Friday, July 15, 2016

What Does It Mean to Be Inclusive?

Image of globe surrounded by hands of all colors
Inclusion is for everyone (Pixabay)
As a college undergraduate, one of my first courses in the UW's School of Education was called "Strategies for Inclusive Schooling." I remember being so confident in my decision to become an elementary school teacher, but was immediately confused when I read the name of this assigned course. What did "inclusive schooling" mean? 

I soon realized that this would be one of my first tastes of professional jargon, and learned that "inclusive schooling" is an approach to educating students with special educational needs. Under the inclusion model, students with special needs spend most or all of their time with non-disabled students (Wikipedia). Inclusive schooling is an educational movement that stresses interdependence and independence, views all students as capable, and values a sense of community. Further, it supports civil rights and equity in the classroom (Paula Kluth)

Fast forward two decades and I again find myself defining what it means to be inclusive, specifically in terms of public library service. The title of my position at the Department of Public Instruction recently changed from "Youth and Special Services Consultant" to "Youth and Inclusive Services Consultant."  This change is not simply a matter of wording; it is also represents a change in mindset. The term "special needs" suggests an us/them framework, while "inclusive" suggests belonging and acceptance. The catalyst for this shift stemmed from dialog on local, state, and national levels.  I feel refreshed by this evolution, and recognize that my title is only the tip of the iceberg.

Welcome mat
How do you welcome all library users? (Pixabay)
In the coming months, the Public Library Development Team will be exploring what inclusive services means in both theory and practice. For example, as we evaluate the current Five Year Plan for LSTA and begin work on the new plan, we will be making recommendations for projects and categories that support inclusive services. Rather than developing services that are reactive accommodations, we will look to support proactive efforts based on authentic community engagement. For example, rather than a grant to purchase a vendor's suggestions of popular materials in the Spanish language, grants would support library outreach efforts to identify, listen, and learn from Spanish-speaking community members. 

If you are reading this and feeling like I did as a college sophomore, rest assured that you are not alone. We are all in this together--that is the essence of inclusion. As we move forward with this conceptual shift, you might recognize how inclusive many of your services already are. In other ways, you might reflect on ways that individuals and groups in your community might not feel welcome or included by the library. 

  • For example, maybe you make it a point to welcome families to storytime by saying, "Hello kids and grownups!" versus making assumptions about who is a mom/dad/foster parent/grandparent, etc. 
  • On the other hand, maybe your library card application form suggests an unintended bias based toward gender identity, family structure, or language-preference.
Two recent articles offer some food for thought about inclusion and access. An opinion piece by Teneka Williams in the June 2016 American Libraries Magazine explores inclusion in policy and practice. A post on the In the Library with a Lead Pipe blog discusses accessibility through document design.  Please be in touch with your ideas about inclusive library services. I look forward to engaging conversations in the Wisconsin public library community about ways that we can model and create inclusive services for all. 

Written by:

Tessa Michaelson Schmidt
Public Library Development Team