by Whitney Zahar, Senior Assistant, INALJ Pennsylvania
Librarians Against Bullying!
First, I want to open with a little personal story. During my elementary and middle school years back in the 80’s and 90’s, I was bullied frequently by my classmates. It was mostly emotional and psychological bullying; I was teased, ostracized, and manipulated for nearly 7 years. I’ll spare everyone the details, but suffice it to say, bullying left its mark on me, that I still deal with to this very day. And while I love my family, the few friends I had, the teachers, and anyone who tried to help and support me, bullying simply wasn’t viewed then the way it is today. No one really knew what to do to help me, and many times I had to face it all alone, while my friends stood by and let it happen.
However, there was something that saved me and set me on the path I’m on today. Yep, you guessed it: it was the library and the wonderful librarians at my middle school. During my lunch period, I would seek refuge in the school library, and the librarians got to know me and took me under their wing. They trained me as a library page, and they introduced me to reading more advanced material. They even saw how much I loved theatre and took me on a field trip with like-minded students to see a production of “Pippin.”
In addition, there was a branch of the public library located right across from the middle school. I would go there as often as possible to avoid riding the school bus, where it was really bad for me, and I would study, read, and write stories. I felt safe there, and I don’t think the public librarians had any idea how much that haven meant to me. Plus, the labyrinth of library shelves and tables and chairs tucked into little nooks made great places for me to hide!
More than my love for books, information, and all those wonderful things we love about libraries and information centers, the fact that such places and great librarians were around to serve as a refuge and as a place for me to develop creative outlets is the main reason why I have entered this field. And I know I’m not the only bullied kid, or adult, that has sought a library to be their safe place.
So, when I started library school back in 2012, I decided to write my first paper for my first core class on what librarians can do against bullying, beyond merely providing lists of books and resources to consult. While it’s a great thing to provide that information, I know there is more we can do. These ideas may target school and public librarians, but I think any librarian and information professional can be touched by bullying, and can make a difference by standing up for its prevention. I fully believe there are many things we can do.
• Set up a peer mentoring program: People are less likely to be bullied when they are with other people. Open a program for kids and teenagers to do homework, participate in activities with like-minded individuals, and spend time with each other. At some point, less confident individuals become more confident and may become mentors themselves.
• Have a movie or book club: Book and movie discussion groups are great opportunities for young people to connect with others with similar interests, who may not necessarily go to their school. As a librarian, you can even provide books that are uplifting, build self-esteem, or books about bullying. The School Library Journal has resources. You can also screen movies, such as the critically-acclaimed Bully. Students can also create music videos, games, and book trailers dealing with bullying, positive self-esteem, and empathy.
• Provide programming for kids, parents, teachers, and the community: Check out these two wonderful programs that were set up by librarians. The first is a magic show, and the second is a puppet show scripted and developed by a school librarian. You can also use plays, such as The Laramie Project based on the death of Matthew Shephard. The Ottawa Public Library is part of a coalition that provides resources and programming for parents and preschoolers against bullying. Another program is to invite students, teachers, and other speakers to perform presentations about bullying and standing up for others.
• Promote and implement guidelines dealing with cyberbullying and Internet safety: As librarians and information professionals, we can empower patrons and users to behave responsibly on the Internet. Implement clear guidelines regarding internet use and safety, and make sure parents, kids, and teachers know the guidelines well. Check out Cyberbullying.org and this article from YALSA for more information.
While these ideas are geared more towards public and school librarians, it is everyone’s responsibility to take a stand and help others, whether they are victims of bullying, the bullies, or bystanders who don’t know what to do. Also, don’t forget that bullying doesn’t always stop at childhood. Adults can be bullied in the workplace, as you can see in this article from the blog Librarian By Day.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. As librarians and information professionals, how do you plan to take a stand year-round?
Whitney Zahar is the Senior Assistant for Pennsylvania and an MLIS student at San Jose State University. Originally from Virginia, Whitney’s life has spanned Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., South Korea, and now Taiwan. Currently, she is an editor and writer for an ESL educational materials publishing house in Taipei, and she writes for GoOverseas.com. She’s also co-editor of her Student Chapter of the SLA’s newsletter. When she has spare time, she read, studies Chinese, does yoga, and raises a beautiful, bilingual son. Connect with her on LinkedIn!