Does your library have difficulty obtaining diverse materials for your children’s collections? Don’t even know where to look? Help is at hand.
Take a look at Our Voices, a new initiative launched just last month with the goal of helping libraries identify and purchase diverse materials for their collections. Our Voices is a joint effort between ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and the Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services.
Most children’s librarians today understand and support the critical need to provide diverse materials for our young patrons. In 2014, ALSC adopted a White Paper by Jamie Campbell Naidoo, PhD., “The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Materials Collections for Children” (April 5, 2014). In it, Naidoo explains that everything about how a person lives and interacts in the world is part of a person’s culture, including ethnicity, race, ancestry, ability, sexual orientation, language fluency, citizenship status, religious preference, age, gender expression, education level, domicile and family composition. (Naidoo, p. 2). The concept of “culture”, then, is multi-faceted. When children see aspects of their own culture reflected in the materials they access, it helps them develop a positive self-image. In addition, encountering cultures other than one’s own in library materials helps children to develop empathy and an appreciation for our diverse world.
Yet, culturally diverse materials can be difficult for libraries to procure in sufficient quantities. The number of diverse books and the percentage of “diverse” authors available through mainstream publishers are both relatively low. (Refer to Lee & Low Books for details.) And, given that cultural diversity encompasses more than race and ethnicity, it is likely that some types of diverse materials, such as those concerning gender identity, may have a harder time making it onto library shelves under the best of circumstances. Because of these discrepancies, a child’s freedom to read diverse materials, in any of its myriad aspects, may be at risk.
According to Our Voices, independent and self-published authors are producing quality, diverse materials, but, due to public and school libraries’ heavy reliance on established publishing companies, their work goes unnoticed. Our Voices intends to identify those diverse content creators, develop collections of reviewed, diverse, quality content, and make those collections available to libraries. Initially, the project will be centered in Chicago, with plans to expand.
Meanwhile, to show support for Our Voices, please “Take the Pledge” at http://ourvoiceschicago.ala.org/the-pledge/ to seek out, purchase and promote diverse materials and their authors. Be an advocate for a child’s right to read diverse materials!
Betsy Brainerd is an Early Literacy Librarian for the Arapahoe Libraries in Centennial, Colorado and a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.