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Lake Oswego School District, mindful of gaps, adds diverse books to library collection

PMG PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Books about prominent female figures were displayed at River Grove Elementary Schools library for Womens History Month.The library at River Grove Elementary School has books on display for Black History Month and Women's History Month, but this isn't the only time of year you'll see diverse books front and center in Lake Oswego School District libraries.

For years, officials at the district have been asking questions like, "What does it mean to have an equitable library?" and "What exactly is a diverse book?" — questions they're still discovering the answers to today. PMG PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Books about prominent black figures were displayed at River Grove Elementary Schools library for Black History Month.

In 2018, while participating in a credential program with other LOSD staff, LOSD Librarian Miranda Doyle, along with a teacher, set out to create a resource of diverse books for teachers as part of a project — which resulted in the creation of a database.

The original thought was that it would be a useful resource for teachers wanting to expose their students to different cultures.

The resulting database showed Doyle where some holes were in the district's collection, holes that she wanted to fill. PMG PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Elementary schoolers can learn about Sonia Sotomayor in the library at River Grove.

She requested a grant from the district's office of Academic and Student Services, and for the last two years has received $1,000 per school for the purpose of adding more diverse books to the collection.

LOSD Director of Communications Mary Kay Larson said that the district plans to provide this grant for the coming year as well.

The district has also received donated books from different parent groups and LO for Love, an organization that works to foster community and inclusivity.

Doyle said the database isn't perfect.

"I just picked a few categories and some descriptors that are Library of Congress subject headings and grabbed a list of what we had in our catalog," Doyle said.

It doesn't include every category one might deem "diverse" and her criteria for including a book isn't strict. For example, not all books are written by authors from the marginalized communities they write about. But she said it's a good start.

She said the database aligns with the district's goal of diversity, equity and inclusion.

"One of the reasons that we need diverse books and that our teachers and myself — as one of now two district librarians — (are) really working hard to make sure that our collections are diverse, is that it's really important for students to see themselves in books," Doyle said.

"They see their own culture, their own challenges — they're finding that in the book."PMG PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Diverse books are displayed in the new books section of River Groves library.

She said it's equally important for students to be able to read about experiences unlike theirs to learn what it's like to be someone else.

"It's a really effective way to create empathy and to open minds," Doyle said. "I'm trying to make sure that I'm having a broad range of books, and I do notice some responding to that ... I have had students say, 'Oh, this character's from Puerto Rico. That's where my family's from.'So I've definitely noticed that."

Doyle is in the process of updating the list with books they've added to the collection in the last two years.

"I want to be able to say that we've focused on this. And we've improved — that maybe this is where some of the holes are in our collection that we need to look at moving forward," Doyle said.

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