Diverse Books Support Intellectual Freedom

If you look at ALA’s definition of intellectual freedom, which mentions seeking “information from all points of view” and access to “any and all sides of a question, cause, or movement,” you can see how diverse books support intellectual freedom.

“Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause, or movement may be explored.”

American Library Association

Readers need books to help them understand points of view and experiences outside of their own. But what is a trusted, expert resource for diverse book lists? How do we get those titles into the hands of our readers? How do we make the case for diverse reading experiences with caregivers who might disagree?

A Trusted ALSC Resource

The collection of lists produced by ALSC’s Quicklists Consulting Committee is an excellent source for professionally vetted title recommendations. Established in 1978, the committee’s mission is: To serve as consultants and to promote books and other resources through recommendations, compilation of lists, and related services for mass media, individuals, and institutions/organizations involved in the production of programs, films, and other materials/services for children.

Seventeen ALSC members comprise this committee, with two members bilingual in  Spanish/English. The group produces lists of books and resources on a variety of themes as requested by ALA or other national agencies. Their 2021 Summer Reading lists are available online right now, with the full-color, graphic version coming later this month.

As a former Committee member, Marybeth can attest that the selection process takes many factors into consideration:

  • titles should be widely available (checked in WorldCat)
  • BIPOC authors and characters are represented
  •  fiction and nonfiction titles are included
  •  new releases are preferred

Most of the committee’s lists also have concise, attention-getting annotations. The Summer Reading lists for this year have a wonderful range of cultures and experience depicted – a chance for all young readers to peek into a life that’s different from their own.

Talking Points

Having a professionally vetted list of diverse titles may not be enough incentive for families to engage in reading about experiences beyond their own. Here are some talking points that might be helpful in starting a dialog with parents and caregivers.

  • Diverse books dispel stereotypes, providing a broad cultural perspective
  • Reading multiple diverse titles demonstrates that there’s no one story that represents BIPOC experiences
  • Many of the titles on “diversity” booklists describe contemporary views and situations, making them more relatable to today’s readers
  • Whatever the background of a book’s characters, good children’s books depict universal values to which everyone can relate.

In these conversations, offer validation and reassurance: readers have the ultimate power to choose. Any list is merely a suggestion, a starting point, a hint of the wide variety of titles that are available.  Readers are merely “trying on” a book; if they’re not enjoying it, they may pick another title. Encourage readers to try a new author or genre.

Local librarians can recommend books based on a patron’s personal interests and preferences. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of our job: finding the right book for the right person while fostering relationships that keep patrons coming back.

Logo for The Conscious Child program

A Little Help from our Friends

Facilitating family conversations about ideas like racial equity and justice can seem like heavy lifting. It’s exciting to find resources that can help. Led by Caitlin Campbell, a team at the Oxford Lane Library in Ohio has developed The Conscious Child. Their program provides kits for families with:

  • selected books on a theme –“Identity and Belonging” or “Joy and Self-Love,” for example – with discussion guides
  • recommended reading lists
  • materials for 2 groups- ages 4-7 and 8-10

These resources have been generously shared for anyone to use and adapt. They may inspire you to create more of your own! Shared ideas and open discussion build connections and create community. It’s what we do, and it’s at the heart of intellectual freedom.

Marybeth Kozikowski is a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee and works as a Librarian II, Children’s Services at Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY. Liz Hartnett is Program Coordinator at the South Carolina Center for Community Literacy and co-chair of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. Please note that as a guest post, the views here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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