Messages of Inclusion: A grassroots campaign for turbulent times

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(From American Libraries magazine, by )

“Jody Gray witnessed a “barrage of tragedy” within her first year as director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS)—from the Pulse nightclub murders in Orlando, Florida, to the Dallas police shootings.

“Libraries were suddenly in the middle of everything,” Gray says. Libraries have long offered their patrons inclusive, safe places to go, she says, but increasingly “they were doing it in crisis.”

Nationally, librarians looked to ALA for leadership. When Gray received calls from people seeking advice on how to deal with trauma and discrimination, she privately connected them with colleagues who faced similar issues in their own communities. But Gray started thinking: “There’s got to be a way for people to communicate to each other what they’re doing in these times of crisis that doesn’t have to be vetted [by ALA]. It could be flexible, on the ground, and offer a space for librarians to share directly with each other.”

That’s why Gray’s office launched the Twitter hashtag #LibrariesRespond last summer. ODLOS wanted to foster a grassroots conversation in which library professionals could share ideas and responses to current events. The tag caught on, more widely than Gray and her colleagues expected. ODLOS also built out a section of its website to include ongoing #LibrariesRespond resources for a variety of topics, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), immigrant and refugee rights, and protecting transgender students.

By late 2016, librarian Tori Gammeri had seen #LibrariesRespond on newsletters, listservs, and Twitter. Gammeri has worked at Oliver McCracken Middle School in Skokie, Illinois, for 17 years, partly because she loves the school’s diversity. McCracken’s approximately 400 students speak 48 languages at home, from Assyrian to Amharic. The day after Donald Trump won the presidential election, many of McCracken’s students cried, Gammeri says. They wondered if they could still wear their hijabs and whether their families would be deported.

“Our students are too young to vote, but they’re fully aware of the political climate,” she says. “Many of the things that we’re struggling with at school are directly related to politics.”

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