A woman and two men focused on their computers in a library, engrossed in their work.

S6 E10 Facing Book Bans and Budget Pressure, School Librarians Show Their Importance

Jen Sturge was working as a librarian supervisor when, “in about 2021, 2022,” she explains, “the nature of my work changed—and it wasn’t for the better.” Organized parent groups started challenging books and getting them banned from the library. In today’s conversation with Jen Sturge and her colleague Christie Kaaland, we discuss how these book challenges take up time, resources, and enthusiasm, distracting from the vital work that school librarians do to support learning, media literacy, love of reading, and healthy schools. Before the book banners came to town, Jen says, “I had absolutely what I considered to be the best job in the entire world.” The question is, how can we as a society build back our libraries and support librarians?

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Episode Notes

Visit Antioch’s website to learn more about the Endorsement in K-12 Library Media that Jen and Christie teach in.

Listen to our interview with Jen and Christie’s colleague Deb Kachel, S6 E2: School Librarians Are Essential, So Why Are These Jobs Disappearing?

You can explore the data about school libraries in your own city or town at the website of SLIDE: The School Librarian Investigation—Decline or Evolution?

This episode was recorded June 11, 2024 via Riverside.fm and released June 25, 2024. 

The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University

Host: Jasper Nighthawk

Editor: Johanna Case

Web Content Coordinator: Jen Mont

Work-Study Interns: Georgia Bermingham, Stefanie Paredes, Grace Kurfman, and Lauren Arienzale

Additional Production Help: Karen Hamilton, Adrienne Applegate, Jamila Gaskins, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland

To access a full transcript and find more information about this and other episodes, visit theseedfield.org. To get updates and be notified about future episodes, follow Antioch University on Facebook.

Transcript S6 E10:

Transcript – S6E10 – Jen Sturge and Christie Kaaland

[00:04] Jasper Nighthawk: This is the Seedfield Podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories and come together to win victories for humanity. 


[00:17] Jasper: I’m your host Jasper Nighthawk, and today we’re joined by Christie Kaaland and Jennifer Sturge for a conversation about the ongoing attempts to defund and constrain school libraries and librarians. And, the flip side of this, the people working to educate school boards, parents, and our wider society about how vital good school libraries and librarians are if we want to have thriving public schools. For myself, I am really excited to have this chance to hear from two actual school librarians about this topic and to hear some of the conversations happening inside the profession of school librarians. In my experience, these topics like book bans or legislation constraining the curriculum that teachers and librarians can teach, these topics get thrown around in our political culture almost like footballs and people have really strong views and often feel alarmed. Book bans in particular have become part of what gets called the culture wars. And I think that sometimes newspaper columnists and TV hosts and politicians talk about these things so much that we can maybe get concerned about them while losing sight of what’s really happening on the ground and what the real stakes are. Speaking for myself, I have a real hunger to hear from actual librarians and to hear what they’re talking about inside the profession on the day to day of this work, what experiences and insights they have as they navigate these pressures, and try to figure out how to have the biggest positive impact on students. Let me introduce our guests. Jennifer Sturge and Christie Kaaland are both core faculty in Antioch’s School of Education, and they help run the Endorsement in K-12 Library Media that’s offered online to learners around the U.S. Both Jen and Christie have extensive experience as K-12 school librarians themselves, and they both have moved into higher education where now they train future librarians. Jen Sturge also at one point served in a role supervising 24 other school librarians, and today she serves as the advocacy chair of the Maryland Association of School Librarians. Christie, meanwhile, is the founder of Antioch’s School Library Program, which has now been going on for two decades, and she has served on the executive board of the Washington Library Association. So, Jen and Christie, we are so happy to have you on the Seed Field podcast. [02:43] Jen Sturge: Thank you so much for having us.

[02:46] Christie Kaaland: Yes, excited to visit with you. 

[02:48] Jasper: Yeah, this is going to be great. I have a ton of questions, but before getting there, I always like to start the show by asking our guests to disclose their positions, and especially where they’re coming from that could be relevant to the topic we’re addressing. Today we’re talking about public education and school libraries. These serve young people from every background, every socioeconomic status, every race, every gender identity, like anything you could think of. It’s like the most diverse population imaginable. And so I can go first. I think listeners should know that I’m white. I’m a cisgendered man. I’m not living with a physical disability, though I do experience anxiety and depression. I’m queer. I have a college degree and a master’s degree. I have steady housing and income, and I’m a parent. My kid is going to start preschool in the fall. So let me start with you. I’ll throw it to you, Jen. As much as you’re comfortable, can you share your own position? 

