” In what ways does Gabe’s lesson, and his overall approach to the library’s space and services, demonstrate that principle? 
  3. How might enforcing quiet in the library have disproportionate impacts on different groups of students based on race, ethnicity, disability status, etc.? 
  4. What does this scenario suggest about the disconnect between the ways that school administrators sometimes view the school library and the modern model of the school library as a vibrant learning commons? What strategies might Gabe use with administrators and teachers to advocate for this modern vision of the school library? 

Case Study 5: When a Multicultural Celebration Isn’t a Celebration

Clip art of a dreamcatcher and a teepee. Sarah is the youth services librarian at a public library in Minnesota. Her library is planning a community event in celebration of Indigenous People’s Day, and Sarah is in charge of staffing the children’s table at the event. She pulls books from the library’s collection that feature Native American characters and gets supplies for children to make dreamcatchers. She also sets up a teepee with comfortable cushions inside for children to read in. 

The event is well attended, and Sarah is kept busy the whole time helping kids make their dreamcatchers and select books to take home. Event attendees are invited to fill out a quick survey to share their feedback with the library. The day after the event, Sarah is reviewing the completed surveys, which are largely positive. However, she comes across one survey with this comment: 

I am tribally enrolled in the Leech Lake Band of the Ojibwe, part of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, and so are my children. We were excited to see that the library would be celebrating Indigenous People’s Day this year. Unfortunately, this event did not reflect our traditions or culture, and instead highlighted stereotypical elements of Native life such as dreamcatchers, tepees, and headdresses. Some of the books you chose to highlight also contain harmful stereotypes of Native people, or suggest that Native Americans only lived in the past. There are over 50,000 Native Americans living in Minnesota today, but I didn’t see any evidence that we were involved in planning or running this event. If the library repeats this program next year, I hope more care is taken. 

Sarah feels defensive at first after reading this comment. The library only had a couple weeks to plan this event, and most of the attendees had positive things to say. But after reflecting on it for a while, Sarah realizes that she, and the library, could have done a lot better with this program. 

  1. If you were Sarah, what would you do next? Who would you talk to, and what resources would you seek out? 
  2. How should this situation be addressed before the library celebrates another holiday designed to celebrate a specific community?
  3. Libraries often feature events and programs like this one only during special months or days such as Black History Month or Indigenous People’s Day. What message does this send to community members, and how could libraries incorporate these communities into everyday practice? In what ways could restricting “celebration” of these groups to certain days or months further marginalize these communities? 
  4. Often libraries (and schools) host celebrations like this rather than integrating diversity and equity in deeper ways or instead of addressing inequities at all. If you were Sarah, how might you talk with your director about how the library might identify and address how the library might be marginalizing the Indigenous communities it serves?

Case Study 6: English-Only 

Text reading hola with a forbidden sign.Thirty-six percent of the students who attend Crestview School are from Latine families. Many of them are recent immigrants from various Latin American countries and Spanish is the primary language spoken at home. Although Andy, the school librarian, only speaks English, he knows that being able to speak their home language at school is important to students who are learning English. It helps them explain concepts to each other that are unclear in English, and it allows them to connect with each other. Andy is even working hard himself to learn some Spanish phrases.

One day a group of Latine students are in the library during lunch. As they work on a puzzle together, they switch back and forth between Spanish and English. Ms. Anderson, a seventh grade history teacher, comes into the library to pick up some books she had asked Andy to pull for her. Hearing the students speaking Spanish, she immediately starts to yell at them, “Speak English! You’re in America now.” She continues, “If you want to speak Spanish at home, that’s your business. But when you’re at school you need to speak English. If you don’t learn English, you’re never going to be successful.”

Andy is startled by Ms. Anderson’s outburst. Before he can respond to her comments, Ms. Anderson storms out of the library, saying “I’m going to talk with the principal about this. I’m tired of these kids and their families not learning English. It’s time we adopted an English-only policy like some of the other schools in the area.”  

Andy has heard other teachers at his school complain about the students and their families not learning English. He is afraid the principal will listen to them and adopt an English-only policy. Andy believes English-only policies are bad for all students, not just students who speak languages other than English at home. But what to do?

