Creating Mirrors and Windows in the Community Through “Read Together Kits”


By: Alison Day, Programs, Outreach, Youth Services Manager, Monterey County Free Libraries

Monterey County Free Libraries’ (MCFL) mission is to bring ideas, inspiration, information and enjoyment to our community. One of our primary values is inclusion and we strive in all that we do to be inclusive of all individuals who live in our communities. Inspired by the “We Need Diverse Books” movement, and a desire to make sure that our customers see themselves represented in the materials they check out from the library, staff at MCFL have been working towards creating resources and collections that reflect our communities and the lively, rich, and creative individuals who make up our communities. For all our users, but especially our youngest, we want library materials and programs to be both mirrors that reflect their lives, which they can relate to, as well as windows into the wonderful and diverse world around them.

Read Together Kit

MCFL’s efforts in this mission started in 2016 when staff assisted with the creation of a booklist titled “Mirrors and Windows” put together by SPLAMBA (School and Public Librarians Association of the Monterey Bay Area). This booklist contained a variety of titles written in “own voices” and featuring diverse and inclusive characters and communities. SPLAMBA representatives Be Astengo (MCFL) and Susan Nilsson (Watsonville Public Library) went on to present this booklist and the thought process behind its creation at SPLAMBA’s annual workshop, Monterey Public Library’s Library Partners annual program and the California Library Association annual conference. These efforts, in turn, inspired MCFL Library Assistant II, Hillary Bussio, to request funds in order to update the materials on MCFL’s mobile outreach vehicle, the Reading Safari. Through Bussio’s efforts, the Reading Safari (which travels throughout Monterey County providing storytime literacy and science programming to underserved preschool students) underwent a complete transformation and now features a wide variety of up-to-date inclusive titles that enable visitors to the Reading Safari to see themselves, their families, their communities and their experiences reflected in the materials they check out and take home to enjoy.

While Bussio was inspired to update our mobile collection, Astengo and other members of MCFL staff found inspiration in the work of Sacramento Public Library (SPL) and their “Read Together Kits”. In August of 2019, after receiving a grant through the California State Library, MCFL replicated SPL’s efforts and launched our own series of “Read Together Kits”. These circulating storytime kits each contain 5-10 books featuring children and people from diverse backgrounds based on different themes. Themes include: animals, colors and shapes, community, counting, families, feelings, friendship, nature, school, and sound. There is also a bilingual kit focused on family and friends (familia y amigos) and a few all-Spanish kit are currently in the works. Kits are aimed at both preschool age, or Kindergarten through 3rd grade; however, readers and listeners of all ages will find the stories and themes engaging and enjoyable.

Kids reading from kit

In addition, each kit contains a storytime curriculum that offers suggestions for songs, finger plays and early learning ideas to provide inspiration for a full and rich storytime experience at home or in the library. Each kit contains a survey to be filled out by patrons or staff. Everyone who has completed a survey has “strongly agreed” that they would recommend the program to others. We know this satisfaction will continue into the future as we add more Spanish kits to our collection and update our “Mirrors and Windows” booklist to include exciting and new titles.