Co-Director, MSLA Professional Learning.
MSLA unequivocally denounces bias, racism, and hate of all kinds and is committed to examining our own practices so that we can be better allies and advocates for the Black community and for other marginalized groups. The vast majority of our members (and the library professional in general) are white women, who cannot be mirrors to or share a racial affinity with many of our students. Consider the rising proportion of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) in the US: In 2018, BIPOC were 40% of the US population, and by 2050 will be 60% (Poston and Sáenz). One of the ways we act on our beliefs is to offer professional development about anti-racism. MSLA has offered speakers and sessions at in-person MSLA conferences, like Debbie Irving and Andrea Pinkney Davis. Member feedback has always been “we want more.”
MSLA has typically delivered PD through our in-person annual conference. The pandemic forced us to cancel the in-person gathering and figure out how to deliver PD online. We are a stripped down organization with no executive director that relies on volunteers for most of the work. While we do have two part time staff members, volunteer board members who are working school librarians do most of the work of organizing PD as members of the Professional Learning Committee. To provide PD about anti-racism without the platform of our annual conference, the Professional Learning Committee started offering online PD this summer using the PLC (Professional Learning Community) model.
The Me and White Supremacy Book Study PLC
In July 2020, MSLA offered the first online course, the Me and White Supremacy Book Circle PLC, using the book by Layla F. Saad. This course was free to MSLA members. This bestselling book was available on Hoopla, free with local library or BPL cards. Me and White Supremacy introduces anti-racist vocabulary like White Saviorism, Tone Policing, Misogynoir, and AAVE and invites readers to take a 28-day journey towards anti-racisim by contemplating the meaning of the terms and connecting the terms to their own lives through journaling. The central belief of the book is that all white and white adjacent people are inherently white supremacists and that it is their work to recognize, change, and act. This isn’t cultural studies, history, or sociology: it’s emotional work. Some would even say it’s spiritual work. Author Layla F. Saad is currently working on a young reader’s edition.
34 members signed up for the course which ran from July 5 to August 15. The course used four learning modes: asynchronous learning (reading the book), reflection (in a personal journal), small group discussion (using the Circle Way format described in the book), and creating a personal action plan to be an active anti-racist. MSLA formed small groups of 3-4 librarians, identified and trained group facilitators, provided a syllabus, and opened and closed the course with large group meetings setting expectations, answering questions, and sharing final reflections.
Members reported high satisfaction with the experience in the post-course survey. 100% of participants were satisfied with their learning and the course materials. 93% were satisfied with how their small groups were led, 97% were satisfied with MSLA communications about the course, and 93% are satisfied with the PLC model of professional development. This is great news because the PLC model is manageable for MSLA during tumultuous pandemic times. Below is some feedback from participants:
Working through Me and White Supremacy with a small group of like-minded professionals was key to fully appreciate and embrace the challenges and content of the material. The small group allowed me to deepen my questioning and understanding while feeling challenged but supported.
It was amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing for a free resource.
I really liked the structure of the syllabus mixed with the flexibility of our small group. I found my group discussions to be very helpful in learning about myself. It helped me to talk through each week and to listen to my peers.
Our group was very brave and honest. We had great discussions.
I thought it was a wonderful experience. Every meeting was enlightening and inspiring, even when I might not have felt as inspired by the text. I also enjoyed the final meeting and hearing from people in other groups. Thank you so much for organizing! I'm so glad that I participated this summer.
Thank you -- this was difficult but important work that we all need to start doing. I have had to confront myself on how and why I have dropped the ball around racism when I actually know so much.
Thank you for organizing this work. It was timely and practical.
This book study group is just one part of a person’s anti-racist journey. It is not a “one and done” process and participants are encouraged to repeat the process over time. And, while reading and discussing is necessary, putting anti-racism into practice in our daily lives is the most important thing we can do. It’s important to understand that this book focuses on emotions and definitions of terms and doesn’t teach about history, policies and other established anti-Black practices of American society and government. A large body of literature exists to teach ourselves about this. MLS (Massachusetts Library System) is offering Project READY: Reimagining Equity & Access for Diverse Youth PLCs which addresses these topics. And, many online opportunities for anti-racist education exist, including Equity in Action: Fostering and Anti-Racist Library Culture, a joint course from Library Journal and School Library Journal.
The Professional Development Committee is working on several projects for you:
- Applying to DESE for PDPs provider status during winter 2021
- Developing another anti-racist course
- Planning an online annual conference for 2021
We will keep you posted as projects develop. Thank you for learning with MSLA.