Witnessing Community: Dias de los Muertos in the Library

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Some things we do as librarians take weeks, months, even a full year to prepare.  We set goals, execute action steps, undergo action research, and relentlessly search for collaborative opportunities with teachers and leaders.  These efforts result in varying degrees of success when measured by the impact they have directly on students.

Some things we do as librarians are unplanned for, spontaneous, and happen because we are in the right place at the right time–these are the things that often have the most impact on students.

A few weeks ago I was invited to a meeting with a department head and our principal to discuss ways we might highlight the innovation happening in our classes to celebrate the work of teachers and students.  This is my second year as librarian at my school after being a curriculum coordinator for three years in the district, and I’m aware that I am seen as a change-maker, an innovative teacher and leader.  I’m grateful that my leadership recognizes my strengths and invites me to such conversations.

At the end of this meeting as I stood up to leave, the department head asked to speak with my principal about a campus-wide event the Spanish Club wanted to sponsor for Day of the Dead.  I delayed and listened in the doorway.  As the sponsor described the cultural significance of Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and the ritual ofrenda (altar for memorial in honor of loved ones who passed away), I could start to picture it all happening as she described…in the library.

I apologized for eavesdropping and offered the library as a safe, nurturing environment for the ofrenda to be created.  We discussed inviting faculty members and students to leave notes and mementos in remembrance.  And that was the start of one of the most magical weeks I’ve had as a school librarian.


Spanish Club and art students collaborated to create the amazing decorations.  They colored sugar skulls, created skeletons, and turned the entrance to the library into a  bright and cheerful altar.  Electronic media students created original digital art that we displayed on the flat panel TV next to the ofrenda.


The Spanish teachers brought their students down for story time and to share stories of their loved ones.  Teachers stopped by to leave photographs and share stories, and for as many of them as I could I listened and witnessed their offering, crying with them as their hearts ached and laughing alongside them as they told their favorite stories.   On this day dedicated to celebrating the lives of the dead there was more life in the library than I’d ever witnessed.



A week after the celebration I was invited (once again by my principal—do you see a trend here?) to speak with her student executive council and provide updates about the library.  I took this as an opportunity to interview students about the environment of the library.  Using the new Texas School Library Standards, I wanted to gather feedback about the renovations and overall programming that has made an impact on their experience with the library.  When asked about programs that stood out in their minds as having promoted school community and culture, they all wanted to talk about Dias de los Muertos and the ofrenda.

My 30 second delay made more of an impact on students than some of the programs that took me 30 days to plan and put together.  The lesson here…listen and lean in when opportunities present themselves to you to build upon the rich cultural heritage and community of your school.  Being a witness has the greatest impact.