Module 22: Assessing Your Current Practice

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Module 21: Talking About Race with Youth
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Module 22: Assessing Your Current Practice
Module 23: Transforming Library Instruction

After working through this module, you will be able to:

  • Assess your library’s responsiveness to the needs of BIYOC.


After working through the previous modules, you should have a foundational understanding of how issues of race, bias, colonialism, and inequity come into play in classrooms and libraries, as well as an understanding of how paradigms like cultural competence, cultural humility, racial and ethnic identity development, whiteness, equity, inclusion, and antiracism can help us work to transform our classrooms and libraries to address these issues. Beginning with this module, we offer a framework and strategies for assessing and transforming your practice.


Watch this video in which Project READY staff introduce the framework for Effective Library Services for Diverse Children and Teens.  We have chosen to use the term “Diverse Youth” here because we believe that this framework can be used to think about library services not only for BIYOC but also for other marginalized user groups such as LGBTQ+ and disabled youth.


We asked our face-to-face Project READY participants, “what does an equitable learning environment look like?” The video below shares four of their responses. As you watch, ask yourself: what elements of the framework introduced above are included in these descriptions?


Effective Library Services for Diverse Children and Teens

The Effective Library Services for Diverse Children and Teens framework provides a research-based model for assessing and transforming library practice to serve BIYOC. It addresses not only library collections, but also space, policies, staff, and instruction. Explore the slideshow below to learn more about this framework.

See the slide notes for sources. 

The Culturally Sustaining Library Walk

Now that you are familiar with the characteristics of Effective Library Services for Diverse Children and Teens, you are ready to assess your current practice. The Culturally Sustaining Library Walk1  is designed to be a collaborative tool for librarians and other stakeholders to assess the library’s responsiveness to the needs of BIYOC. The goal of the Culturally Sustaining Library Walk is to identify strengths, to discover areas that need improvement, and to develop a path to achieve a culturally sustaining library program. It is an observation and planning document informed by research on culturally sustaining pedagogy and is based on the philosophy of creating a youth-centered library program. There are two versions of the library walk document: one for school libraries [PDF] and one for public libraries [PDF]. Although the steps of the process are the same, the language in each document is tailored to either a school or public library setting. The Culturally Sustaining Library Walk steps are listed below. We have linked several PDFs of specific parts of the walk throughout the module.

Step 1: Form a team.

To be most effective, a team must conduct the Culturally Sustaining Library Walk. In a school library, team members might include the school administrator, librarian, teachers, parents, and/or students. In a public library, members might include the youth services librarian(s), parents or caregivers, community partners, and/or BIYOC. It is critical that BIYOC be part of the team.

Step 2: Develop collaborative beliefs/a vision of a culturally sustaining and equitable library program.

Meet as a team and have a conversation addressing the following question:

What is the school or library community’s vision for a culturally sustaining library program?

Step 3: Review the characteristics of culturally sustaining library programs.

Creating a culturally sustaining library program that fulfills your beliefs and vision involves developing quality in the following areas:

  • Space
  • Policies
  • Staff
  • Collections
  • Instruction and programming

Effective Libraries for Diverse Children and Teens (Characteristics of effective library services are listed below.)

Here are more details on the specific characteristics encompassed in each area:

Library Space

Objective: The library’s physical and digital space should provide a welcoming environment that respects individuals and their cultures and allows diverse children and teens to express their learning and individuality.

Effective library spaces are: Affirming - They celebrate diversity and highlight positive, non-stereotypical representations of BIYOC. Welcoming - They invite BIYOC, their families, and community members into the space and communicate that they are valued. Respectful - They adopt an asset-based stance toward BIYOC and include authentic representations of their cultures. Comfortable - They invite BIYOC to linger in the space. Flexible - They are able to be used for a variety of purposes and by a variety of user types (individuals, small groups, classes, etc.).

Library Policies

Objective: Library policies should describe and support the mission and operation of an equitable, inclusive library program.

Effective library policies are:  Context-specific: They are written for a specific community at a specific point in time, and reflect a deep understanding of the community’s assets and needs.  Explicit: Equity and inclusion are referred to explicitly as foundational values and as rationales for individual policies.  Equitable: They account for disparities and take into consideration the lived experiences of youth and their families / communities.  Collaborative: They are developed by a team of library stakeholders, including BIYOC.  Youth-Centered: They prioritize the needs and interests of youth.  Compassionate: They are positive rather than punitive.

