“Rock Stars” in the Kid Lit Patriarchy

By now, many of you will probably have read the WSJ article about school librarians. Correction: white male school librarians. You’ve probably also seen—and hopefully participated in—book Twitter’s rage about the deliberate erasure of female voices (not to mention voices of color). If so, good. If not, you have work to do.* I’m angry, too. Me, a cis white male, who has been called a “rock star,” “amazing,” or (my favorite) “brave” because I am male in a female-dominated profession. Yes, I’m privileged. But I’m still angry.

I love John Schu, Travis Jonker, Colby Sharp, Matthew Winner—the “rock stars”—because they make me feel like I have a place in this field. But that is exactly why the conversation about who gets to be a rock star and who doesn’t is so important. The field of children’s librarianship and indeed children’s literature is steeped in patriarchy and white supremacy. SMNTY did an amazing two-part series on the feminization of librarianship that should be required listening for everyone. As it reveals, the idea of librarianship as “women’s work” can be attributed to Melvil Dewey. Dewey promoted librarianship among women because they “didn’t cause trouble” (he also groped and kissed his female students). But lady librarians are not meek pushovers, shuffling around in cardigans: they are activists who advocate for all of their patrons every day. They are rock stars. Our field is full of female rockstars. Let’s celebrate them.

Margaret Edwards. Clara Hunt. Augusta Baker. Anne Carroll Moore. Frances Jenkins Olcott. Effie Power.  Jean Roos. Caroline Hewins. Frances Clarke Sayers. Martha Caroline Pritchard. Mabel Williams. Charlemae Hill Rollins. Pura Belpré. Nancy Pearl. Carla Hayden.

I was drawn to this field not so that I could be a “rock star.”. Rather, I was drawn here because of all the kick-ass female mentors and colleagues in my life whom I respect, admire and love. There is room in this field for all of us, and we all deserve to be celebrated. But we need to make a conscious effort to change the narrative perpetuated by articles that leave out our history, our diversity, and our debt to movers and shakers who don’t fall into the cis white male mold. We need female librarians and librarians of color in the limelight. We have Dr. Hayden, sure, but there are so many others doing great work that the world needs to know about—not to mention the youth who, as I once did, will look at the profession to see themselves in it.

I want a field (and a body of literature and media) that is as diverse as the people we serve. Let’s keep fighting for that.

*If you’re new to all this, read the article first. Next I’d recommend this thread from Anne Ursu and, for context, Donalyn Miller’s comment on the article. Don’t read other comments unless you want to be exposed to hateful garbage.

 

 

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