  1. If you were Andy, what would you say to the students who were the target of Ms. Anderson’s outburst? 
  2. How would you talk with Ms. Anderson? What would your main talking points be?
  3. What do you think of Ms. Anderson’s assertion that if the youth are allowed to speak Spanish at school it means they won’t learn English or grow up to be successful? What does the research say?
  4. How might the adoption of an English-only policy impact your ability to create an inclusive and welcoming library? How would you engage the other teachers, and the administration, in a discussion about policies like this, and their implications for students and their families? 
  5. If you were in a school with an English-only policy, would you be able to follow it knowing that it will not only negatively impact student engagement, but will also harm their learning? What implications might your decision have for your career? For the well-being of students? 

Case Study 7: What Do You Do When You Don’t Agree with Your Manager?

Clip art of library storytimeMariana is the children’s librarian in Meso, a rural community in New Mexico that serves a population that is 53% Hispanic/Latine, 32% white, and 15% Black. As part of the library’s outreach program, Marianne provides a weekly storytime at El Centro Hispano – a local community center that provides services to the Hispanic/Latine community in Meso. The majority of the families who come to these storyhours are recent immigrants from Mexico.

One day while Mariana is planning the program for her next visit to El Centro, Louise, the children’s services manager, comes into Mariana’s office all excited about a series she thinks will be a “big hit” with the families at El Centro Hispano – the Skippyjon Jones books by Judy Schachner. Showing Mariana the cover of the first book in the series, Louise describes it as: “full of rhyming chants and Spanish expressions with colorful cartoon illustrations.” She adds, “I’m sure the  Spanish-speaking families at El Centro will be delighted by all the Spanglish words and the humor.” Mariana isn’t familiar with these books, but from looking at the cover she thinks it looks like a cute book about a chihuahua and she knows the preschoolers who attend the story hour love books about animals. She thanks Louise for the suggestion and sits down to read the book.

As she reads the book, Mariana becomes increasingly uncomfortable. The main character in the book, Skippyjon Jones, is a Siamese cat that pretends to be a Chihuahua superhero. Skippyjon speaks English, but his superhero alter ego, Skippito Friskito, speaks in mock Spanish, adding an “o” or “ito” to common English words, and prefacing phrases with “el”. Throughout the book he is presented as using his “very best Spanish accent,” using “ees” for is, and  “beeg” for  big. Mariana can’t believe what she’s reading. And if the language weren’t bad enough, the images used in the book cast Mexicans as bandits and modern-day “Frito Banditos”. 

Mariana doesn’t see anything humorous about mocking someone’s language and culture in this way. It’s not “silly or funny,” she thinks to herself. If all the books in the series are like this one, Skippyjon Jones books and materials are insulting to Spanish-speaking children and their parents and communities, and she is definitely not going to include them in her story hours. But she feels like that’s not enough – books like this with stereotypic in-your-face representations of Spanish speaking communities, also teach children troubling ideas about race, language, and “difference.”

  1. If you were Mariana, how would you talk to your branch manager about including the Skippyjon Jones books in storytimes? What information would you gather? What would be your key talking points?
  2. The reviews for the Skippyjon Jones books in standard reviewing tools like SLJ and Kirkus describe these books as “a good multicultural offering” (SLJ, 2004) and “full of beans (more Mexican-jumping than pinto) but ay caramba, mucho fun” (Kirkus, 2003). How do you explain the disconnect between the reviewer’s positive comments about the books and Mariana’s reaction? What does this scenario suggest about collection development policies and procedures? In evaluating books for inclusion in their collections, what criteria should library workers use to select books about the Latine community? 
  3. When reading a book like this one aloud, a librarian would need to affect a stereotypical Spanish accent (for example, “big” in the text is written as “beeg”). What ideas about race, language, and difference would this communicate to listeners, both Latine and non-Latine? 

[The concerns raised about this title were taken from: Skippyjon Jones: Transforming a Racist Stereotype into an Industry by Be by Beverly Slapin and Speaking “Mexican” and the use of “Mock Spanish” in Children’s Books (or Do Not Read Skippyjon Jones) by Dolores Inés Casillas.]

Case Study 8: There are No Indigenous Students in My Class

Clip art of a male teacher holding a bookOne morning when Anita is dropping some books off in Mr. Murray’s third grade classroom, she sees that he is reading a picture book to the class and stops to listen. She is surprised to see that the book is Brother Eagle, Sister Sky by Susan Jeffers, a book that she knows perpetuates stereotypes of Native peoples. She has attended a number of conferences where she has heard Native scholars talk about the problematic depictions in the book, and she understands the importance of accurate and honest depictions of Native peoples in children’s books. Walking back to the library, Anita decides that after school she’ll talk with Mr. Murray.

