What is Project READY?
Project READY is a three-year program funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to create professional development for school librarians and other educators focused on racial equity and culturally sustaining pedagogy.
Over the 2017-2018 school year, Project READY staff worked with teams of school librarians, literacy coaches, and classroom teachers in Wake County, North Carolina to implement the professional development curriculum. In 2018, we took what we learned from the face-to-face curriculum and began work on this online version. For more information about the full project, visit projectready.web.unc.edu.
Why is this curriculum important?
For librarians in the United States – the majority of whom are middle-aged, white, English-speaking females (American Library Association, 2012) – the recent and rapid demographic changes in youth populations have left many of them “struggling to connect with a completely new set of learners, with cultural backgrounds distinctly different from each other and from their teachers” (Mestre, 2010). New research has found that while youth services librarians recognize the need for cultural knowledge and awareness in developing effective instruction and services for BIYOC (Black, Indigenous, and Youth of Color), they also feel they lack the knowledge and experience necessary to enact such practice (Hughes-Hassell & Stivers, 2015). As a result, many youth of color “feel like outsiders in library spaces” (Kumasi, 2012), compounding the extensively documented challenges and inequities BIYOC face in school in general – inequities that to be redressed require comprehensive changes in practice in classrooms and libraries. This curriculum also responds to recent guidance from national professional organizations in the library field. The emphasis on teaching and collaboration in the most recent set of AASL national professional standards for school librarians means that they are now expected to take a direct role in the instruction of students to an unprecedented degree (American Association of School Librarians, 2017). The most recent versions of professional competencies standards for library staff serving children and teens from ALSC and YALSA reflect a greater emphasis on inclusion, teaching and learning, and relationship development compared to earlier versions (Association for Library Service to Children, 2015; Young Adult Library Services Association, 2017).
Who should work through the Project READY curriculum?
The Project READY curriculum is designed to support school and public youth services librarians committed to working toward racial equity both personally and professionally. While the curriculum has been developed with librarians in mind, it may also be useful for teachers and other school staff members, library or school administrators, instructors in library science programs, or anyone else interested in improving their own understanding of racial equity issues. Parts One (Foundations) and Three (Continuing the Journey) of this curriculum are relevant to a broad audience, while Part Two (Transforming Practice) is focused specifically on issues related to libraries and education.
How is the curriculum organized?
The curriculum is organized into three sequential sections. The first section (Foundations) focuses on basic concepts and issues that are fundamental to understanding race and racism and their impact on library services. The second section (Transforming Practice) explores how these foundational concepts relate to and can be applied in library environments. Finally, the third section (Continuing the Journey) explores how you can sustain racial equity work and grow personally and professionally in this area after completing this curriculum.
Why does the curriculum include so many foundational modules?
Imagine that one day, you walk into your bathroom to find two inches of standing water. What would you do? You may call an expert, or spend time trying to understand the problem by tracing the source of the water, or consult the Internet for advice. You may try to recall any recent activities that could have caused the problem. Unless you happen to be a plumber, though, your first reaction would probably not be to grab your tools and start taking apart the bathtub – attempting to fix this problem by yourself without learning more about it first may lead to more damage in the long run.
Race and racism are complex topics with long histories. Yet, when we first become aware of racial inequity, our first reaction is often to grab our tools and take apart the bathtub: to jump straight from awareness of a problem to trying out potential solutions.
When we approach institutional racism with this shortcut approach, often the result is that we end up doing more harm than good. Even worse, when we use a trial-and-error approach in our work with youth of color and Indigenous youth, they disproportionately bear the weight of our mistakes. Three related “shortcut” approaches to addressing racism are also ultimately unhelpful or harmful:
- dealing with the immediate problem (e.g., using a towel to soak up the water in the floor) without considering its source.
- ignoring the problem entirely (closing the bathroom door) and hoping it will go away on its own.
- getting defensive or angry (“I didn’t do anything to cause the leak!”) and refusing to think further about it.
To truly make progress toward racial equity, something more than a shortcut solution is required. We view the process of racial equity work not as a straight line, but as an iterative cycle:
We have designed the Project READY curriculum around this cyclical model. Specifically, in the context of racial equity work, this curriculum will require you to:
- Work to understand the problem’s foundations (Modules 2 – 6): Institutional racism has a long, complex history in the United States. Understanding this history is critical to understanding our present circumstances. The first modules in the Project READY curriculum provide an overview of the history of race and racism, as well as current and past definitions of race and racism and how these issues manifest in systems and institutions today as well as how they impact BIYOC.
- Work to understand your own relationship to the problem and how the problem relates to your own context/community (Modules 7 – 16b): Your own racial identity and life experiences will impact your racial equity work. It is critical that all people engaged in racial equity work understand their own positions in the systems and institutions that perpetuate racism, and how their own identities and cultures shape the ways they view others. White people, in particular, may never have spent much time exploring their own racial identities and cultures, and this curriculum has been designed to encourage that exploration. Similarly, racism manifests differently in different contexts. Inequities encountered by students and staff in an urban elementary school library may be distinct from inequities encountered by teens in a rural public library. Accordingly, strategies to address those inequities must be grounded in a thorough understanding of one’s own context and community.
- Work to understand what has already been tried to address the problem (Modules 17 – 20): For as long as racial inequities have existed, there have been people trying, with varying levels of success, to correct them. Historically, much of these efforts have been led by racially marginalized people themselves, and communities of color and Indigenous communities already have a wealth of knowledge about racial equity work. Connecting with those communities and learning from and with them is the best way to gain an understanding of specific strategies that may be successful within a local context. Other ways to gain knowledge about strategies that have already been found to be successful or unsuccessful include reading research from a range of disciplines, connecting with like-minded colleagues or other professionals, and speaking directly to the children and teens you serve.