[03:45] Jen: Sure. I am a white woman who works in libraries. I am married. I have a husband and two children. I am solidly upper middle class, probably, and I come to things through that view, knowing that I have a lot of privilege in my life and trying to ensure that I use that knowledge in my position to help as much as I can and to even the playing field, so to say.

[04:20] Jasper: Thank you for sharing that, Jen. Christie, I would ask you to share the same.

[04:25] Christie: Thank you. Yes, I am also a white female, and as much as we try to diversify the school library community, it is dominated with white women, which I’m sure we’ll talk about later. I use she/her. I have a partner and two grandchildren and a daughter. That’s some nice stuff. 

[04:52] Jasper: I love that. Also, the bigness of families. Thank you for sharing that, Christie. So let’s jump into this. I want to start by talking about book bans. This is a massive topic today. I don’t want this to be our full conversation because I think there’s a lot more to talk about here, but I think it can be a good way to unpack some of the headwinds facing the profession of school librarians and also some of the work that actually does get done. In preparing for this, I sat down and talked with Jen a little bit. And Jen, I know that you have faced firsthand some of these forces leading to book bans and increased school board oversight of school librarian positions. Could you talk a little bit about your own experiences?

[05:37] Jen: Sure. I’m going to take you back a little bit. Before I came to Antioch, I was a K-12 educator in Maryland. I was supervising school librarians and was the coordinator for a program. And I had absolutely what I considered to be the best job in the entire world. I looked forward to going to work. I loved everything about my position, doing professional development with my school librarians, collection development, writing grants. It was a great job. And about 2021, 2022, the nature of my work changed and it wasn’t for the better. We had a concerted effort begin in our county by a group of parents who I really feel their mission is to defund public education and to start doing that, they started to come to our board of education meetings and they would read aloud passages out of context from books, sometimes books that we didn’t even have in our school library collections. They would stir up a whole lot of drama on social media about these books and get other people coming to board meetings to complain. I would come into my office in the morning and my phone would be filled with messages from concerned parents wanting to know why we had this filth and pornography in our libraries. And it really changed my outlook on what I was doing. And I realized that we needed to advocate, we needed to talk about what we were doing with more transparency so that we could try to turn the tides. And I spent my last two years running a lot of book challenge committees as challenges were coming in right and left. 

[07:30] Jasper: To clarify, a book challenge is when somebody says, “I’m challenging the right of this book to stay in the library. I think it should be banned from the library.” 

[07:41] Jen: Yes, that is exactly what a book challenge is. And it is within everyone’s right to challenge a book. It’s part of our democracy. And so we would report back to the parent who had submitted the challenge. And typically they would bring the issue up the ladder. There was a whole series of steps that you had to go through. And so it would go to the committee and then it would go to the director and then it would go to the superintendent who would ultimately make the decision about the book. And it really just became my entire job. 

[08:13] Jasper: Yeah. Christie, do you have anything to add to that?

[08:15] Christie: I was going to say, consequently, we were fortunate that she decided to join Antioch and use that wealth of experience to help train the next generation of school librarians and how to deal with such issues. A critical piece of it is that it is so few people with very loud voices that want to take the rights away from every child in the school and every family in the school. It’s only a few people, most often people that haven’t read the book they’re talking about.

[08:51] Jasper: That’s so frustrating. And thinking about this mechanism of book challenges, which as you say, Jen, is important that people be able to question this. But it reminds me of the way that I live in California and we have this piece of legislation called the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA. And that allows anybody to sue any housing development or any kind of planned building of transmission lines for green energy, anything at all that happens in the built landscape. You can file a lawsuit and this then takes like years to resolve and incredible amounts of lawyers fees. And it’s a big reason why the ease of filing these things and then the enormous headache that it causes for the regulators or the people trying to make things happen. It can really just like gum up the works, this mechanism used not even necessarily in bad faith, but just in excess. And it sounds like that was happening to you, Jen, where it’s just like gumming up your ability to do all of the other duties of your job. 

