Category Archives: Rants

Storytime for Social Justice Blog Challenge

You may recall our Resolve to Rock blog challenge from the last couple years in which we challenged librarians to blog about their professional goals for the new year.


This year, we have a new blog challenge for you: the Storytime for Social Justice Challenge.*


Image by the amazing Rebecca at Hafuboti

As youth librarians we have a lot of influence and a large captive audience of small children, and now more than ever it is vital that we do our part to make the world a better place. We offer services to make our communities — ALL members of our communities, from those we see to the marginalized faces that don’t use the library, — feel represented, welcomed, and appreciated.


Take a moment to think about what you can do to help teach empathy and inclusiveness in your programming, your displays, your space, your services. Check out Julie’s post for some inspiration and examples, take a look at our new Storytime for Social Justice  kit, and then tell us what YOU are committed to doing for your community!



Write a post on your own blog using this image**, share with the hashtag #StorytimeJusticeWarrior, and
post a link in the comments here.  If you don’t have a blog, we are happy to host guest posts! Get in touch via email at storytimeunderground (at) gmail (.) com and we will share your post on this site.


Once you’ve written a post and made a commitment to social justice, I encourage you to print it out and post it by your desk, or in your planner. Maybe make it the background on your computer. Whatever will help keep these ideas in the forefront of your mind. Because supporting Storytime for Social Justice is great, but only if you actually do it.


*Wondering why social justice belongs in Storytime Underground? Just a reminder that Storytime Underground is NOT neutral. We were built on social justice, and we continue to serve that purpose. If you don’t like it, you do not have to participate, but this is NOT and has never been a place for only storytime ideas.


** Our blog challenge image was lovingly created by Rebecca at Hafuboti. Thanks Rebecca!!

Storytime Underground is not neutral


Libraries are not neutral. This is so important, especially now.

Storytime Underground is not neutral.


We have never been neutral. We exist to challenge you and provide a space to learn. We stand for social justice.


Sadly, there has been a rise of racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic and Islamophobic discussion and comments on the Storytime Underground Facebook page. Let’s start with the basics: This is NOT ok. Much of this comes out of discussions as to whether or not Christmas or other holidays should be celebrated in libraries. We at Storytime Underground firmly believe that the public library is NOT a place for holiday celebrations, and have written publicly about that.


In the past, we have allowed librarians to debate the topic in the Storytime Underground Facebook page for this main reason:


We have new members every day, and even veteran librarians and SU members may not have seen this discussion before.  Many have never considered the idea of not celebrating holidays in the library. By being exposed to this discussion and learning about the deep core ethical reasons for NOT celebrating, they have changed their personal ideas in this topic. THIS is why we do the work we do- so that librarians who might not otherwise be exposed to other ideas have a place to learn.


We keep an eye on these discussions, and try to step in when things get ugly, as they have more often in recent days. We publicly post our stance, we shut down the comments, and we have deleted posts that do not adhere to our guidelines.


But this is getting harder.


We are only a few people, working full time jobs with families, and we don’t always catch these threads in time. A number of other wonderful librarians have helped contribute to these discussions, making valid points that we agree with. We firmly believe that it IS NOT and SHOULD NOT be the job of marginalized people to fight this battle- this is a battle against privilege, and librarians with privilege need to step up and fight the fight. This means us.


We will not permit any discussion or comments that are racist, anti-semitic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, or in any other way hateful or a violation of our professional ethics.


Period.  We will delete any post that we deem inappropriate, and stick up for those being bullied.


But, we need to ask for your help as Storytime Guerrillas, especially from non-marginalized people to help keep the space safe for marginalized voices. If you are being bullied or having hate speech directed at you, please tell us. If you see this happening, please tell us. If you see it and we don’t, or if you see it before we do,  please please please, report a post and tell us about it. There are seven of us Joint Chiefs (Cory Eckert, Kendra Jones, Julie Crabb, Brytani Fraser, Mary Kuehner, Soraya Silverman-Montano, and Holly Storck-Post) and we can only catch so much of what’s being posted.  However, there are 8,000 of you and with our powers combined we can hopefully stop hateful comments and posts as soon as they emerge.  We will listen. We are committed. And we need your help. 


