NHR 2021 Summer Lecture Series

Staff members and volunteers strive to fulfill the mission of New Haven Reads by spreading the joy and power of reading every single day. The New Haven Reads Summer Lecture Series, which began last summer and continued this year, presents an opportunity for staff, volunteers, and attendees to consider this mission in a broader context of literacy access and equity. 

In our first lecture, “Three Ways of Looking at the Free Library,” New York City based architects David Leven and Stella Betts discussed the history and function of the free library: its role as a civic building and its impact on the community, how it is environmentally situated and architecturally structured, as well as the books and various programs and gatherings that are held within it. The two discussed the evolution of libraries from sites utilized primarily by the elite for collegiate purposes to multifaceted resources for entire communities, a shift that Betts referred to as a “radical transformation.”

This summer’s second lecture featured Dr. Julie Washington, a Professor in the School of Education at the University of California – Irvine who studies the intersection of literacy, language variation, and poverty. Her presentation, “Using Culturally Relevant Reading Materials to Promote Interest in Reading Among Underserved Students,” focused mainly on how educators and tutors can help bridge the gap in reading achievement among African American, Hispanic, and Native American students by using texts that resonate with their own experiences and identities. Washington briefly explains the idea of “Mirrors and Windows”: the incorporation of culturally relevant reading materials that students can identify with, but also allows them to “transport themselves into different worlds.”

Washington emphasizes the importance of getting to know your students, demonstrating respect for differences, and using diverse teaching resources, while also noting a scarcity of diversity in existing children’s literary characters. She strongly recommends “Maya’s Book Nook” as a resource to search for culturally relevant reading materials. 

We at New Haven Reads hope that the 2021 Lecture Series serves as an opportunity for all of us to learn more about the accessibility of free libraries, books, and other related programs, as well as the importance of incorporating culturally relevant reading