Nina Lindsay is the current president of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of ALA, and is children’s services coordinator for Oakland (Calif.) Public Library, a 17-location urban library system. Here she speaks about how ALSC is working to support children’s librarians as they assist young people and their families in today’s complex political climate.

In light of confusing current events, which have been an additional catalyst for young people to seek information, it appears that the role of the children’s librarian has become even more important. Is that accurate, in your view?

I do think the role of librarians has become more important. We’ve always been at the forefront of helping young people access and evaluate information and resources as they are being taught in school, and by their caregivers to understand the world. But right now it is a challenge because the way in which people receive information is very different. It can be unmediated. We want to affirm our role as media mentors in general. There must be engagement with the caregiver in terms of all forms of media. It’s not just providing the right materials to the right person at the right time. Children need to engage with other people and adults around that media.

How is ALSC working with its members so that they can support students who have questions about things like “fake news”?

We understand that we have to respond quickly and nimbly as the landscape changes almost daily. Shortly after the election, we created a Google document titled “ALSC Supporting Librarians in a Post-election Environment.” It was facilitated by the ALSC Public Awareness Committee, and we are constantly mining resources and ideas from our members to add to that living resource document. And it’s viewable to all, not just our members.

On March 23, ALSC held our quarterly community forum for members, titled “Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship for Children in Libraries,” where we addressed the topic of fake news. We made this a collaborative forum with our partner division, the American Association of School Librarians, and had a great exchange on techniques for teaching media literacy with children in the library, working with classroom teachers, and negotiating the evolving landscape of information delivery. We’re so glad our colleagues at AASL responded to the invitation for collaboration: it was a richer discussion with them, and a great demonstration on how and why we need to work together, and outside our usual circles, at this time.

There is widespread concern about anti-immigrant sentiment and other divisive speech and rhetoric in the news now. Diversity—in our communities, country, and in children’s books—remains a topic of discussion. What are some of ALSC’s initiatives to address issues of diversity?

Within our online resource document, the first two links are booklists that ALSC created: the first list is titled “Unity, Kindness, and Peace,” and the second is “Working Together for Justice.” These were things we could do very quickly to help members in their efforts to demonstrate that the library is for everyone, and all are welcome. Libraries can promote diversity and inclusivity with their spaces, book displays, and signage, and many librarians have used the hashtag #librariansrespond to post photos of displays and signage they’ve created. These were some of the first things librarians were doing in the wake of the election.

Further down in our document, under “ALSC Archived Programs,” there are three programs from our recent institute that we decided to record and make available to everyone for free. Those programs are “Serving All Families in Your Library,” “Inclusive Library Collections and Programs for LGBTQ Families & Children,” “Why Is It So Difficult to Talk about Race, Culture, and Other Marginalizations in Children’s Literature?,” and “Passing the Mic: Muslim Voices in Children’s Literature and Lessons Learned in the Pursuit of Equity and Inclusion.”

Diversity is a major focus of the new ALSC strategic plan that was released just a few weeks ago. Although we started on this plan before the election, we solicited additional member input through a special December community forum titled “Diversity, Inclusion, and Support for Youth” to ensure we finalized a plan that will support members and communities through the next several years.

We are looking inward to promote diversity within our ALSC membership and in children’s librarianship in general, and that includes offering training and development. The new plan calls out member development in cultural competency, in support of our guidebook, Core Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries. These competencies were revised in 2015 with a specific thread of diversity and inclusion throughout, as well as addressing the current landscape in libraries. Children’s librarians today are being called upon in these areas, and they can look to ALSC’s current and future online education opportunities for support.

What are some important trends in children’s librarianship right now?

One thing I’m seeing is that library staff across different age focuses are working together to strategize about how to best address the community’s needs. What’s happening in the world right now affects the entire family. How can we help children when so many of their caregivers have so many questions and immediate needs? There is a lot of fear in our communities right now. We see programs for the whole family, or program threads in which adult programs are connected with programs for children or have a clear follow-through for the family.

ALSC is also looking for what we can do in partnership with other organizations. We want to equip our members to better reach more children and their families. We’re collaborating with like-minded organizations such as the Association of Children’s Museums and New America, to jointly develop content, resources, and educational programs that can support a range of professionals and leverage our expertise.

ALSC is a member organization, but much of what we do is available to anyone. We encourage librarians to check out our site and to use the resources in our online document. We have an Education Committee that works hard to make sure our online learning and live webinar options are timely. The live webinars are free and open to all, and the archives are free to members and available for a small fee to nonmembers. And we are always sharing good ideas that we come across online via @wearealsc, our Twitter feed.