Library Staff

Objective: Library staff members should interact with BIYOC as individuals, set high expectations, and develop agency. Library staff members should advocate for BIYOC, value their voices, and continually work to improve their own knowledge.

Effective library staff members are:  Caring: They build positive relationships with BIYOC and genuinely care about their well-being.  Committed: They demonstrate a sustained engagement in equity work.  Courageous Advocates: They are champions for BIYOC and their families, and persist in equity work despite possible resistance.  Encouraging: They believe in the potential of BIYOC and communicate that belief through their library practice.  Accountable: They continually evaluate and take steps to improve their own professional practice related to equity and inclusion.  Culturally Competent: Their practice is grounded in a foundational understanding of race, culture, diversity, and inclusion.

Library Collections

Objective: Effective library collections should nurture the resolve of BIYOC, help them reconcile their different identities, and imagine their place in the world.

Effective library collections are:  Meaningful: They help BIYOC understand themselves and their world.  Reflective: They positively and accurately represent BIYOC; all youth can see themselves in the collection.  Validating: They affirm the value of diversity.  Relevant: They relate to the lived experiences of BIYOC.  Enabling: They empower youth to make positive change in their own lives and communities.  Inclusive: They reflect the broadest possible spectrum of diversity in terms of content and authorship.

Library Instruction & Programming

Objective: Library instruction and programming should connect to the real world and support BIYOC’s action in their own communities. They should employ an inquiry-based model of instructional strategies that builds on the strengths and interests of BIYOC and leads to improved life outcomes.

Effective library instruction and programming is: ➢ Challenging: High expectations are set for all youth. ➢ Authentic: It accurately represents and reflects the breadth and complexity of diverse communities. ➢ Collaborative: It is developed in partnership with other librarians, community members, and/or youth. ➢ Engaging: It is designed to encourage participation among all learners. ➢ Asset-Based: It builds on BIYOC’s prior knowledge, including cultural knowledge. ➢ Culturally Sustaining: It integrates youth cultures in an authentic and meaningful way that validates youth’s identities. ➢ Empowering: It prepares BIYOC to take action to improve their own lives and communities. ➢ Relevant: It is connected to youth’s daily lives and/or community issues. ➢ Youth-Centered: It prioritizes BIYOC’s needs, interests, and input.

Observation sheets with specific examples of what these characteristics look like in practice are linked later in the module.

Step 4: Select a focus for the Culturally Sustaining Library Walk.

The walk will be more effective if it is focused on one or two Focus Areas or questions. For example, a public library team might ask: How well do the library resources meet the needs of our Latinx youth? while a school library team might ask: How well do the library resources meet the needs of our Native American students? As a team, decide which area(s) above are most critical to effectively move your school toward your vision of a culturally sustaining library program.

Step 5: Prepare observations and questions.

For each Focus Area, look at the examples of indicators that you might observe on the relevant observation sheets linked below. As a team, discuss the indicators until everyone has a shared understanding of what you might observe, or what information you might gather, to give a clear picture of what is happening in that area of focus. We have provided blank observation sheets (PDFs) for you to write in additional features as necessary.

Step 6: Culturally Sustaining Library Walk.

Once you have scheduled the Walk and assembled the team (including the librarian, principal, teachers, external educators, parents, students, or others), you will want to pick the appropriate focus sheets from above and make individual observations. For indicators that are not observable, you may need to talk with the librarian. If you’re in a school library, you may choose to follow up the time in the library by going to a classroom or two to interview a few students and teachers (using the PDF interview sheets below).

Step 7: De-briefing/long-term planning.

Once the Culturally Sustaining Library Walk has been completed, reassemble the team to share each participant’s Wonderings/Observations and then look at the observations in relation to Beliefs/Vision and research on culturally sustaining pedagogy. Together, team members decide the library’s Next Steps and outline a plan for continued development of the library program by filling out the Long-Term Planning Sheet (PDF) linked below.

The next several modules provide justification, ideas, and strategies for improving your practice in each of the five areas identified in the Effective Library Services for Diverse Children and Youth framework. You can work through them for your own learning; you can also focus on those that address the areas you chose to focus on for your Culturally Sustaining Library Walk.

1 This tool was adapted by Sandra Hughes-Hassell, Casey Rawson, Kimberly Hirsh, and Amanda Hitson from “The Library Learning Walk” developed by the New York City Department of Education, Office of Library Services, June 2004. Retrieved March 1, 2013. [back to top]

Go Back:
Module 21: Talking About Race with Youth
You Are Here:
Module 22: Assessing Your Current Practice
Module 23: Transforming Library Instruction