A Response

Hi, I’m Miss Julie and I do Storytimes.


Most people believe that I simply read books to children. Yes, that is one of the fantastic parts of my job, but I like to think that I am so much more. I see myself as an educator, an early literacy professional, a mentor, a friend, an entertainer, an activist, and part of a child’s inner circle.


I do what I do so that early literacy is brought into the home. I do what I do so that children can feel welcomed, safe, and understood. I do what I do so that children can become better acquainted with themselves and the world around them. I spread love. I bring down the house. I express and applaud individuality.


Now, more than ever, it is clear that our nation is divided. A rough estimate would tell me that over half of my Storytime families voted differently than I. I know that there are Storytime Ninjas out there who have different beliefs than I. Out in the world, this social division is ruled by hatred and disbelief. In Storytime, and in all parts of the library, we come together and accept our differences. As youth service providers, we can’t idly sit back and watch the world go by. Not now, not ever.


Yesterday, someone asked on Facebook “Can we keep Storytime Underground just about Storytime?” I understood the desire. We have definitely been bombarded with this election. The request was likely in response to a political article that we quickly deleted from our site. However, the answer to this request is no. We have never, and will never, be just about Storytime. At least not in the sense that you are asking.


Yes, Storytime Underground is shaker eggs, felt, and how to get caregivers to stop texting. These conversations are what brought me here two years ago looking for the basics. I wanted to be a Storytime librarian and didn’t really know where to start. Now, activism drives those basics. Storytime is social justice.


Right now, I am pleading with our community to pull yourselves up and make some changes. These small responses will help you feel more empowered and, more importantly, the children around you will notice.


  1. Make the majority of your face out shelving and displays feature minorities.
  2. Remove all ‘Books for Boys’ and ‘Books for Girls’ lists. Books are for people dammit.
  3. Offer boys books about princesses, bunnies, and ballet. Offer girls books about excavators, crime fighting, and dinosaurs.
  4. Add some positive affirmations to your Storytime routine. This idea came from Cynthia Dawn on the Facebook page. In her first ever Storytime, she had the kiddos shout out phrases like ‘I am smart!’ and ‘I am loved!’. (Cynthia, we see great things in your Storytime future.)
  5. Model descriptive affirmation language to caregivers. Instead of saying a baby is cute, say that they are strong, intelligent, or hilarious. Better yet, talk about what they are doing-‘Terry is such a strong climber today’ or ‘Lilah, I enjoy your laughter so much!’.
  6. Katie Salo suggested that you learn the name, and correct pronunciation, of your Storytime friends. Names are important and should be valued.
  7. Watch your gendered language! Make the speckled frog a female once or twice, use grown-ups instead of mommies, be proud of saying they instead of selecting a pronoun.
  8. Notice if the ‘extra’ parts of your library are inclusive. Angie Manfredi’s library had a stuffed library friend lose an arm. Instead of sewing it back on or discarding it, she proudly let it stand that way. Because, not everyone has the same body parts. Do your flyers, Facebook images, signage, and toys show a diverse world?
  9. Take some time to learn phrases in the languages of your community.
  10.  Add some, or a ton, of diverse books to your end of the year carts.


Social justice isn’t easy, but these are easy things you can do.


So, wake up.

We believe in you.

Unsolicited Rant: Why Fines Must Die



The joint chiefs have been tracking conversations about the practice of fines in libraries for a very long time. We’ve learned from experiences in our own libraries, from presentations and articles, and from threads on groups and listservs. Friends, it is safe to say that we have FEELINGS about fines. This week we want to thank Ingrid Abrams for a recent SU thread that made us finally decide to post this rant that’s been so long in the making.


