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TEEN
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ERIN HOOPES

Social Justice Symposium
A

re librarians, by virtue
Asocial justice warriors?

of our professional ethics, called to be

The profession of librarianship has historically been dedicated to
intellectual freedom, equal access to information, preservation of
prlvac1., and defense against censorship. Should we extend those
r.alues to incorporate a broader vieu. of social justice?
Black's Law Dictionary, Tenth Edition defines social justice as
'bne or more equitable resolutions sought on behalf of individuals
and communities who are disenfranchised, underrepresented,

or otherwise excluded from meaningful participation in

legal,

economic, cultural, and social structures, with the ultimate goal
of removing barriers to participation and effecting social change."
Many librarians, myself included, see the incorporation of social
justice into our program planning, collection development, and
signageidisplay space as natural extensions of our professional
commitment to the preservation of information integrity. How,
after all, can one fully utiiize the benefits of a library if one doesn t
know it exists or feeis unwelcome when lvalking through its front
door?

In the spring of 2015, I began planning a Social Justice
Symposium for Teens after a conversation rvith some teens in
my branch. The teens were talking about a march protesting
police brutality and were anxious to tind more ways to speak
out about issues that mattered to them. I was able to secure
funding through a grant from the Free Library of Philadeiphiat
Strategic Initiatives Department and hosted the Symposium
on August 29, 2015. Author Renee Watson was our keynote
speaker, and we also held workshops for the teens on human
trafficking, the education crisis for girls of color, homelessness,
mass incarceration, and education.

The Symposium inr.olved multiple library branches and staff
members and had a generous budget of close to $5,000. But, there

are many other ways to incorporate social justice themes into
teen programming, too. Kristina Langlais, currently a librarian
at the Parkway Centrai's Philbrick Hall Teen Center, said, "We
are trying to tailor our monthly Teen Movie Day to have more of
an intention; for example, showing Selma in January for Martin
Luthur King, Ir. Day and in February, trying to show something
that would correspond with Black History Month, etc."
Along with movie screenings, another popular type of social
justice teen program is the open mic night. Peter Lehu, who was
previously a library supervisor at the Parkway Centralt Philbrick
Hall Teen Center, said: "Social justice issues would come up
whenever lve got the teens engaged in creative writing. The
Central Library poetry slam always has a major social justice
vibe, as do open mic nights that I have had in the past. As you
know teens want to express themselves, so i think writing or artmaking is a great way to incorporate a social justice theme into
programming."

Marvin DeBose, a library supervisor at the Free Library's
Haverford Branch, holds reguiar book clubs with teens and always
chooses titles that "resonate with what's going on today." His
teens have read and discussed novels that deal with many hot
topics, including gun violence and racism (How It Went Down by
Kekla Magoon) and the opioid epidemic (Heroin Heartbreak by
Vanessa Kirby). Most recently, the group read Trump: A Graphic
Biography by Ted Bell, and the teens were intensely engaged in
discussion, DeBose reported. "I don't know anything that has
generated this much conversation in recent years."
DeBose also plans more in-depth programming reiated to
social justice topics. He held a "|ourney to Manhood" panel
discussion at the Lucien E. Blackwell Regional Library in June of
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Family Teen Author Series. Outreach Coordinator fenny perinovic
works with the Free Library's Teen Services and Summer Learning
Manager Ann Pearson and young Adult Materials Selector Rache'i
Fryd to choose featured authors, and she does so with a purpose.
"I want books that are going to have an impact on the kids, ;hich
is why we brought in Kekla Magoon and Renee Watson, and why
we're having Angie Thomas in March. When we choose books, we
dont shy away from controversial topicsi'

