Module 23: Transforming Library Instruction

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Module 22: Assessing Your Current Practice
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Module 23: Transforming Library Instruction
Module 24: Transforming Library Culture with The Restorative Approach

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

  • Evaluate your library instruction through a racial equity lens.
  • Collaboratively develop a plan to improve your library instruction to better serve BIYOC.
  • Implement your plan and assess the impact of changes to your library instruction on BIYOC.

Instruction is at the heart of a school library program and is a valuable part of public library programming. Your instruction communicates your values and expectations to children and teens. It can engage and impact them, or it can alienate and fail them. In this module, we will explore and review strategies for creating library instruction that is culturally sustaining, share examples of libraries that are putting these strategies to work, and provide guidelines for effective library instruction that you can use to plan for improvements within your own context.


Is this module relevant for public libraries? Do public librarians have an instructional role? Yes! To understand how and why, read the introduction to the open-access textbook Instruction and Pedagogy for Youth in Public Libraries.


In Module 17, we introduced Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy. In Module 18, we introduced Banks’s framework for integration of multicultural content. CSP is an approach you can take, and Banks’s framework a strategy you can use, for transforming your instruction. Revisit these modules for a reminder of how they can help you transform your instruction.


There is a wealth of material that addresses instruction for BIYOC, but most of it is focused on classroom instruction rather than library instruction. Most of that material can be adapted for use in the library, but it is also helpful to consider how library instruction, specifically, can be approached through a racial equity lens.

  • Explore the Association for Library Service to Children’s El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) initiative, commonly known as Día. This initiative is explicitly designed to promote diversity in library programming and material collections for children. The website offers several tools for creating programming that centers BIYOC.
  • Review YALSA’s Teen Programming Guidelines and Teens First: Basic Learning Outcomes [PDF]. As you read, try to think about each guideline or outcome through a racial equity lens. For example, Guideline 1.8 is “Direct the library’s limited resources appropriately to provide needed programming that is relevant to local teens, reflective of their identities and interests, and not already offered elsewhere.” Considering racial equity in the process of reaching this goal would require librarians to understand the identities and interests of their service population, ensuring that the widest possible variety of teens is represented, especially racially marginalized teens.
  • Review the AASL Standards Framework for Learners [PDF] and think about it in the same way. The Shared Foundation “Include” is an easy place to start; for example, in the “Create” domain, there is the competency “Learners adjust their awareness of the global learning community by: 3. Representing diverse perspectives during learning activities.” Learners might demonstrate this competency by sharing their own expertise, as we discussed in Module 17; to create the opportunity for them to do so, librarians need to design programming and instruction that centers BIYOC’s interests and experiences, holding space for their expertise to operate as the focal point of the program or lesson.
  • In addition to designing specific approaches to target racial equity and modifying approaches that don’t address diversity directly, you can also apply strategies from approaches used to address diversity more broadly to transform your instruction for racial equity. Read the chapters “Differentiation and Universal Design for Learners” and “Critical Learning Theories” from the open textbook Instruction and Pedagogy for Youth in Public Libraries, to learn about such approaches.


In Module 20, we introduced the five-part framework of Effective Library Services for Diverse Youth. Based on our own research and discussions with BIYOC as well as the research of others working in the library and education fields, we have identified nine key features of effective library instruction for BIYOC.

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.


In your response journal, reflect on each of the nine features of effective library instruction. For each characteristic, come up with 3-5 specific ways that a library might embody that feature: What would ________ library instruction look like? Try to think creatively and expand your brainstorming ideas from the previous module. Your examples might come from your own instruction or instruction you’ve seen delivered by colleagues, but you can also think outside the box to explore new ways that library instruction might meet these benchmarks.

