I learned about the concept of a diversity audit from a School Library Journal article by Karen Jensen. In a diversity audit, you evaluate an existing collection or service provided by your library to get hard numbers on how diverse your collection or service truly is. This can cover anything from seeing what percentage of your board books feature non-white characters, to how many LGBTQ+ titles are written by Own Voices authors, or evaluating the performers you’ve hired over the last year to see if they are representing diverse cultures.
Last year, I performed a diversity audit on a special collection of books in my library: our Booklegger collection. This collection consists of books for grades K-5 that staff and volunteers take on school visits to book talk. We have about 150 titles in this collection, with 5-10 copies of each title. When I started my position, I chose to start my diversity audit with this collection because it’s highly used, and something we take directly out to the community.
Here’s how I did it:
Step One: Research the Community
I used census data and other statistical information to get a good picture on the populations in my K-5 community. Using tools like the U.S. Census Bureau, I learned a lot about the racial breakdown of my community. Around 30% of my area’s children aged 5-12 identify as white, followed by around 25% identifying as Asian, 20% as Latinx, 15% as mixed race, and 7% as Black. Please note – even if my area’s population was not this diverse, it would still be incredibly important for our collection to be diverse. All children need to see diversity in their stories.
Step Two: Data, Data, Data
Next, I surveyed my collection, going through every book we bring to schools and charting the characters. I looked at whether they were human or animal, and whether they were clearly depicted as belonging to a particular race or ethnicity. I also charted LGBTQ+ characters, neuroatypical characters, and characters with disabilities. Then, I went back and did it all again for the writers and illustrators.
Step Three: Compare your Data Sets
I discovered with alarm that although only 30% of our community’s children were white, more than 60% of our books in this collection featured white main characters. The next largest percentage? Books about non-human characters like animals and robots. We needed to improve our collection, quickly.
Step Four: Getting the Gate-Keepers on Board
Now that I knew how biased our collection was, I needed to get two groups of people on board to fix it. The first was my manager – as the one in charge of our budgeting, I needed her support to fund a revamped collection. The second group I needed to get on board was my volunteers who go out to the schools to do book talks. I needed to convince them to stop sharing some of their favorite books in order to make room for new, diverse ones. I gave them a presentation, complete with pie charts, to show them why we desperately needed this change. We talked about the famous “windows and mirrors” analogy, and I talked about my own unconscious bias as a white person. I also revamped my training class for new volunteers and staff, so that we could spend a week devoted to diversity.
Step Five: Get New Books!
No surprise, this was the best part. I researched all kinds of diverse books, and got kids, staff, and volunteers to test-read them for me. For each book, I looked for reviews that were written by a member of that culture or identity – I wanted to know if someone on the autism spectrum would find fault with the representation of an autistic character, for example. I used resources like We Need Diverse Books, American Indians in Children’s Literature, and ALSC’s own lists of Notable books and award winners. I took notes on what my test-readers had to say, and then I put in a request for a cart full of new books.
After all that, was everything fixed? No, of course not. Although we had increased diversity in one collection, it was just one collection. Every other collection needs to be addressed, as well. There are also areas outside our collection that need work – from diversifying our volunteers, to our performers, to the selection of books we put on face-out displays. However, every step we take inches us towards truly representing and supporting our entire community.
Today’s guest blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey is a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee and is currently a children’s librarian at the Castro Valley Branch of the Alameda County Library.
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group, IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials, and V. Outreach and Advocacy