Perinovic said, "We want every kid who comes to

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see

themselves in the story. . . . Words have power, and a lot of
times, the kids meeting the author gives them permission to take
action, whether that's through words or something else. A lot of
our authors are really encouraging that way.,, Surveys given to
teens at the end of each author series program have indicated
'bverwhelming inspiration," especially by nonfiction authors like
Sabrina Fulton, Tracy Martin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. One teen
responded with the highest of praise about meeting Ta_Nehisi
Coates: "He was dope."
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2015. The panel discussion was faciiitated by Chris Williams, a
motivational speaker and West philadelphia native, and included
speakers from the business, education, and law enforcement fields.
The goals of the program were two-fold: first, to bring different
generations together, and second, to "enable young men to move
beyond roadblocks and encourage them to be successful global
citizensl'
Collaborations with local nonprofit groups are excellent ways
to reach out to teenagers who may not be typical library useis.
Perry Genovesi, a librarian in the parkway Central Library,s music
department, recently worked with Beyond the Bars, a nonprofit
that gives music lessons to incarcerated teens. He organized a
student audio exhibition which featured original com-positions
by participating students, with the intent of both ,,humanizing
them and giving them a chance to perform." Genovesi commented
that many of the teens "have an interest in music, want to go into
recording or become musicians, and we can give them tha=t book
that helps them get into the industryi'

Genovesi and Library Coordinator Adam Feldman also
connected with teens through their Music Critics, Round Table
program. During the Round Table, everyone listened to the same
song and then discussed it, and songs were chosen by both teens
and librarians. Genovesi reported that the songs .bften brought up
police violence, brutaliry misogyny, sexism, and other topiJs thai
teens are hungry to learn about. I think it was really helpiul to be
able to have that dialogue with teensl'
In his role as library coordinator, Feldman now organizes
student visits to the Parkway Central Library. He presents to most
of the groups of teens and young adults whose teachers, request
tours and tailors his presentations to the groups, specific needs.
For instance, he created a scavenger hunt that sent a group ofhigh
school students to each research department at parkwalCentril,
with specific questions that had them engaged with a wide variety
of materials and library staff. Feldman said, ,Among my core

Beyond programming, social justice issues impact everyday
_
decisions that many librarians make, including what books to
purchase and what books to feature in displays. Because my
library branch serves many teens in the LGBTe community,
we have a permanent display of fiction and nonfiction featuring
LGBTQ themes. Many branches in our system also choose
signage that is intentionally inclusive, and our website features

an Inclusivity Statement at https://libwww.freelibrary.org/blog/
post/275 1.

Fryd said, "I'm really grateful that there are a bunch oflibrarians
who tell me what their kids are asking for. I try to pull as much
information from as many sources as possible urd .,s. that to
inform my decisions. My intention is to purchase books that
reflect more and diverse experiences, books that are relevant to
kids. I think itt really important for kids to see themselves in
books, and that's a social justice issue."
Fryd uses non-mainstream review sources when deciding what
books to purchase, as well as traditional journals. She co-nsults

blogs such as The Brown Bookshelf, Asia in the Heart, Reading
as Black NerJ
Problems, Read Diverse Books, American Indians in Childrent
Literature, Diversity in YA, Fangirlish, Gay yA, Comics Alliance,
Buzzfeed Books, and Latinxs in Kid Lit. She added, ,,I think it,s
also a statement to publishers when we buy books from African
American writers. Were saying, not only do our patrons want to
read these books, but there's a market for writers of colorl,

While Whlte, and De Colores, and websites such

Social justice issues are forefront in many of our minds right
now as we follow current events, interact with our teen patrons,
and design our library collections, programs, and facilities with
intention and care. There are a myriad of ways to incorporate
social consciousness and activism into our professional lives, so
I leave you with an important question: How are you reaching
out to teens who may feel marginalized from their peers or from
society and creating warm and welcoming spaces that encourage

all teens to live up to their greatest potential?

-

to students is that the research paper is an invitation to
enter the globaI community of scholars. Because there are only
eight school librarians in Philadelphia and perhaps only two at
the high school level, I think this may constitute the only serious
messages

program of information literacy instruction in philadelphia for
teens. This is actually an educational/social justice crisis in my
opinioni'
School visits cost nothing more than the time and effort of the
librarian who organizes them, but the Free Library is also iucky
enough to hold grant-supported programs, such as the Field

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a

Erin Hoopes is branch manager of the philadelphia City lnstitute
Library. Free Library o[ Philadelphia. She has worked in public
libraries since 2004 and especially loyes teen programmiig and

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www.yoyamagazine.com

June2017VOYA

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