When school ends, Anita sees Mr. Murray in the hallway. After asking how his day has gone, she begins to tell him her concerns about Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. She starts by asking him, “Did you know that Chief Seattle was a Northwest Native American Indian chief, yet Susan Jeffers chose to depict him as a Plains Indian?” Before she can say anything else, Mr. Murray puts his hand up to stop her and says, “I always use this book at the beginning of our unit on environmentalism. The message of the book is perfect and it’s a beautiful book. Susan Jeffers is an amazing illustrator and I read her books to my class every chance I get. Plus, none of the kids in my class are Indigenous, so what difference does it make if there are a few inaccuracies in it? Listen, I have work to do so I’ll see you later.”

Unsettled and unsure what to say, Anita watches Mr. Murray as he walks away. 

  1. What do you think about Mr. Murray’s assertion that since there are no Indigenous students in his class, it doesn’t matter if there are “a few inaccuracies”? How would you describe the responsibility of educators with regard to selecting and teaching books with Indigenous characters or themes, or about indigeneity?
  2. What might Anita have done differently? How might she have better prepared for her conversation with Mr. Murray? What might she do now?
  3. Sometimes, school librarians have to ‘choose their battles” with their co-workers. In this case should Anita prioritize her professional relationship with a teacher over the importance of authentic representation of Indigenous peoples in books?
  4. Regardless of Mr. Murray’s response, what other things can Anita do as the school librarian to ensure that all students are exposed to accurate portrayals of Indigenous people? How might she use this book, or others like it, to engage students and/or teachers in discussions about critical literacy? 

Case Study 9: Who Gets to Work with the Author in Residence?

Clip art of a Black girl writing. Jamie is the school librarian at Creekside Middle School, an urban school that serves a student population that is 54% Black, 32% white, 11% Hispanic/Latine, 2% Asian, and 2% mixed race. This year, Creekside has been selected as the host school for an author-in-residence program funded by a nearby university. A prominent middle grades author (a Black man and first-generation college graduate) will lead a three-day writer’s workshop for selected students in the school, and will also deliver a whole-school presentation.

Jamie has been tasked with helping to coordinate the writer’s workshop, which will be hosted in the school library. They ask each classroom teacher to nominate a student for participation by sending Jamie a brief email describing the student’s potential to benefit from the opportunity.

The nomination review process begins smoothly. In their nomination emails, most teachers discuss their students’ talent for creative writing, their voracious reading, and their stellar grades and test scores. Then, Jamie reads a nomination email that is different from the rest: 

Jamie, I would like to nominate Bria James for the writer’s workshop. Bria’s grades are not great, but she keeps a journal of her poetry and is always so excited to show me her new work. I’ve spoken to her about the possibility of a writing career, but no one in her family has gone to college and she just doesn’t see it as a possibility for her. I think that the chance to work with a published author, and more importantly a Black author, would be a life-changing opportunity for her. Thanks for helping to organize this!

After reading this email, Jamie has new questions about the pool of students who have been nominated, and they decide to do a little digging. They discover that out of 33 nominated students, 23 are white, 7 are Black, 2 are Latina, and 1 is Asian. Furthermore, 28 of the nominated students are enrolled in the school’s gifted program and/or are taking advanced English Language Arts classes. There is only space for 10 students to participate in the writer’s workshop. 

  1. If you were Jamie, what would you do to move forward with selecting students for this workshop? What additional information would you want to have? Who would you want to talk to to help you make your decisions? 
  2. In your school or library, what factors are typically considered when selecting students for enrichment opportunities such as the one described here? Are these criteria consistent with principles of equity and inclusion? If not, what other criteria are possible? 
  3. Adopting more equitable criteria may upset the families who are accustomed to these types of programs privileging their children. How would you prepare for this possibility, and how would you respond if it happens? 

Case Study 10: Library Fee Policy

Library CardLiz is a first year school librarian at Hardy Middle School in rural North Carolina. More than 40% of the students who attend Hardy Middle School are enrolled members of the Lumbee Tribe. The economic status of many of the families, like much of the North Carolina Native American population, is well below that of the state’s general population, with 70% of the families living below the poverty level. 