[09:51] Jen: Yeah, it really did change what my job was about for that last year and a half. And I think one of the things that’s really important that I took from it and that we learned as a district was that you need to have very good policy and procedure in place before something happens. And we had never thought that this would happen and our policy and procedure was good, but it wasn’t great. And so now it’s great because we went back and rethought what it looked like. And I think that’s really important for school librarians to know is that you need to have great policy and procedure in place and you need to follow that policy and procedure when a challenge comes to light or when somebody complains about a title that’s in your library.

[10:40] Jasper: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And Christie, I know that you just got back from visiting and interviewing and shadowing eight different alumni of the Antioch School Library program. And I’m curious if you’re seeing this as a widespread, like are all librarians facing this? Did you hear about some of these headwinds in those interviews?

[10:59] Christie: I think our students have been quite lucky. Most of them are in Western Washington and Oregon. There are other stressors that they have that are similar that I’m often hearing from the candidates, but I haven’t had anyone challenge or had a book challenged in their library over the last year or so. But Jen and I know a lot of people on a national level that have gone through some huge, really traumatic and stressful life altering scenarios with book challenges. But we’ve been fortunate to somewhat live in a bubble of protection here in the Western Washington and Oregon. 

[11:43] Jasper: Yeah. I really appreciate you actually sharing that data point, which I think sometimes this can be blown out of proportion where it can seem like every of the 20,000 plus school districts in the country is having this happening. And for people entering the profession, it could be scary to think, oh, without doubt, I’m just going to be dealing with this all day. It’s maybe a little more luck of the draw or depending on the political headwinds of your area.

[12:12] Christie: Yes. Although the American Library Association reports 4,000 books, I think, last year and maybe half that the year before and half that the year before. So it has accelerated over the last few years. Definitely. 

[12:29] Jasper: It sounds like, Jen, you were dealing with many of those, just you. 

[12:33] Jen: Sometimes it felt that way. I will say that one thing that happened in Maryland, which gives me great hope, is that we passed legislation and I actually worked on the legislation with many other people in a very small role in it, but we passed the freedom to read legislation that includes school libraries, which is huge. And so it prevents libraries from taking out books because somebody complains about them because of religious or political doctrine. And it protects library workers who are doing their jobs. And I think that we’ll see more legislation like that happening throughout the country as this continues to be a problem in the United States. [13:17] Christie: Well, and I just wanted to add, on the flip side, it has really raised the profile of the importance of school librarians and to have a qualified, certified school librarian in every school. And it has really shown a light on the importance of that, as Jen mentioned, the freedom to equitable access for all kids to have the right to be able to choose what they read. 

[13:41] Jen: Christie, I would agree with that because if you have somebody who’s qualified in the library, they’re choosing books and they’re building collections that meet the needs of their community. And so it just becomes even more important to have that certified person in the school library. 

[13:58] Jasper: Yeah, I wanted to talk about that a little bit because I think from the other side, these people who are maybe leading these campaigns to remove books from libraries, they can paint a picture. And Christie, you said oftentimes the people challenging the book have never read the book, but they can paint a picture as if these are like pornographic collections or in some way pushing things that are far outside of the mainstream. I guess I’m curious if you could correct this vision of the school library as a place full of dangerous books that will corrupt your child and actually say what most school librarians are like actually trying to do when they’re curating their collections.

[14:38] Christie: Jen, do you want to take that one? 

[14:39] Jen: I was thinking, Christie, this is right up your alley with your selections for collections class and talking about children’s literature and adult literature and how many conversations that we have had about how kids really want to be reading graphic novels and what they’re choosing to read. 

[15:00] Christie: One of the things I’ve been doing this spring in each of the schools and school libraries that I visit, I always ask the librarian that I’m observing if I can do checkout when the kids go through so I can see what kids are reading. And it’s very revealing because, for example, it points to two important things, and this is probably something that we would want to talk about as well, and that is equity with regard to having access to a really well-stocked, well-funded school library. I’ve been in school libraries where the PTA in a wealthy school gives them a $15,000 budget every year, and they have all the graphic novels that they could ever want, and every student wants to check out three graphic novels. That’s fine because we have plenty of graphic novels. And then conversely, schools where the librarian will say, “I would love to let them check out three graphic novels,” but they’d be all gone by the end of Monday, and then the kids coming in on Tuesday and Wednesday. So we have to sometimes let them check out one in this series and one in that series, and it’s a good way of teaching kids, “Don’t forget about the rest of the kids in the school that want to read these books.”

