Librarian justified in rejection of book donation


Grammy nominees show improvement in award diversity

By Ariana Portalatin

A Cambridgeport Elementary School librarian in Massachusetts recently rejected a donation of 10 Dr. Seuss books from First Lady Melania Trump Sept. 26, sparking a debate on whether the rejection was justified. But the debate should do more than discuss the first lady and politics of education. It should start an important conversation on the lack of funding for libraries and schools across the country, leading to a growing absence of educational access.

Cambridgeport Elementary School was chosen to receive the donation Sept. 6 as a part of National Read a Book Day, for which the first lady sent 10 books to one school in every state. The school’s librarian, Liz Phipps Soeiro, defended her decision to reject the donation in the Horn Book’s Family Reading Blog, which was not previously approved by the school district but did raise good points as to why the rejection was justified. Soeiro claimed the school had enough resources and did not need the books like other schools did, particularly in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit suffering from the effects of expansion, privatization and school choice. She also criticized the books as “cliché” and “racist propaganda.”

“Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos?” the Sept. 26 blog post said. “Why not reflect on those ‘high standards of excellence’ beyond only what the numbers suggest? Secretary DeVos would do well to scaffold and lift schools instead of punishing them with closures and slashed budgets.”

While some who disagreed with Soeiro said the librarian should have just taken the books and donated them to a place in need, the point is she shouldn’t have to. According to the White House’s website, the schools were chosen with help from the Department of Education based on their “high standards of excellence” and recognition through state and national awards. Soeiro does identify an important flaw in the White House’s consideration. Schools that were chosen for books should have been those that needed them the most.

A March 16 press release from the American Library Association called President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate federal library funding in his 2018 fiscal year budget “counterproductive and short-sighted.” ALA President Julie Todaro said in the statement that funding for the library is used to provide multiple resources to the public, including assistance for veterans transitioning to civilian life, small businesses seeking to expand their business online, summer reading programs, resources for blind and hearing-impaired patrons and job skill preparations for youth.

Opponents think politics should be kept out of education, but the government’s job is to provide for the wellbeing of its people, and when the educational funding is continuously kept from those that need it the most, it becomes rightfully politicized.

Soeiro should not have just accepted the gift and said thank you because doing so would fail to acknowledge the shortfalls our educational systems face and would only contribute to the persistent problem. If standing up for the rights of others is “rude” or “disrespectful,” then so be it. And if the first lady truly believes education is an important and beneficial opportunity to be taken advantage of as she says, she should work to provide that opportunity to every school nationwide, not simply those that have already set the bar for excellence.