3.1 Promoting Equity

“It’s not that I think people who are wealthy don’t deserve library services, but I think that part of our mission is to bring them… fairly to everyone, which doesn’t always mean exactly equal.”

— Youth Services Librarian at a Southern Suburban Library

Success does not, and should not, look the same for every learner. The traditional model of success is to excel in the educational pipeline (the more well-funded the schools, the better), bolstered with as many extra-curricular enrichment activities as parents can afford, then proceeding to a four-year university (perhaps aided by a legacy preference), after which the learner obtains a high-paying job or goes on to earn a professional degree (like a J.D. or M.D.).

There are three main problems with this model. First, there can be multiple pathways to this definition of success. Learners may not go straight to a four-year university after high school; they may take a few years to work and save up money or they may enter a community college first. Maybe a student was homeschooled, or attended a poorly-funded school but had a great STEM mentor. Informal learning experiences, relationships with professionals, and a learner’s sense of identity all play a role in the formation of a career path.1 Connected learning helps provide or enhance these alternate pathways to success.

Secondly, this definition of success–a white collar job after a four-year degree–is not the only definition. Connected learning promotes equity by supporting and celebrating different avenues for success based on learners’ interests and skills, recognizing that, depending on their life goals, a high school graduate with strong 21st century skills who has already gained experience and recognition in the field of their choice is not less successful than a student on their way to an Ivy.

Finally, the traditional model simply isn’t available to all youth. Many learners are in underfunded schools and are not enrolled in the enrichment activities associated with academic success. Parental spending on enrichment activities has steadily climbed since 1976 for families in the top income quintile, but remained about the same for families in the lowest income quintile.2 Through connected learning, a library can provide enrichment and mentorship to youth who would not have them otherwise.

What is your library already doing to promote equity and 21st century skills? How can connected learning help? State a concrete action you will take to promote equity inspired by connected learning.

1: Pathways to Science and Engineering Careers: Variation Within and Across Paths. By K. Harris, E. Greenwald, and M. Cannady, 2012.

2: Mimi Ito - Connected Learning. 21st Century Learning International, 2016.