[16:16] Jasper: Learning to share is a good skill, but also if a kid really wants to read a book and you have to say, “No, I’m sorry. We just don’t have very many books, and you’re going to have to do something else with the rest of your time this weekend,” that’s pretty sad. 

[16:29] Christie: That would never happen. These wonderful librarians will help them find another book. I know the two of you would love to read that same graphic novel, and we only have one of them, but let’s find something else to read. They don’t go away empty-handed. 

[16:44] Jen: I think, too, as well, Jesper and Christie, that we have to remember that the school librarians take classes like Christie class, and they understand how to build a collection. They’re not just going to Amazon or some other bookseller and just choosing random books to go into their library. They’re using selection tools and professional reviews to decide what the best titles are to bring into their library. I know for my old district, we had in our collection policy that things had to have two positive reviews. We looked at the ages that it was recommended for, the grades that it was recommended for, before we brought it into the library, so that we were very careful about that as we were selecting our books. I do feel like sometimes that’s what the public doesn’t know when they are getting angry, is that there is a process behind it and a very intentional process behind book selection.

[17:39] Christie: I hope that we can spend more time talking about some of the really amazing and positive things that are going on in school libraries today, because these book challenges are pretty few and far between. They just get a lot of press, and they’re important, and they’re significant, but there’s so much good going on in school libraries today. 

[17:59] Jasper: I do want to delve into all of the good. I feel like you set me up perfectly, Christie, saying these book challenges are important and maybe a harbinger of a broader assault on public education or an attempt to constrain what can be taught in our schools. But they ultimately are only a part of the challenges, and they also can distract us from focusing on the positive in the way that school librarians have their hands in so many things beyond just deciding what is in their collection. But I want to talk about the broader challenges facing libraries and the profession of being a school librarian. We spoke earlier this season, last fall, with your colleague Deb Kachel. She and her research partner have concluded this two-year process called SLIDE, School Librarian Investigation, Decline or Evolution, and have found extremely alarming data about the disappearance of school library jobs across the nation and in basically every state. And more concentrated in poor school districts and school districts that serve people of color often. But really across the board, there are fewer and fewer school librarians. And for myself, who was in grammar school 20-plus years ago, it was really a shock to hear how few schools there were and then to use the data explorer and find that these schools that I went to and had one or two or three school librarians, all of those school librarian positions have been eliminated. And my rural, largely poor, largely Hispanic-serving school district just does not have any more school librarians. So maybe I could toss this back at you, Christie, to talk a little bit about some of the larger systemic problems facing school librarians as a profession. 

[20:00] Christie: As Deb Kachel research has shown, there are pockets of places, and unfortunately, yes, it’s an equity issue. More schools with higher populations of students of color, more schools where the poverty level is high, where school librarians are cut. But there are also, her research found, places where districts are building school library programs up again. We have several of them in Washington and Oregon, where the majority of our students in the library program attend, and districts where something is happening that has created this positive energy to bring school libraries back into the schools where they were cut. Eugene School District in Oregon, Reynolds School District in Oregon were cut. A few years ago, Kent School District had eliminated all their elementary school librarians. It was a particular school district administrator who had a passion for school libraries and knew the importance of school libraries. That worked, and it took him several years to bring back 28 positions in one year. And now they have a really robust, strong school library program in those schools. And I know you wanted to talk about the opposite, but I wanted to highlight those Eugene and Kent and Reynolds School Districts, where there’s something going on there. And I know some of it is coming from the librarians that work there that are doing a lot of school library advocacy. Deb Kachel actually teaches a class called School Library Advocacy. I think one of the foci of her class is, by the end of this class, you will have the tools that you need such that if your principal has to cut the budget, the librarian will be the last person standing, the last cut made. 

[21:57] Jasper: I love that. Yeah, I think it’s so important to lift up the case studies of where things really are working and trending in a good direction.

[22:06] Christie: And Jen works on a lot of national level stuff, so she can probably speak to it beyond just a few districts that I know of.

