Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Examining Youth Services Librarians' Perceptions of Cultural Knowledge as an Integral Part of Their Professional Practice

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Examining Youth Services Librarians' Perceptions of Cultural Knowledge as an Integral Part of Their Professional Practice

Article excerpt


For the first time in U.S. history, youth of colour1 are projected in the 2014-2015 school year to make up the majority of students attending American public schools (Krogstad & Fry, 2014). According to an analysis of the 2010 census data completed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, there are currently 74.2 million children under the age of eighteen in the United States; 46 percent of them are children of colour (O'Hare, 2011). All of the growth in the child population since 2000 has been among groups other than Non-Hispanic whites. Three major groups experienced significant increases between 2000 and 2010:

* Children of mixed race grew at a faster rate than any other group over the past decade, increasing by 46 percent.

* The number of Hispanic children grew by 39 percent.

* The number of non-Hispanic Asian and Pacific Islander children grew by 31 percent (O'Hare, 2011).

Today, more than one-fifth of America's children are immigrants or children of immigrants (O'Hare 2011). If these trends continue, demographers conclude that "soon there will be no majority racial or ethnic group in the United States-no one group that makes up more than fifty percent of the total population" (Crouch, Zakariya, & Jiandani, 2012).

These demographic changes have implications for school and public librarians in the United States, the majority of who are middle aged, white, English speaking females (ALA, 2012). As Mestre (2009) notes, "many librarians are now struggling to connect with a completely new set of learners, with cultural backgrounds distinctly different from each other and from their teachers. It may be a challenge for the [librarian] who has only used teaching strategies and examples based on his or her life experiences" (p. 9). Marcoux (2009) agrees, stressing that the "tension between groups with an idea of 'us and them'" has the potential to negatively impact the ability of librarians to work effectively with youth with different culture, language, learning styles, and backgrounds (p. 6). In fact, Kumasi (2012) found that many youth of colour do "feel like outsiders in library spaces and deem the school library as sole 'property' of the school librarian" (p. 36). She argues that these feelings of disconnect and exclusion must be attended to if librarians want to make all of their students feel welcome.

Adding to the challenge of working with youth of colour is the fact that much of the public discourse concerning these young people is based on a cultural deficit model of thinking - a stance that minimizes, or even ignores, the structural forces that have led to the unequal distribution of resources, lack of opportunity, and other forms of oppression and discrimination that negatively affect the lived experiences of these youth and their communities (Cabrera, 2013; Kumasi, 2012). Youth of colour report significant ethnic and racial stereotyping by teachers, administrators, and their school peers (Foxen, 2010). They often feel overlooked or excluded, and are tracked frequently into remedial and special education classes (Foxen, 2010). Less than one-third of schools with the highest percentages of African American and Hispanic students offer calculus, and only 40 percent offer physics (United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, 2009-2010). About one in three African American and Native students and about one in four Latino students do not graduate high school on time, as compared to one in seven white students (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2014). Cabrera (2014) argues that educators and policy- makers who do not recognize the systemic nature of the racial disparities that exist in American society, who buy into this cultural deficit viewpoint, contribute to the continued marginalization of these youth.

Research exists that disrupts the cultural deficit narrative. Numerous studies have shown that youth of colour bring important cultural strengths to the table that when capitalized on can lead to increased academic achievement, positive racial identity development, improved self- confidence and self-esteem, and increased resiliency (Boykin & Noguera, 2011; Edwards, McMillon, & Turner, 2010; Foxen, 2010; Hanley & Noblit, 2009; Ladson-Billings, 2009; Padrón, Waxman, & Rivera, 2002; Rivera & Zehler, 1991). …

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