Julie Stivers | Movers & Shakers 2019 – Change Agents

“Our libraries need to be steeped in equity, be actively antiracist, and be places of joy for our students,” says school librarian Julie Stivers, who aims to “leverage students’ experience, perspective, and wisdom.” When Stivers started at Mount Vernon Middle School in Raleigh, NC, four years ago, she committed to a major overhaul of her library’s collections and spaces to reflect her students and their experiences better.

Julie Stivers

CURRENT POSITION

School Librarian, Mount Vernon Middle School, Raleigh, NC

DEGREE

MSLIS, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2015

HONORS

Emerging Leader, American Library Association (ALA), 2018; Frances Henne Award, American Association of School Librarians, 2017

FOLLOW

@BespokeLib; mtvernonlibrary.weebly.com; yalsa.ala.org/blog/2018/07/21/libfive-five-key-foundations-for-building-inclusive-libraries

Photo by Beth Campbell

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Student Led

“Our libraries need to be steeped in equity, be actively antiracist, and be places of joy for our students,” says school librarian Julie Stivers, who aims to “leverage students’ experience, perspective, and wisdom.” When Stivers started at Mount Vernon Middle School in Raleigh, NC, four years ago, she committed to a major overhaul of her library’s collections and spaces to reflect her students and their experiences better. One statistic illustrates her impact: “After my first year, circulation had increased 150 percent,” she says. Another is the development of Five Key Foundations for Building Inclusive Libraries, or #LibFive, student-led training for librarians created in collaboration with three of her students on how to forge more inclusive libraries, collections, and instruction.

“[The students and I] began with…research that found that many students of color felt like outsiders in their libraries and that it often seemed like a place that was ‘owned’ by the librarian,” Stivers wrote in a Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) blog post following the LibFive presentation at the YALSA President’s Program in 2018. “The students then embarked on their own action-based research. They conducted library walks. They thought about the libraries at their former schools and their [history] there. We brainstormed about what makes a library feel welcoming. We spoke to other students about their library experiences.” The end result is a list of student-centered recommendations.

In 2016, Stivers organized a now-annual event she calls the #TrueBookFAIRS. Students leave with two books of their choice, but unlike traditional book fairs, the library does not collect any money. “I purchase books [for the fair] that are reflective of my students, their [histories], and their interests,” she says, including #ownvoices titles. “To celebrate family reading, I make additional purchases of picture books, board books, and early chapter books to allow students to gift reading material to their younger family members.” As a result, the students at Stivers’s school are “rewriting their school stories into those of empowerment, amplified voice, and academic/social success,” regardless of their family’s financial background, she says.

“The work she’s doing is both innovative and pragmatic,” says Allie Stevens, director at Calhoun County Library, AR, and Stivers’s 2018 ALA Emerging Leader team member, “useful to and replicable by school and public librarians across the country to create more inclusive, welcoming environments for students of color.”

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