[22:14] Jen: I can. And one of the things that we’ve seen is that while there were cuts, think states and places that have cut, librarians are seeing the error of their ways and they’re starting to be reinstated. And I think of it as like ebbs and flows, and we are definitely coming, I feel like, out of the slump. I know in Michigan, they’re bringing back school librarians after they have been cut for quite a while. And in other states, they are now bringing them back, which I think is fantastic. It’s what needs to happen. They’re recognizing that school libraries and school librarians have a huge positive impact on literacy and reading and developing students who are going to read for a lifetime. And with reading scores and looking at testing scores, they’re realizing that it’s so important to have somebody in that library who’s certified. 

[23:14] Christie: But one piece to it is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint to try to build back programs. An important thing that we haven’t talked about is the role of the legislature and legislation. And in a lot of states, and I don’t know, Jen, maybe you know about Michigan, what they’re doing in Michigan. But I know Kathy Lester, who was recently the AASL president, has been working with the legislature there. In Washington, we’ve been working with the legislature since 2007. There’s a law in the state of Washington that mandates every school will have a full-time certified school librarian. But there are four words in that law that say, “As is deemed necessary.” So a superintendent or a principal or someone can use those words and say, “Well, I don’t think it’s deemed necessary.” And for the last seven years, we’ve been trying to get those four words taken out of the law. Jen is working on advocacy in Maryland. Deb Kachel is working on advocacy at the state level in Pennsylvania. I’ve been doing it for 17 years in Washington. I took a break this year because it was a short session. Legislation is another way in which we can highlight the importance of school libraries and build those programs back up. 

[24:33] Jasper: Yeah, I appreciate that. And I appreciate also that your program that you both teach in has advocacy and teaching librarians to be advocates for themselves and their work as part of the curriculum. It just seems, hearing from you, that this is something that school librarians should be prepared to do and be aware that they may have to advocate for their jobs. But Jen, I appreciated you taking us towards the incredible positive effects that school librarians have when they’re able to do their jobs and not just set up challenge panels continually. But when we were talking before we started recording, you were telling me about the five roles of the school librarian. And I think a lot of people have a vague memory of their school librarian as someone who checked out the book at the front desk and maybe that’s what they remember or who said, “Shh,” really loudly. Can you tell us about these five roles that you see school librarians fulfilling and a little bit about how that contributes to child development and the good functioning of schools? 

[25:39] Jen: Sure. I love talking about these roles of the school librarian because I feel like people do have that image from way long ago of what a librarian looks like. But first and foremost, I always tell all of my students that school librarians are educators, they’re teachers, and the library is their classroom. We have standards that we need to meet and follow and things that students need to leave as they come out. And so we’re educators. We’re also collaborators. That would be the second role. And we collaborate not only with other educators, but we collaborate with our administration. We collaborate with people in our community. We collaborate throughout the state. We collaborate nationally. Christie, feel free to jump in on any of these. 

[26:27] Christie: Thank you. 

[26:28] Jen: We are program administrators in that we build our collections, we check in and out the books, we keep our inventory. Those are all the day-to-day things. That’s that old-fashioned role that people think of when they think of librarians, with the check-in, the check-out. Let’s see. I got three, and now I’m drawing a blank, even though I teach about them.

[26:50] Christie:  In our program, we really focus on a role of leadership, because the librarians are kind of halfway between a general ed classroom teacher and an administrative. 

[27:00] Jen: Well, I was going to say, leader is the fourth one, and information specialist is the last one.

[27:05] Jasper: Thank you. Yeah, I love this. Piecing together. We can almost remember our curriculum.

[27:10] Jen: It’s with me every day. And then when somebody asks me, it just totally goes out. I think what Christie is saying about being a leader, that’s definitely one of the five roles. I encourage our students to be a leader in their libraries, in their schools, in their community when they’re ready to take some leadership on at their state associations, and then if they’re even ready for more, to move on to taking some leadership roles at the national level. 

[27:37] Jasper: That’s so cool. Yeah. Christie.

[27:40] Christie: I think what’s unique to our program, they are definitely boots on the ground, social justice warriors through education, through reading, through exposure to resources. We work with our teachers becoming school librarians to make sure that they deliver that as well to kids in the school. 

[28:00] Jasper: Jen. 

