Serving marginalized and underserved communities is multi-pronged. One prong is through a literary perspective where collections reflect the communities we are trying to serve, whether they step foot into the library or not.
Diversity audits. We know them; we respect the reasons for them. And the very thought of them is almost debilitating. A diversity audit is a count of titles to see what percentage of your collection is what. What percentage of your collection features white cis protagonists? What percentage of the collections features people who are a member of the LGBTQIA+ community or portrays body neutrality? Auditing your collection can provide great data to help you answer questions like, “What percentage of my collection features characters who are Native/ First Nation/ Indigenous?” A deeper audit may answer the question, “What percentage of my collection features characters who are native that aren’t historical?”
To collect this information, many libraries create spreadsheets or audit templates with the various criteria they plan to audit for. They then go through each title in their collection identifying where it fits.
You may be looking at your collection right now panicking and wondering how you’re supposed to audit thousands of books.
Here are some helpful tips:
Phone a friend
Collections audits are the perfect opportunity to utilize staff assistance. Divide the collection into sections and assign them to coworkers, pages, and even trusted library volunteers. Break up the work so it not only feels more manageable, but it is more manageable. If everyone works from a shared document or Google Drive, the librarian leading the audit will always remain up to date.
Use a collection management schedule
One benefit of a schedule is that it cuts large projects down into manageable pieces. The idea of auditing 5,000 picture books is overwhelming. Auditing picture books with authors whose last names begin with the letters A-B during the month of January, may be more attainable.
Audit your carts
When you sit down at your computer to order new titles there is always something that draws you to one title as opposed to another. It may be the starred review in a journal, a buzz on social media, or multiple positive blog posts by readers and other librarians. Just before pressing the button to place your order, audit your cart. How many titles in your cart feature cis white characters? How many feature characters with a disability? If we are more cognizant of, and intentional with, the titles we place on our shelves, and if we have a robust weeding schedule, the collection will audit itself.
It took years for our collections to perpetuate such inequality. We can’t fix this overnight. Take your time, one foot in front of the other, and by doing the work, you are doing the work.
Kymberlee Powe is the Children/ YA Consultant at the Connecticut State Library. The opinions in this article are her own.
Featured image credit: “Paranoia” by katie weilbacher via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]