Johnston Public Librarian Expands Collection with More Diversity

Photo by City of Johnston

JOHNSTON, Iowa -- Most of the students in a weekly after-school program at the Johnston Public Library are kids of color. A librarian is hopeful a new training opportunity will help her expand the collection of books to reflect their experiences.

"It is very challenging to be a minority in the Johnston community."

Jessica Young is the Teen Services Librarian.

According to a 2018 census report, Johnston has around 22,000 citizens, of them just over 1,000 are Asian, 600 are Black, and 550 are Latinx or Hispanic.

The Johnston School District has about 7,400 kindergarten through 12th grade students in eight different buildings.

She says there currently aren't enough books in Iowa's libraries about kids of color. When they come to the library looking for something to read, the authors, characters, and story lines are most often about White people.

Last week the state library launched Project READY. It's an acronym for Re-imagining Equity and Access for Diverse Youth.

Young is one of 14 Iowa librarians chosen to participate in the program.

According to a report from the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), racial equity is "when race can no longer be used to predict life outcomes, and life outcomes for all groups are improved."

The group says racial inequity in libraries can be seen from early-learning all the way through adult and digital literacy. They say it's an institutional issue.

GARE Midwest Regional Project Manager Gordon Goodwin says some people were taught that discussing race is impolite, but not discussing it perpetuates implicit bias.

Implicit bias is also widely referred to as unconscious bias.

Young says she spends a lot of time with the Johnston students who live nearby, and she also purchases the books they read at the library.

The shelves in the Young Adult section are already stacking new titles written by non-white authors:

This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

American Street by Ibi Ziboi

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Young says Project READY has only had one meeting so far, but it was enlightening.

"I'm having to do my own work, you know, to continue to grow and learn and understand what it means just being a White person. You know, I have a lot of privilege because of that, and it's uncomfortable to feel that way."

Young says she doesn't mind discomfort as she develops a new understanding of her community.

"The way to make great things is through great relationships, and the better we understand each other, the better that those relationships will be."

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