[28:01] Jen: I was just going to say, thinking about the information specialist role, I think it’s really important to mention that school librarians are teaching digital citizenship, and they’re teaching about AI and artificial intelligence, and they’re teaching about misinformation and disinformation and how to sift through the news so that when students leave high school, they are prepared to be productive members of our democracy. They understand civic engagement and being able to spot what is not real, what is real, what is trying to strategically give you misinformation or even worse, disinformation.

[28:43] Christie: Just yesterday, I observed a fourth and fifth grade school library class on digital citizenship in Tacoma, my own personal hometown. The instructor, a week before the end of the school year, and the last class of the day, she taught right up till 3.30, and it was an hour and a half lesson. Those kids were so engaged. She was teaching them how pictures are altered online and what the motivation is behind why would somebody or some company. Honestly, I was looking at some of those pictures and saying, “I don’t know. Why did they do that?” But these kids came up with, I could tell that they’ve had digital citizenship lessons from this instructor from kindergarten all the way through fourth and fifth grade because they were spot on, and they knew the why of it. I was really impressed. 

[29:34] Jasper: That’s amazing, and it definitely makes me think of some older people in my life who I think could also use some education on this. People falling for not just political scams, but also just straight up scams that are trying to take your money. Myself as a millennial, I natively have some of these skills and also as a college graduate, and being able to spot misinformation out in the wild and say, “That seems suspect. I’m not sure if I’m going to trust that. I’m going to go see if I can find another source for it.” If you don’t have that muscle in you, it makes you very vulnerable, and also you can be roped into causes or to being somebody else’s fool. 

[30:19] Christie: Well, and even just to know that it happens. There are still people that read it in a book. It must be real, and now it’s on the internet. It must be real. It must be true.

[30:29] Jen: I was thinking, Jasper, as you were saying that you said you go to other sources and you try to look, and that is a skill that we teach. It’s actually called lateral searching, where you go and you verify what you’re seeing, and you try to verify it across several sources to make sure it’s true. That’s so important in this day and age because the news moves so quickly. 

[30:53] Jasper: Yeah, I remember my own high school librarians teaching me, “You couldn’t cite Wikipedia, but you could go to the bottom of Wikipedia to the references page and start looking at what it was referring to. And if it was a book, you could try and find the book. Maybe it was in the collection.” And that kind of was the beginning of my own abilities as a scholar. 

[31:13] Jen: And I feel like it probably made a big difference, right? 

[31:17] Jasper: Yeah. 

[31:17] Jen: As you headed off into college and started researching, having that knowledge that you learned in your school library enabled you to be more successful in college. 

[31:26] Jasper: Without a doubt. Christie, I know that you just got back from visiting and interviewing these students who are themselves already embedded in school libraries and teaching and doing all of this work. I’m just curious what the big takeaway was of that opportunity to go into school classrooms as recently as yesterday. 

[31:49] Christie: Yeah, I do have a few takeaways. First the negative, and that is there’s such a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots. It’s everywhere in the world. It’s in our country, terribly so, but there are really well-funded libraries. I visited one librarian that I think he had like 10 parent volunteers that come into the library, never has to shelve a book. You know, “What can I do? Can I make a bulletin board?” And of course, they have a really strong library program there because he can get into the really important stuff that he does. And then there are schools where I’ve asked, “Do you have any parent volunteers?” Nope. No parent volunteers, no help. “Do you have any para time or additional times to do some of the clerical things so they can focus on the important?” So that’s one. But then the other and the most important thing is I cannot tell you how many times I hear librarians say, “I love my job. It’s the best job in the world.” Because Jen said at the beginning when her job was the best job in the world, they do love what they’re doing. So that’s cool. 

[32:57] Jasper: I love that so much. Thank you for that report back. And also just the enthusiasm. I think when we opened up this conversation and started talking with book banning and the headwinds facing the profession, just that feeling of pure joy and love of serving students and bringing them these literature and stories and collaborating with teachers across the school. 

[33:22] Christie: And I hear them say things like, “Everything I do, I get credit for. I don’t have to be the heavy hand. I don’t have to give grades and give them tests like a classroom teacher. But the more I do, the more I give, the more I’m appreciated.” And parents say, “Oh, I love that you connected my child with this book.” Or a classroom teacher will say, “Thank you for recommending that book. I’m reading it to my students now.” You get a lot of positives and not very many negatives, except for the occasional book ban, which I haven’t seen many of.