We understand that fines are a tradition that have found their way to the heart of how most public libraries operate and that is not easily changed. This rant does not offer solutions, but we hope that it raises questions. We want to encourage discussion on this topic and we’re inviting all of our blogger friends to use their own voices to revisit this practice. We want to see a variety of perspectives and that’s why this time, our rant is a collection of thoughts instead of just one person’s perspective. Please, PLEASE feel free to borrow the image from this post and help us create a blog hop that explores this crucial topic.


Cory: Fines are stupid and classist and punish the people who most need the library. Also they don’t make any sense. Who cares if someone has a book for 2 days longer than they were supposed to? Or 2 weeks? Or 2 years? Like 90% of the time (made up statistic) it’s a book no one else wants, anyway. They’re harming literally no one. What if people don’t have transportation to come to the library, so they need to take the bus, and then they get here and find out it’s either spend their bus fare home or not be able to check out? Nope. What if kids are shuttling between relatives and can’t find their books? Nope. It’s not my job to punish people for their life circumstances and it’s CERTAINLY not my job to find ways to restrict access to information.


Brytani: Fines disproportionately affect our under-served populations due to reasons like lack of mental acuity in the elderly and disabled, poor public transportation systems, cultural differences in perspectives on social responsibility and how libraries work, and pure frequency of check-outs. Make no mistake; libraries do not live in a vacuum. When fines cut off any patrons with critical needs, we stop the flow of benefits to the community that libraries provide–things like higher graduation and employment percentages and lower incarceration rates. In the short term, the library collects $12 from someone living on unemployment, but in the long term, we lose their trust. If we use financial punishments to create desired behaviors in our users, they will not learn that we want to see them succeed and that we will move heaven and earth to see it happen. They will not learn that they can ask us for help in expunging their criminal record or securing a green card for a spouse. Instead, we increase the likelihood that they will continue to remain under-served, drawing on tax-supported welfare programs–a much greater expense over time for governments at large. Fines are a short-sighted solution with costs that are invisible, but they have very real financial consequences for society. We cannot reach our full potential for having a positive impact on the community unless we are willing to turn away from punishment and move towards building relationships.


Mary: Fines are a barrier to access. Period. Our patrons most in need of our resources are denied access (or choose to deny their children access) when fines are levied. It seems contrary to our purpose of providing free and open access to all. We talk about how important it is for kids to have books in the home in order to become readers. They need to be able to pick up books whenever they want. But if a parent’s choice is between buying groceries or paying library fines so their child can check books out from the library, well, it’s easy to guess which one they’ll choose. I have, in my 17 years as a librarian, had conversations with parents who were unable to come to the library to return materials due to hospital stays but sincerely wanted to find a way to pay them so that their children could use the library (I waived most, if not all, of her fines). I’ve also heard parents not allow their child to take home a book because “you lost the last one and we had to pay for it.”  Which would we rather have? Children who have access to books and ideas and knowledge who become readers and productive citizens or children who think the library is a privilege they don’t deserve and who don’t have access to books? I know what I’d choose, every time.


Kendra: Fines prevent access to information and materials, plain and simple. The money earned from fines comes at the much higher cost of access. Libraries without fines are more pleasant to visit and work in, and everyone feels welcome rather than shamed or burdened because their life is happening. When fines are in place, children are often punished for their caregivers’ transgressions. An 8 year old cannot drive themselves to the library to return an overdue DVD but that fine is going on their card, regardless. Even if they are living with their homebound Grandmother this week because their mom is not currently capable of caring for them. Fines are a sign of white privilege and do not allow for real life. If libraries need additional income (they always do), fines are not the way to secure it.


Stories We Tell and Stories We Don’t

Over the past few months, I’ve had a lot of chances to reflect on my career and the services that libraries provide. One of the things that I love most about my job as a sole librarian for two communities is that I have a lot of influence and impact on the learning opportunities available to my patrons and the greater public. I feel so accomplished when I’m making things happen in my communities and sharing my successes with the rest of my county and my peers online. I also feel so betrayed and personally devastated when something happens that holds me back. Some hard-hitting local decisions and events have forced me to learn big lessons about advocacy and how we tell our stories.


