Jennifer Crow has taken over as Librarian at the Arne Nixon Center in the Henry Madden Library at Fresno State, after Angelica Carpenter retired. I visited her to speak about the Student Empowerment Project. The Project, in its infant stages, hopes to get LGBT books, along with speakers and video presentations into all local high schools.
Chris Jarvis: Can you give me an overview of what the Student Empowerment Project is all about?
Jennifer Crow: Let’s start from the beginning. We acquired about 500 LGBT themed books , which are now here in the library. Anyone can use them, but because we’re a special collection, they don’t get checked out. So they’re not very accessible to a lot of people who could best use them, primarily high school students.
CJ: So what prompted the idea of the Student Empowerment Project was to get LGBT books out of the closet, so to speak, and into the hands of students?
JC: Right. These will be here, they’re not censored, they’ll always be here. They’re an archive. But we would like to reach out and share these books with people in the 16 metropolitan high schools. Fresno Unified, Clovis Unified and Central Unified. What we’d like to do is to place the 20 best books that we choose in the schools.
CJ: And how will you choose the books?
JC: Experts in the field will help us choose them. People like Michael Cart and KT Horning, who were two of the original donors. So we, along with the experts will choose the books to place in the schools.
CJ: Will those books be coming from your collection?
JC: They won’t actually be coming from our collection. We plan to raise the money to purchase the books we want to place in the school libraries. We’re also going to be working with the schools to make sure we’re not just leaving books there. We want to involve their GSA’s if they have a GSA, and certainly librarians and counselors. Our plan is to let the GSA’s choose another 20 books, all titles that we own as well.
CJ: So you’ll provide a list and students can pick 20 from there as well.
JC: Or if they have a book they love and they’ve read and they say they’d like to have that in the library, we can do that as well. It’s really important to have the students have some say about what goes into their library.
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CJ: From reading your material, you have plans besides just the books, don’t you?.
JC: Yes. We have a speaker, Lee Wind, from down in the Los Angeles area. He has a blog titled LeeWind.org – I’m Here, I’m Queer What the Hell Do I Read?. He’s also an expert in young adult literature. He does speaking engagements and we’d like him to come and speak to the schools. He talks about prejudice, homophobia and misogyny. Then kind of the flip side of that, he talks about respect and caring, so that they get both sides. I think it’s important that the donation and presentation go together so that you can get some consciousness raising.
CJ: So you don’t just throw books at the schools and walk way. You incorporate it into an entire educational process.
JC: Right. And with the SB 48 – the FAIR Education Act , I think schools are worried about how they’re going to handle it.
CJ: In fact, I just read an article in the Sacramento Bee about SB 48 and it seems schools may not even begin to see the influence of the law until around 2015, because the state is not providing the schools with the tools they need to fulfill the requirement.
JC: And I think resources like ours are helpful. We have a bibliography on our website that lists all the books in our collection. So if someone is creative and innovative they can choose books out of that list to use in their classrooms. In fact I think someone told me that an English teacher was using one of the books we have in our collection, Luna, in their class. So even though the textbooks aren’t written, there are ways to find materials.
CJ: You’re also going to include video presentations in the project?
JC: That’s another component to this proposal. We’re looking at a traveling exhibition. The exhibition would actually feature the books, along with perhaps photographs and reviews, which go with the book. Then along with that would be video clips. We’re looking at getting some prominent people to be able to talk about the book. How did this book effect my life? Their comments on the book. We’d like to get three video clips for each book. I think kids are really tuned into videos, YouTube kind of things.
CJ: So the first step would be to get professional and student input as to the books to be added, then get the books into the schools and follow it up with speakers and videos.
JC: Yes, the exhibition would travel to the schools as well as public libraries.
CJ: Are the schools receptive to this?
JC: Well, we’re just starting this up. I want to talk to the GSA’s and advisors first, and kind of work through them to see how the climate is in the schools before we approach the administration. We do need to do some work with them and diminish any fears they may have about it.
CJ: Was this meant to be a direct tie in with SB 48?
JC: The impetus actually came from us wanting to get our collection out there. It’s an ambitious project. The fourth thing we’d like to do is set up a monitored, interactive website where kids can upload their own videos talking about the books. We’ll also host the videos that we make for the traveling exhibit on this website.
CJ: So you have a timeframe for the project?
JC: Right now it’s still a working proposal. We’re working through details and organizing.
CJ: With a total project cost of around $65,000.00. So how do people get involved, and more specifically, donate to the project?
JC: We have started collecting donations. People can contact us here at the Arne Nixon Center. Fresno State has a place where you can donate online, but for it to be set aside for this project people have to specify where they’d like their money to go. So they could specify the Student Empowerment Project at the Arne Nixon Center.
CJ: Are you looking for donations of books or just monetary?
JC: Just monetary at this point.
Support the Arne Nixon Center…
By joining ANCA, the Arne Nixon Center Advocates, by giving gift memberships, by making a monetary donation, by including the Arne Nixon Center in your will, by attending the Center’s conferences and programs, by volunteering, and by helping the Center to reach others who may have an interest in children’s and young adult literature.
To make a donation specific to the Student Empowerment Project please contact Jennifer Crow at [email protected]
Arne Nixon Center
Henry Madden Library
California State University, Fresno
5200 North Barton Ave M/S ML34
Fresno, CA 93740-8014
E-mail: [email protected]