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Andy Lippman: Librarian Brings Fresh Approach to Black History

Bre Taylor brings a unique perspective to Black History Month, which runs through the end of February.
Taylor, who uses the pronoun they, became the full-time children’s librarian at the South Pasadena Public Library in December, and they remember what it was like being a Black child searching for someone in a book that looked like they did.
“I didn’t have that growing up as a child,” said Taylor. “I spent a lot of time as a child searching for people who looked like me in books and seeing how my identity fit in with what I saw around me.”
Taylor said that they did not read a book as a child where the hero was a person of color. That absence, Taylor said, was internalized by the youngsters of color in their generation.
“It shaped me in a negative way,” they said. “I didn’t feel confident in myself. I wanted to change who I was.
“People of color experience the world in different ways,” they said. “You have heroes in books and TV (who have different ethnicities), but growing up, we didn’t have black heroes. People of color seemed to be perpetuating stereotypes.”
Black History Month highlights Black achievements and victories, they said, but people shouldn’t be consuming Black media only during this month.
“We should all constantly seek to understand more about each other throughout the year,” Taylor said. “We shouldn’t wait for heritage months to push us to do so. Take the time to do it throughout the year.
“The best way people can learn about living life as a Black person is by reading books about Black people that are written by Black people, and by believing us when we tell you our experiences, even if it alters your world view.”
White children should read books about Black people that are written by Black people, and the same goes for children and adults who are searching to understand the experiences of any ethnicity, Taylor said.
They had the same advice for parents — both Black and white — who are looking to help their children understand the Black experience.
“Seek out art, literature, music — anything created by someone who shares the experiences of those they’re writing about. Let people tell you about their experiences, and listen to them when they do,” they said.
Taylor grew up in Whittier, where the only Black people they really knew was their immediate family. Most of the students they went to school with looked different than them.
“It shaped me in a negative way,” they said. “I did not feel confident in myself. It made me want to change who I was.”
Taylor admitted that when they were young, they did not even like to read very much and preferred to watch television.
“My dad took me to the library and after a certain point, I thought ‘Oh, this is something I like to do,’” Taylor said.
“I realized that you could go on adventures in these books, so, I developed a love of books.”
Taylor said that another thing that bothered them was the feeling that people were being mean to them.
“I felt like I was wrong or different and had to change myself to fit in,” they said. “I went to mostly white public school and felt that that people didn’t understand me. People can be mean.”
That feeling of being different extended to the library.
“I felt librarians growing up were not very kind to me. I didn’t feel comfortable,” they said. “It’s not like that now. There’s a value on patrons and on kids, and there is a value on kids over books. There is a belief now looking at people being people and wanting to help them.”
Taylor came to the South Pasadena Public Library with experience working with children. After attending Mills College, they got a master’s degree in library science at the University of Washington. They then became librarian at a private school in Seattle, where they saw all the students in the school at some point during the week.
“At the private school I got to know the kids. It helped to know what they liked and how they liked to be talked to and treated,” they said.
“Playing with my nieces made me appreciate kids in a way I didn’t expect. I’ve always liked kids and appreciate how smart they are. They have so much to say and so much to give and teach us.”
Taylor loves getting children to like reading.
“I love to find a book that opens their eyes and helps them find joy in reading,” they said.
Video games, they said, have influenced a lot of reading. They said that books about pop culture play an important starting point in getting children to begin a delight in opening books and then hopefully branching out in search of other areas of interest.
Books in the children’s department deal with harder topics than when some of us went to school.
“Children’s books sometimes deal with heavier topics and I appreciate that too,” Taylor said. “Instead of just telling a story, authors now often enlighten kids and help them better understand themselves.”
Taylor likes to recommend picture books, written by Black authors and she enjoys presenting options both about Black history, and also fantasy books that might appeal to children.
It’s not only children who can learn about the Black experience by looking in the children’s department. I did a talk to Mary Bart’s ESL class at the library recently and they wanted me to talk about Maya Angelo, the noted Black novelist and poet.
Much of the material I found came from asking a children’s librarian about where I could find books on the author. Of course, I also found novels and poetry in the adult collection, which also has been expanded to better reflect a diverse community.
Taylor noted too that non-English speaking adults can come into the children’s department and find both picture books and other materials that can help them learn a new language.
Taylor said that a unique part of their job is being a role model for all students.
“Kids of color see me and say ‘I look like this’ and they can better believe in themselves and follow their dreams.
“In Seattle, I had conversations with Black kids who told me ‘I am so glad that you are here. I can share my life, and you get it.’ It made me really happy when they did it. You can provide them with some kind of comfort,” Taylor said.

First published in the February 23 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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