When you're done, click here to see some of our ideas - but note that our list is not exhaustive.
  • Challenging: Book discussions revolve around essential questions that engage students in critically examining issues such as identity, racism, power, etc. The librarian makes high expectations clear to learners. The librarian, mentors, and other youth provide support and feedback for learners. The librarian provides learners with clear guidelines in the form of instructions, examples, rubrics, etc. that let them know what they are expected to do.
  • Authentic: Programming and instruction go beyond the superficial aspects of culture (i.e. celebrating holidays or months such as Black History Month). Book groups include quality fiction and nonfiction that authentically depicts BIPOC communities.
  • Collaborative: Programs are developed collaboratively with parents and community members to build on the meaningfulness between home & school experience. Family programs are held to introduce parents to library resources, literacy practices, Web 2.0 tools, etc. The librarian co-teaches with members of marginalized communities. Instruction is planned collaboratively with teachers in person or via email/social media.
  • Engaging: The librarian utilizes a research model that builds on learners’ interests and needs. Programs and lessons relate to the interests of BIYOC. The librarian provides opportunities for learners to interact with BIPOC professionals such as scientists, doctors, lawyers, etc. either face-to-face or via social media such as Skype or Twitter. The librarian makes use of primary resources and manipulative materials.
  • Asset-Based: Instruction & programming are based on current data about BIYOC’s home lives and build on funds of knowledge that are identified. The librarian uses multiple techniques to elicit prior knowledge.
  • Culturally Sustaining: Author visits include authors/illustrators from marginalized communities. The librarian utilizes culturally sustaining images, examples, and texts in instruction. The librarian utilizes performance assessments that build on BIYOC’s strengths.
  • Empowering: Programs and instruction focus on cultivating voice (e.g., Spoken Word contests, video assignments, etc.). Programming and instruction provide children and teens with opportunities to take authentic actions toward social equity in their school, community, state, or nation.
  • Relevant: The purpose and value of participation in programs and lessons are explicitly explained. Programs and instruction are related to community issues—fundraising or volunteering for local organizations; changing school district policy, etc. The librarian uses culturally familiar speech and events.
  • Learner-centered: Programs and lessons are interactive, focus on topics of interest to learners, and allow learners to take action in their lives and communities. BIYOC are allowed to work collaboratively. The librarian asks learners how they would like to be evaluated/assessed. The librarian allows learners to offer feedback and/or help others understand material and learn to use tools/resources. The librarian provides wait time for learners from all backgrounds to foster increased participation. The librarian provides explicit instruction on using resources and offers group and one-on-one assistance both in and out of class to learners who need additional help.


As discussed in Module 19, counterstorytelling is the telling of stories not often told, particularly those of people not belonging to the dominant culture. Incorporating counterstorytelling into your library instruction benefits those who have been traditionally marginalized and those in the dominant culture.

Listen to “Teaching Slavery Through Children’s Literature,” an episode of the podcast Teaching Hard History.


Include is part of a six-volume series on the Shared Foundations in AASL’s National School Library Standards. Edited by school librarian Julie Stivers, the book explains why the concepts of equity and inclusion must be central to the practice of school librarians and offers ideas library staff can use to create more equitable and inclusive services for BIYOC.  A must read for all school library staff!

Images of Practice - Icon by Adrien Coquet from Noun ProjectImages of Practice

Former Teen Services Librarian and YOUmedia Manager Gabbie Barnes worked with teens at the Hartford Public Library to facilitate their development of the “Woke Teens Forum” and associated “Unconference,” which Barnes described as “a design-thinking workshop aimed at developing practical solutions to the issues [teens] deem most relevant to their education.” Barnes considered this project to be instructional, and her learning goals for participants included defining a problem, constructing a community organizing plan, and pitching a creative solution to a shared problem. To learn more about this program, see the following resources:

In 2016, former English teacher Jarred Amato launched the Project LIT Community to increase access to high-quality culturally relevant books, promote a love of reading, and spark the difficult conversations that are necessary to effect change in schools and communities in East Nashville. Additionally, Project LIT empowers students to gain valuable real-world skills as they plan, facilitate, and engage their communities in meaningful ways with books such as All American Boys and The Hate U Give. The program, which exemplifies many of the elements of effective library instruction, has spread to more than 500 classrooms and school libraries across the country. To learn more about the program, log onto Twitter and follow , read Jarred’s article about the project in the Winter 2018 issue [PDF] of YALS (article begins on page 31), or check out Jarred’s blog.

Corkboard-style poster for Project LIT 2020-2021 at the Reed-Gumenick Library. The text reads, "Project Lit Community" at the top, and "Project Lit Book Club" and "@projectlitcomm" on the bottom. Eighteen diversity-centered book covers are displayed in a rainbow pattern.

Fifth-grade teacher and edublogger Jessica (@Jess5th) Lifshitz published a post on her blog Crawling Out of the Classroom in which she describes how she engaged her fifth-grade students in examining their biases using the images on covers of picture books. This exercise, the beginning of a unit on how what we read impacts our biases, exemplifies many of the characteristics of effective library instruction and could be replicated by librarians and educators working in collaboration.  As you read the blog post, think about how you might adapt this lesson at your school or library. How might this lesson fit into a larger unit?