Liz has been looking over the policies that the district has in place for collection development, book checkout, and lost and missing books. She notices that the precedent for the district is that if a student or family has more than 3 books lost without payment, they are no longer allowed to check out books from the library until all of these books are reimbursed. All of the librarians push into classrooms for their digital media lessons so students are only in the library for checking out books (something Liz hopes to change as well).

Liz reaches out to a veteran librarian in the district to ask what she has done when books have been lost and her response is, “I have a family who have lost way too many books over the years. The parents don’t care. They won’t answer my calls and have never paid any of the fines. All three of the brothers are not allowed in the library anymore to check out books since I know they will just lose them and cost the school more money. They can just read books in their classroom while the other kids come to check out books.” 

Liz reflects on how this creates a disparity for many children in her school who are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. 

  1. What aspects of intersectionality are evident in this scenario? How do the school districts’ policies negatively impact the education of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds? The Indigenous youth who attend this school?
  2. How do late fees or missing book payment policies impact student perceptions of the library? How might the students who can no longer check out books due to lost book fees feel when their classmates go to the library??
  3. If you were Liz, how might you respond to the way the district handles missing books? What are some possible alternative ways for dealing with lost and missing books that are consistent with the principles of equity?
  4. Since the policy in this scenario is written at the district level, Liz may not have the power to change it (at least not immediately). What does she have power over in her role as the librarian at Hardy Middle School that could mitigate the inequitable impact of policies like this one? 

Case Study 11: No Library Fine Policy

Clip art of money with the word "overdue"Andersonville Public Library is one of twelve branch libraries located in a large metropolitan area. The community it serves is 60% African American/Black, 26% White, 12% Hispanic/Latine, and 2% Asian. Over 15% of the families in the community live at or below the poverty level. The mission of the library includes providing equal access to information, ideas and knowledge for all members of the community.   

In the neighborhood around the library, it is common for multiple members of a household to share one computer or tablet. Many families rely on their cell phones and mobile plans to access the internet. The library is located across the street from the local middle and high schools, making it easy for students to use the library after school. As a result, quite a few of the students rely on the public library for access to the technology they need to complete their assignments. 

The library has recently enacted a no fine policy as a way to be more equitable. Under the previous policy if a member of a family had an overdue or lost book, all family members were prevented from checking out books or using the  library computers until the book was returned and the fines paid – a policy that disproportionately impacted low income families. While most of the staff and community members are in favor of this policy, the library director has received complaints from a number of staff members. These staff members believe library fines are important and teach responsibility, especially to children and teens.They argue that without fines as a motivator, the number of overdue and lost books will increase dramatically. He has also received phone calls from several older community members, asking, “What about me, I’ve been paying fines for years and now others don’t have to. What’s fair about that? These people need to be held accountable for their actions, not catered to.” One particularly influential community member has penned an opinion piece in the local newspaper arguing that by no longer collecting fines, the library director is being fiscally irresponsible and not using public funds ethically. 

  1. What role does race play in what is going on in this scenario? What other forms of oppression are occurring?
  2. If you were the library director how would you respond to the staff members who disagree with the policy change? What does the research say? 
  3. One community member made their objections to this policy public in the opinion piece they wrote. If you were the director, how would you respond? What information and data would you gather? What allies would you talk with before deciding how to respond?
  4. Often when libraries re-imagine their practices or policies to be more equitable, some members of the dominant group who have grown accustomed to having their needs prioritized, feel like they no longer matter, that they won’t receive the level of service they deserve. How can library staff address this “scarcity mindset?” How can they prepare for this reaction before they announce and enact policy changes?

Case Study 12: Kicked out of the Library, Again

Exit signNia teaches second grade at a small rural elementary school in Virginia. Her class has scheduled library time for thirty minutes once a week, and there are no open circulation times. If her students don’t get books during their library time, many of them don’t have books to read at home. Nia has a large classroom collection, but those are books she has checked out from the local public library. She doesn’t feel comfortable letting the students take those books home since she would have to pay for them herself if the books were lost or damaged.

Every week when her class goes to the library, ten minutes after she leaves them at the library door, Mrs. Gooch, the librarian, sends Delisha, Tomeka, Daphne, Danielle, and Alisha (the five Black girls in Nia’s class) back to the classroom for “being too boisterous.” Every week. Nia can almost set her watch by it. When she asks the girls about it they tell her, “We don’t care. We hate library time anyway. It’s boring and all Mrs. Gooch does is yell at us.” 

