ASU Library Featured Collection: Empathy Through Literacy
By: Shari Laster, Head of Open Stack Collections, ASU Library (shari.laster@asu.edu)
Posted: 05/26/2021 

At ASU Library, we are working toward a future where our collections in all forms can inspire and engage the many communities we serve. As part of the “Future of Print” initiative that began in 2018, we have created new methods and approaches to collaboratively curating inclusive print collections. 

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When we learned about the Empathy Through Literacy Project, we immediately saw the connection with our work. The books featured in this project center the experiences of children who are affected by incarceration, and help the adults in their lives find words and examples that will resonate with their thoughts, feelings, and reactions. These books also help readers who are not directly impacted by incarceration to consider the perspectives of those who are; and can validate the experiences of adults who have similar memories from their childhood. 

 Some people might be surprised to learn that ASU Library collects children’s books! Our Children’s & Young Adult Literature Collections supports teaching and research in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and related fields. We know that these curriculum collections are of interest beyond academic needs, too. Many students are parents or caregivers for children, as are staff, faculty, and community visitors. 

As part of the Future of Print initiative, we began to partner with faculty in 2019 to create collections that reflected the reading lists for courses taught in the newly-reopened Hayden Library’s concourse-level classrooms. The books selected for one of these classes, now part of the “Language Methods & Assessment” (EED433) collection, reflect the course taught by Professor Katherine Morris. This collection provides future teachers with resources for enhancing their understanding of contemporary curriculum development and familiarity with a variety of content that addresses critical perspectives in education. The materials reflect a rich range of cultures and perspectives and can be used to facilitate meaningful conversation in the classroom. We found that many of those who explored this collection were not students enrolled in the course; they responded to the variety of voices and perspectives reflected in these books. This featured collection remains on display, now in the Hayden Library second-floor lounge. 

Adding the Empathy to Literacy Project to our collections is, therefore, an obvious fit. Based on the original book list for the core collections, and a supplemental list developed by Center for Child Well-Being, ASU Library has created a featured collection that will help extend the reach of this program to ASU affiliates who are using our facilities and onsite services. We already had 10 of the listed books in our collections, and we were able to acquire an additional 59 volumes to complete this display. These new acquisitions add to the richness and inclusiveness of our holdings, and we are grateful to the project organizers for sharing their expertise with us. 

The display is currently featured in the Noble Library to raise awareness of the Empathy Through Literacy Project and the National Children of Incarcerated Parents Conference. All of the books can be checked out, and will remain part of our circulating collections after the exhibit, so they can be browsed on our shelves for many years to come.