ALASC Wins Grant to Develop Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Programming
Book Event was a ‘Great Success’


A lot of unseen work goes into every student-created event at the San José State University School of Information; the recent book giveaway and virtual book circle organized by the American Library Association Student Chapter is a case in point. From a fortuitous discovery at the American Library Association’s summer 2020 conference to a post-event reflection video, the ALASC’s executive board brainstormed, applied for funding, and juggled the logistics needed to implement their vision.

“At the beginning of the year we talk about what are we trying to accomplish, what do we want to do,” says Kelli Roisman, the ALASC’s event coordinator. In the fall of 2020, spurred by current events, the group’s executive board decided to use their programming to address issues of equity and diversity. But what form would the programming take?

ALASC Event AnnoucementDebbie Faires, then ALASC’s faculty advisor, alerted the ALASC leadership team to a funding program offered by the university that provides support to the more than 450 recognized student groups. After a lot of “creative thinking” says Roisman, the team decided to propose a book giveaway followed by a virtual book circle and chose UK-based performance poet Sophia Thakur’s first book of poetry, Somebody Give This Heart a Pen (Candlewick, 2020), for the project.

Thakur was a featured speaker at the ALA’s virtual conference in June of 2020, and members of the ALASC’s executive board heard her read her work there. “I loved the presentation,” says Liza Schlosser-Olroyd, ALASC treasurer, adding, “It was very moving.” Thakur’s work confronts racial and social injustice and the poems in her new book explore issues of “identity, difference, perseverance, relationships, fear, loss, and joy,” according to the publisher’s description.

ALASC board members were able to participate in the conference thanks to the travel grants, which support students to attend professional conferences. Roisman points out that because the only cost for the ALA’s virtual event was registration, every member of the executive board, past and present, was able to attend.

The group submitted their funding application to the university in mid-October of 2020. Chair Natasha Finnegan led the project, Schlosser-Olroyd pulled together the documentation, and Roisman contributed skills she’d acquired in a grant-writing class offered in the Master of Library and Information Science program and taught by Patty Wong, the current president of the American Library Association. “This is such a great opportunity for our student chapter to fulfill our commitment to advance equity, diversity and inclusion in our profession and in the communities we serve,” the ALASC team wrote in the grant request.

The ALASC received the entire $2,000 amount they’d requested. Treasurer Schlosser-Olroyd managed the disbursement of the funds, which were spent entirely on purchasing 108 copies of Thakur’s book. The group gave away the copies of Somebody Give This Heart a Pen during Black History Month in February 2021. Roisman created a Google form and publicized the giveaway using the iSchool’s student email system and social media channels. She also reached out to other student groups asking them to share the information with their members.

Screenshot of book circle participants

The virtual book circle followed on April 6, 2021, and was open to all iSchool students, regardless of whether they’d received a book. Organizers introduced the material and shared a video of Thakur performing. The Zoom event used breakout sessions of four to five people to foster the kind of discussion that happens at an intimate book club. Participants were encouraged to pick a favorite poem and discuss why they connected with that piece.

“It was a great success,” says Roisman, noting that the event succeeded in its goal of fostering connection and empathy: “Everyone drew a very personal connection with the poet and her poetry.” The event was useful for professional development, she points out, allowing students to develop their cultural competence. “Hopefully it sparked some motivation among the people who participated,” she says, stimulating participants to think about how they could make similar efforts in their current or future library jobs.

The success of the event inspired Roisman to take the extra step of creating a reflection video, collecting and curating participant responses to questions about the experience.

“I’m very proud of what we accomplished with this,” she says.