[33:53] Jen: You’re so lucky, Christie. But I will say that in my years of being an elementary librarian, some of my students are in their mid to late 20s now. I will see them periodically and they still come up, “How you doing?” And remembering the library. So I think we do impact them in a very positive way. 

[34:15] Jasper: Absolutely. And I think about my elementary school librarian, Marcy, and I would continue seeing her around school when I came back in my 20s. And she was just like a powerfully positive force in so many of us, like more bookish, more nerdy students. And several of her most devoted fans from my era have gone on to be writers or playwrights or teachers. And I think school librarians, I don’t know, they’re just like a great PE teacher might be a really important force for somebody who’s more athletic. They provide like an alternate authority figure at school for people who might be more bookish. 

[34:57] Jen: We like to say that school libraries are a place for everyone, that everyone has a place there.

[35:02] Jasper: I love that. So we are almost out of time and I always like to end an interview like this with maybe some positive action steps that our listeners can take if they are caring about this issue. Obviously they could enroll in your program and become school librarians themselves, but that for many people would involve a major change of their life circumstances. Though if you’re thinking about that, I think that’s a really powerful way to impact the world. And Christie, you mentioned somebody who their school librarian had nine volunteers. So if your kid is in school, it’s clear that there are ways to be involved tangibly on the ground. But I’m curious if there are like organizations that can help with some of the book banning or the forces that are causing these librarian jobs to disappear, to resist those and ways that we can get involved more structurally. 

[35:55] Christie: This is Jen. I would say, yes, there are quite a few ways that you can get involved on the ground. There’s a organization called Every Library and they have a Save School Libraries tab right on their website where you can go and it will direct you to your local politicians, your local school board, and you can write in support of school libraries. One of the biggest things I think is to build a coalition and you can find people who really support public education and get involved. Another, if you really want to get involved, would be to run for office, run for board of education.

[36:32] Jasper: Christie, do you have anything to add there? I do know that one of the things we talk about in our program is the importance of the advocacy. And one way to do that is we always encourage the school librarians as a group to present to their school board every year what they do, let them know what they do and tell them all the positives. But at those school board presentations, if you have just one parent or one student, it exponentially increases the impact because sometimes school librarians telling them what they’re doing sounds self-serving, but a parent going in and doing the same thing can really show. And parents are the boss of school boards. Going in to volunteer to speak at a school board is a really powerful way to support a school library program in a district. 

[37:23] Jasper: Yeah, I appreciate those last two suggestions. One, you can run for school board, you can become an elected part of the school governance infrastructure. And the other, that if you feel passionately about libraries and maybe you’re a parent, you’re connected with a school librarian, you could ask them, could I help you in some way by coming to a school board meeting and advocating for you and being a voice beyond your own on your side? I think both of those would not always naturally occur to me or to everyone, especially sometimes it can feel like our lives are so busy. But it seems like in the scheme of our system of public education and enriching these children’s lives, it’s actually a small thing and potentially with really big effects. You’re both nodding. Christie and Jen, I so appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast. It’s been a pleasure to get to talk with you. 

[38:24] Christie: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Jasper.

[38:26] Jen: It was really lovely to talk to you, Jasper.


[38:32] Jasper: The endorsement in K-12 library media that Jen and Christie teach in is based out of Antioch University’s Seattle campus, and it’s available to learners across the country. You’ll find a link to that program’s webpage in our show notes. I also want to mention something that we didn’t get to in our conversation. At the time we recorded this episode, Christie was 19 days away from handing in the draft of her upcoming textbook. This book educates readers about the topic of children’s literature in school libraries, and it will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2025 or early 2026. Follow Antioch on our social media channels to learn when it comes out, and subscribe to the Seed Field podcast. I think we’re going to have to have her back on to discuss the book. We want you to know that we post new episodes of the Seed Field podcast on our website, theseedfield.org, where you’ll also find show notes, full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more. The Seed Field podcast is produced by Antioch University. Our editor is Johanna Case. I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk. Our web content coordinator is Jen Mont. Our work study interns are Stephanie Paredes, Georgia Birmingham, Lauren Arianzale, and Grace Kurfman. We received additional production help from Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, Adrian Applegate, Jamila Gaskin, and Melinda Garland. Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode. We hope to see you next time. And don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause, and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been the Seed Field podcast.