Nia is frustrated but doesn’t know what to do. She knows the positive impact a quality school library program can have on students’ academic achievement. She knows that her students need to be reading each night and on the weekends. She also knows that the public library is located in town, and only accessible by car. Plus, it’s closed on the weekends when the girls’ caregivers don’t work. But Mrs. Gooch is a senior faculty member and serves as the de facto principal when Mr. Gunther is out of the building. Nia has only been teaching for two years, and doesn’t live in the community like Mrs. Gooch and Mr. Gunter do. She is afraid if she says anything, she’ll be perceived as a troublemaker. She has already had some of her ideas dismissed by Mr. Gunther. And she feels like some of the parents see her as an “outsider.”

  1. What systemic inequities are present in this scenario? How might those inequities be addressed? 
  2. What do you think Mrs. Gooch means when she says the girls are “being too boisterous?” 
  3. Research shows that Black girls routinely face disproportionate amounts of discipline in schools over subjective issues like their hair, their bodies, or their attitudes. Do you think this might be what is happening here? How would you go about gathering data to help you figure this out?” 
  4. What advice would you give Nia?
  5. Nia is worried that if she presses the issue she will be interpreted as a troublemaker. In what other contexts might people worry that insisting on equity might result in being viewed as troublemakers or having their concerns dismissed? Have you ever experienced such a situation?

Case Study 13: Sensory Rooms for Whom?

Fidget toysCarrie, a youth services librarian in an urban public library system, is on the library system’s disability services committee. The committee recently applied for and received a large grant to install children’s sensory rooms in four branch locations, including Carrie’s. In the process of writing the grant application, Carrie learned about how sensory rooms can support children with a broad range of disabilities, and she is excited to be able to offer this service to her library users when the room opens next month. 

In advance of the opening, the library system’s governing board meets to write a new policy that will govern use of the sensory rooms at all four locations. When the new policy is shared with library staff, Carrie is taken aback. The policy requires an adult caregiver to reserve time in the room using the library’s online reservation system at least 24 hours in advance and limits room use to no more than two children and two caregivers at a time. In addition, the policy states that the rooms will be checked by library staff after each reservation period, and the adult who reserved the room will be held financially responsible for any equipment or materials that are damaged.

Carrie reaches out to her colleagues on the disability services committee to get their thoughts on the new policy. A couple of the librarians argue that the policy is too restrictive, but others express happiness that the new policy will “protect” the expensive equipment and technology in the rooms. 

  1. What aspects of intersectionality are evident in this scenario? Consider race, socioeconomic status, and disability. 
  2. If you were Carrie, how would you respond to this scenario? 
  3. When policies like the one discussed here are created at the system or district level, what are the options for an individual librarian like Carrie when they feel a policy is exclusionary or inequitable? Have you ever been faced with a similar situation? 
  4. It is true that sensory rooms, makerspaces, and similar experiential spaces in libraries can involve significant expense and upkeep costs. What kinds of policies would help to ensure equitable access to and use of the space for all community members? What options are available to help libraries with financial sustainability of such spaces other than charging individual users?  

Case Study 14: Responding to Subtle Bullying

Clip art of two people bullying a third person.Highland Middle School is located in a suburb of Louisville, KY. The population of the school is 77% white,15% Black/African American, 5% Asian, 2% Latine, and 1% two or more races. The median household income of the families whose children attend Highland is $150,000. 

Today Mira, the school librarian, is working with Mr. Lawrence’s 8th grade history class. The students are in the library doing research for their mid-term project – a small group presentation focused on the impact of westward expansion on Indigenous peoples in the U.S.  As Mira walks around the library she notices that Imani, the only Black EC student in the class, has been assigned to a group. Mira is happy to see this since she knows Imani’s IEP specifically calls for her to be included in group projects. As she watches the group work, however, Mira becomes concerned. Everytime Imani says something, the other students in the group seem to be ignoring her as if she is invisible. At one point she hears Ellen say to Kyle and Andrew, “Do you hear something? Hmmm, that’s weird. I keep thinking I hear someone talking, but it’s just us.” Mira knows autistic students are often the target of subtle bullying, but she is surprised to see it happening in Mr. Lawrence’s classroom. He has always seemed to value inclusion and creating a safe learning environment for all his students. She wonders if the students are acting this way because Mr. Lawrence is at a conference today, and there is a substitute teacher.