- Consider multiple options for how to address the problem within your own context (Module 21): Complex problems like racial inequity resist simple solutions. After taking the time to understand race and racism and your own role within systems of inequity, you can begin to think about strategies to address this issue within your own local context. Each strategy should be carefully evaluated before implementation, with a focus on its potential impacts — positive and negative — on the communities you serve. People of color and Indigenous people should be involved in this brainstorming and evaluation process.
- Implement one or more strategies to address the problem (Modules 21 – 24b): Only after steps 1-4 have been explored will you be prepared to begin effectively implementing changes to your professional practice. Just as with earlier steps, the most successful implementations will involve working alongside people of color and Indigenous people — working with instead of working for.
- Evaluate whether the strategy has successfully addressed the problem (Modules 21 – 24b): Of course, racial equity work must be undertaken for the long haul, and no single strategy will “fix” structural racism. With that said, all strategies we use in the classroom or library to try to improve our practice should be assessed in terms of their impact on the youth we serve.
- Share your experiences with others working to address the same problem (Modules 25 – 27): There is a large and growing community of librarians and educators who have also undertaken the racial equity journey. Some will be ahead of you (in the sense that they have been working through iterations of this model for longer than you have), and some will be behind. All can benefit from an open exchange of knowledge about what is working, or not working, for other people. Becoming part of a community of people working toward racial equity can sustain and inspire your own journey, especially when setbacks occur. This community does not need to be limited by geography or discipline; digital learning environments have made it possible to share with and learn from a wider variety of people than ever before.
As we mentioned above, this cycle is iterative. As communities, social issues, organizations, and your own personal knowledge evolve, you will need to repeat this cycle of learning, action, evaluation, and sharing. And although we have presented this framework as a neat circle, you may also find that you need to jump “backward” at times, for example by going back to foundational topics when you are struggling to implement a particular strategy.
How should I work through this curriculum?
The curriculum is self-paced and is presented in a series of self-contained modules. We recommend that you start with Module 1 and work your way sequentially through all modules, especially if you are new to racial equity work. If you already have a strong grounding in foundational topics related to race and racism (for example, if you have taken a multi-day racial equity training course or a graduate-level diversity course), you may choose to skip some of the foundational modules. However, we would still encourage you to skim through all modules, since later modules build on earlier ones and you may find new information within a familiar topic.
Should I work through the modules alone?
We have designed the curriculum so that it can be used by individuals or small groups. Working through the modules within a Professional Learning Team could be an excellent way to extend your own learning through interaction and discussion with others and to provide a measure of accountability. However, the modules will still be effective for individual learning, and we have integrated opportunities to connect with others and discuss the module content at several points within the curriculum.
Can I use this curriculum to facilitate professional development sessions for my entire school/school district/library system?
Facilitating large-group racial equity trainings requires a great deal of expertise. Learning about race and racism can be difficult and can challenge long-held worldviews; effective trainers must be knowledgeable about not only foundational concepts and theories and their applications but also theories of adult learning, conflict management, and critical pedagogy. In addition, we have found that racial equity training is most effective for people who already recognize that racism is a problem and are ready and willing to change their own views and practices to help address it. When such trainings are mandated for entire staffs, resistance among even a few individuals can easily derail critical conversations among the entire group. For these reasons, we do not recommend that these modules be used to facilitate large-group trainings in most settings.
What materials will I need to work through the curriculum?
All modules will require a computer, laptop, or tablet with internet access. You will also need to download or print a copy of the Project READY journal [PDF] and keep a pen or pencil handy as you work through each module. This journal will provide you with a space to take notes, respond to prompts, and plan for action as you work through the curriculum. Each module will indicate when you should make an entry in the journal.
How long will it take to work through the entire curriculum?
It is difficult to estimate a total timespan for the entire curriculum. Many modules contain recommended action items that may take you days or even weeks to complete. You may find it useful to spend several days reflecting between modules, or, if you are working with a group, you may structure your progress through the curriculum according to your group’s meeting schedule. We do recommend that you take your time with this content, and use the provided additional resources in each section as necessary to reinforce your understanding of challenging topics before moving on.
Can I reproduce the materials on this website?
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American Association of School Librarians (2017). AASL national standards framework for learners. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
American Library Association (2012). Diversity Counts 2012 tables. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/offices/sites/ala.org.offices/files/content/diversity/diversitycounts/diversitycountstables2012.pdf.
Association for Library Services to Children (2015). Competencies for librarians serving children in public libraries. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/alsc/edcareeers/alsccorecomps.
Hughes-Hassell, S. and Stivers, J. (2015). Examining youth services librarians’ perceptions of cultural knowledge as an integral part of their professional practice. School Libraries Worldwide, 21(1), 121136.
Kumasi, K. (2012). Roses in the concrete: A critical race perspective on urban youth and school libraries. Knowledge Quest, 40(4): 32-37, p. 36.
Mestre, L. S. (2010). Culturally responsive instruction for teacher-librarians. Teacher Librarian, 36(3), 8-12, p. 9.
Young Adult Library Services Association (2017). Teen services competencies for library staff. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/sites/ala.org.yalsa/files/content/TEEN%20SERVICES%20COMPETENCIES_Chart.pdf.