Performative Allyship & Storytime

This is a post about “performative allyship,” a phrase that I’ve been hearing about a lot lately. You can read more about it here, or you could honestly just look it up on Twitter and see what all the people there have to say about it. As I understand it, performative allyship is a theatrical performance. It’s all show and no action. It’s saying you’re interested in a Black Lives Matter march on Facebook but not actually showing up. Or it’s saying Beyoncé deserved the Grammy instead of you but you still accept it.

Let’s translate performative allyship into library world. Here, performative allyship is buying diverse books but not booktalking them. It’s not putting diverse books on display. It’s not using diverse books in storytime. If I’m right, then, it’s time for a confession: I have been performing allyship in my work as a librarian. I try and booktalk diverse books and I try and put diverse books on display, but I don’t use diverse books in storytime…

In 2016, I led 7 storytimes and read 16 books*.

Of the 16 books:

  • was by a creator of color or another marginalized identity (6%)
  • 7 featured an all-white cast (44%)
  • featured an all-animal cast (38%)
  • featured characters of color or another marginalized identity (19%)

In January, the cool folks at Storytime Underground posted their Storytime for Social Justice Blog Challenge. The challenge: “Take a moment to think about what you can do to help teach empathy and inclusiveness in your programming, your displays, your space, your services.”  To start, I resolve to read at least one book featuring characters of color or another marginalized identity in every storytime I lead. I also resolve to actively seek out books by creators of color or other marginalized identities.

I will share the numbers again next year to hold me publicly accountable.

In the meantime, please share your favorite diverse books for toddlers and preschoolers in the comments below. I’ll start: Blocks by Irene Dickson. I’m reading this next week at storytime and I can’t wait to share! It’s a perfect story about problem-solving and friendship.

Image credit: Irene Dickson (Nosy Crow, 2016)

*I started my current job in June of last year, right smack in the middle of Summer Reading—a time when no programs are staff-led because we hire special presenters. I still find that disappointing, but I totally get why my library does it that way. Anyways, after attending a two-day training at the main library, I led my first storytime the following September. At my small branch, the presenters alternate each week between myself, two wonderful Library Assistant 3s, and monthly special presenters. I tell you this because, on average, I only lead 1 storytime a month (which, for the record, I also still find disappointing).



5 thoughts on “Performative Allyship & Storytime

  1. Favorite books: Charlie Parker Played Bebop by Chris Raschka (but only if you sing it), Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and R. Gregory Christie (likewise demands to be sung…I like singing books for storytime), Subway by Anastasia Suen, illustrated by Karen Katz, I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont and David Catrow, Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw, Peekaboo Bedtime by Rachel Isadora, If I Had a Raptor by George O’Connor (African-American).

    I have been keeping a list of Picture Books with Protagonists of Color on and of for a while now. These are just books that I have personally read and inclusion in the list is not an endorsement per se:

    I need to update my lists and start focusing more attention on #OwnVoices


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