The thing I’ve been wrestling with for the past several months is how I discuss what I do and why it’s important. In light of all that’s happened, I have a new perspective, because, let’s face it: Any time an entity or person stops the library from providing a service, they are denying the value of that service. They’re questioning the value of the person or people who provide it and, sadly, the value of the people who benefit from it.


I’ve seen a lot of reports, a lot of research, and a lot of presentations serving as advocacy for what we do and why. In these reports and presentations, I find it interesting that the stories we share are so dependent on the audience listening to them. I don’t think that’s accidental. Our jobs are much more political than most of us are comfortable imagining and for some leaders and organizations, it’s important to present the least controversial, most universally acceptable stories.


I think it’s a great credit to youth services professionals everywhere that their work is often the first to be highlighted when a sensitive audience is present. Who could ever argue with services for children? (Yet, believe me, they do.)


The next most comfortable service to bring forward is job preparation and skills building. A story about a middle-aged man laid off and struggling for work is also pretty hard to argue with when there’s a happy ending. (Just ask Hollywood.)


The next is something that appeals to lots of…people who tend to be politicians. Digital literacy and technological advancement. (Progress for all as long its elitist.)


And here’s the thing. I think all of these are undeniably, immeasurably important. I think stories about these services are important to tell and I understand why they’re favorites.


Still, there’s something very sinister about why we don’t tell some other stories.


I mean the story about how we helped an immigrant get a green card for his wife.


I mean the disabled patron who learned to type her poems and submit them for contests, who learns daily how to tell her story through a blog.


I mean the elderly man who comes every day to read the newspapers because if he stopped, he would forget how to tie his shoes.


My great fear is that we will become so skilled in weaving a careful narrative that leaves out the importance of these populations–the ones certain leaders love to call takers–that we will also forget their importance to us. Friends, it is my whole belief that there are only two kinds of people: those with struggles, and those with more struggles. No matter our monetary value, skin color, native language, country of origin, sexuality, gender, age, mental health, or level of ability we are all equal inside the library.


When do we tell the other stories? When do we decide they have enough value to be represented and defended publicly with any audience?


I love my youth services. In so many communities, libraries are the only organization creating free parent education directed at fostering early learning. Where so many others may focus on correcting developmental and behavioral problems, libraries focus on setting up adults as teachers and giving them the tools to create lifelong learning for their children. We’re also leaders in offering continuing education to caregivers in early literacy and partnering with schools to provide enriching experiences for students.


I love job preparation. There are few things more exciting than having a patron return to you with a job and paycheck for their family after months of helping her search and apply for jobs online.


I love digital literacy. I’ve helped people understand how to use the iPads their doctor’s office makes them use and taught students to search responsibly for information for school projects.


These are not services that benefit all, however. When you consider who has the time and encouragement to attend storytimes, who can make it to the library at a set time for an appointment or class, and who does not or cannot do these things, you start to see the patterns of those very real, very hard struggles that so few are striving to relieve and correct. Our statistics are important not just because of how many are attending programs or coming through our doors. When held to a light, those statistics cast a shadow of all who are missing. It’s the hardest work of every library professional to be that light and to reach for the people we cannot see and do not know yet. Sometimes this reaching means we work extra hard and provide even more or maybe just different services for the under-served than we might for our more affluent or privileged users.


What I’ve come to understand is that with every storytime, every computer class, every murder mystery party, I call upon the people who matter to our legislators and elected officials. I insulate the marginalized patrons in my library with moms and job seekers and students. With every program, I invite those with personal transportation and mental acuity, bank accounts and homes, to help me defend my patrons against those with a vested interest in seeing them kept poor, voiceless, and frankly, ignorant.


That’s my story. It’s why I get out of bed. When I sit in presentations with so many safe success stories and when I see reports go out without mentioning the others, I weep inside for all the people whose worth is too controversial to be included. We cannot fail to represent and honor those who would otherwise be voiceless and invisible because of their socioeconomic status.


(To all the libraries who are routinely advocating for their invisible and controversial patrons and neighbors, I salute you. Please feel free to share how you’re doing that in the comments.)