Mira knows she needs to intervene, but she is unsure what she should do.She’s afraid if she says something, Ellen, Kyle, and Andrew will deny that they are ignoring Imani. She doesn’t want to embarrass Imani either. She decides maybe it’s best just to ignore it this time, and talk with Mr. Lawrence when he gets back to school tomorrow. 

  1. What aspects of intersectionality are evident in this scenario? What does the research say about the experiences of youth of color with disabilities in schools? 
  2. What do you think about Mira’s decision to ignore the bullying behavior this time and talk to the teacher tomorrow? What message does this send to Ellen, Kyle, and Andrew? How might her decision escalate into more overt forms of bullying?
  3. Often students with disabilities don’t bother to report bullying because they say the adults in the school don’t do anything. How does Mira’s decision to ignore the bullying this time reinforce this tendency to not report?
  4. How might this situation have been avoided? What kind of scaffolding could Mira and Mr. Lawrence have put in place to help the group work more effectively?

Case Study 15: Book “Unfairs”

Clip art of an open book with text reading Book Fair

Sixty percent of the student body at Brownsville Middle School are minoritized students – Black/ African American, Latine, or Southeast Asian. Forty-nine percent are economically disadvantaged and receive free and reduced lunch. Anna Leigh has been the librarian at Brownsville for ten years. While her student body has increased each year, the school district per student allocation for collection development hasn’t grown in the last three years. In the past Anna Leigh often thought of the book fair profits as “extra” money (nice to have but not critical), but lately she has come to rely on those funds to fill in the gaps left by her stagnant budget.

This year as she is setting up for the book fair she overhears Annie, Maurice, and Kamala talking about it. Expecting them to be excited by the chance to shop at the book fair, she is surprised by their conversation. As she listens, she becomes increasingly uncomfortable.

Maurice: “At my old school, the teachers always stopped at the book fair for us to buy books on the way back from lunch. If you had money with you, you got to shop at the fair. If you didn’t, you sat on the floor in the entrance of the library. Our classmates would come back with bags of books and we just sat there on the floor, waiting. I sure hope they don’t do that at this school. It was so embarrassing.”

Annie: “I know, I never have money to buy anything at the book fair. It doesn’t feel right to be in the library and not be able to get books. I thought that was the whole point of libraries. So people who don’t have money can still have books to read.”

Kamala: “I hate the book fair. Every year they make us go in, look around, make a wish list of books we’d like to get, and then take that list home to our parents. I know my parents aren’t going to buy any of the books on my list – I mean, we don’t have money.”

Anna Leigh has always considered herself to be an advocate for the students in her school. She has worked hard to make the collection representative of the students, their identities and their interests. She has a no fine policy and she has been outspoken about the need to keep “Drop Everything and Read “ part of the daily school schedule. She always thought of book fairs as another form of advocacy – a way to get kids excited about books and let the students who don’t normally get to go to bookstores, add to their home libraries. Listening to Maurice, Annie, and Kamala, however, Anna Leigh isn’t sure any more.


  1. How do book fairs perpetuate existing systemic inequities? Which students and families do they privilege? Which students and families are disadvantaged by them?
  2. Some school librarians use book fair profits to buy extra books as a way to ensure that each student leaves the book fair with at least one book. On the surface, this seems like one way to address inequity, but what messages might this send to the students who are only able to get books at the fair this way? To the students who have money, and don’t get to choose a “free” book?
  3. What are some more equitable ways Anna Leigh could generate library funds, spark excitement about books, and let students add to their home libraries?
  4. A lack of funding is a real issue for many school librarians, like Anna Leigh. What strategies might Anna Leigh and others use to educate administrators about the need to fully fund the school library?
[This scenario is based on the need librarian Julia Stivers saw for a #TrueBookFAIR, an event where students pick out at least two brand-new books, free of charge. The name (and the name of this scenario) come from a former student of Julia’s who declared that every other book fair he’d gone to before was a “book unfair.” You can learn more about #TrueBookFAIRS by reading: Julie Stivers: Creating a Place to Read and Thrive or Chapter 16: An Inclusive Book Fair Model in Include, part of AASL’s Shared Foundations series.]