#DisruptTextsPoster for Disrupt Texts that reads, "Disrupt texts in your classroom with these 8 texts! In partnership with Disrupt Texts, learning guides for eight individual texts and how they align to the Disrupt Texts pillars!" The eight book covers shown are: At the Mountain Base, Frankly in Love, What Lane?, Anti-racist Baby, Patron Saints of Nothing, Juliet Takes a Breath, Before the Ever After, and Darius the Great is Not Okay. is “a crowdsourced, grassroots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum that our students deserve.” Led by four women of color with more than 65 years of collective teaching experience, #DisruptTexts provides concrete strategies educators and librarians can use, including  teaching and learning guides for texts (picture books, novels, etc.) to share with youth – texts that introduce youth to and affirm their identities and lived experiences.



In this blog post, “How Inclusive is Your Literacy Classroom Really?,” educator Tricia Ebarvia provides 8 questions educators can ask themselves to assess how inclusive their curricular materials and teaching methods are. The questions can be answered individually, in small groups, or even in a faculty meeting (or library staff meeting).  A PDF of the questions is available for printing and posting in the library (or your classroom).


Improving your library’s instruction should begin with an assessment of your current practice. If you haven’t already done so, use the Culturally Sustaining Library Walk tool (introduced in Module 21) to collaboratively assess your current library instruction. Be sure to include input from BIPOC children and teens.

After assessing your current instruction, set three goals for improving your library instruction: one short-term goal that you can accomplish immediately, one medium-term goal that you can accomplish over the next several weeks, and one long-term goal that you can accomplish over the next year. Use the Goals for Improving Library Services for Diverse Youth [PDF] template to write these goals down. We suggest printing this document (in poster size if possible), laminating it, and using it to track all of your goals related to the material in the next several modules. Post these goals somewhere in your library, and work with youth and other library stakeholders to achieve them. Once you have achieved a goal, replace it with another one.

As you achieve each goal, revisit the Culturally Sustaining Library Walk tool, taking care to solicit input from BIYOC, to assess the impact of the changes you made.

But Wait!

In this section, we address common questions and concerns related to the material presented in each module. You may have these questions yourself, or someone you’re sharing this information with might raise them. We recommend that for each question below, you spend a few minutes thinking about your own response before clicking the arrow to the left of the question to see our response.

I have a scripted curriculum. How can I approach it through a racial equity lens?
Your scripted curriculum may already address racial equity; audit your curriculum to see whether racial equity is addressed and how. If not every area of your curriculum is scripted, look for opportunities to infuse other content areas with instruction and texts that prioritize racial equity and provide youth with an opportunity to explore racial injustice. For example, include the history of race and racism (Module 2) in social studies classes; use statistics about the racial wealth gap (Module 1b) for analysis in mathematics classes. Highlight the work of BIPOC scientists. If learners are studying climate change, introduce them to the concept of environmental racism. Consider the systems we discussed in Module 5; how does or can your curriculum address them? For an example of how one educator found ways to teach through a racial equity lens beyond the curriculum, read the Learning for Justice article, “Teaching Around the Script.”


I don't have any control over what programs are offered in my library.
Consider what you do have control over. While you might not have control over the title of the programs, do you have control over the specific content? If so, find ways to use texts or activities that allow you to approach the program’s theme through a racial equity lens and incorporate the features of effective instruction and programming described in the framework for Effective Library Services for Diverse Children and Teens. Who does have control over the programs that are offered? Can you influence that person to shift the programs so that they have the features of effective instruction and programming? If you are part of a large library system in which all branches must offer the same programming, you might consider creating a presentation with evidence that programming is more effective when tailored to a specific library branch’s population; you could then share that presentation with the people who decide how programming works in your system and ask them to reconsider their position and policies.

Additional Resources

Accardi, M. T. (2013). Feminist pedagogy for library instruction. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

Accardi, M. T., Drabinski, E., and Kumbier, A. (eds.) (2010). Critical library instruction: Theories and methods. Duluth, MN: Library Juice Press.


Go Back:
Module 22: Assessing Your Current Practice
You Are Here:
Module 23: Transforming Library Instruction
Module 24: Transforming Library Culture with The Restorative Approach