Blogger Abby Johnson

Advocating for Diverse Books

I went to a grown-up pre-conference at the 2022 PLA Conference: Actively Anti-Racist Service to Leisure Readers (check out our PLA 2022 live blogging here!). Many times when choosing conference sessions, I look for content specific to youth librarianship. It’s what I know, it’s what I do. But here’s your sign to look outside our youth librarian box now and then. Although the presenters, Robin Bradford, Alene Moroni, and Becky Spratford are experienced in adult services, everything they said translates easily to youth collections. I want to share my takeaways advocating for diverse books in your collections.

A stack of diverse books sits on top of a wooden bookshelf
Photo of diverse books in our collection by Abby Johnson

Diverse books are a way to see everyone in the world

The population you serve may be diverse or homogenous, but collecting diverse books should not depend on your demographics. Think about your travel section. Do you only collect travel books for places within an hour of your town? As Robin Bradford stated, “Diverse books are for everyone, all the time.” She also called attention to the danger of a single story. “Even if you have a large population of whoever, they’re not all the same.” Our collections need to go beyond a few token books.

Place the blame of low circulation where it lies

What are you doing to help your diverse books thrive in your collection? Are you including them in displays? Are you celebrating all entry points for your books? Remember that diverse books aren’t ONLY about the diverse characters. For example, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is about an African American family. It’s also a basketball book, a novel in verse, a story about siblings, and an award-winner. There are so many lists and displays that book could go on. Make sure you’re considering all your entry points for the diverse books you buy.

Make sure your displays and book lists are inclusive

Write a display procedure and include a goal for marginalized voices. The same goes for your book lists. If your theme is too narrow to include diverse books, consider whether it’s a theme you need. Can you broaden it to be more inclusive? And if you have old book lists that you don’t have time to redo yet, craft a statement that can go on the top. It can explain that these older lists do not reflect your current goals for an equitable, diverse, and inclusive library and point patrons to where they can find more inclusive suggestions in the meantime.

Some classics are problematic

We all know that some books deemed “classic literature” have problematic depictions of marginalized peoples. Consider creating a list of resources for addressing problematic issues in books and using a QR code on the book to point patrons to it. And get rid of the problematic Dr. Seuss books. If patrons are upset that your library no longer has them, use a less inflammatory example of how classics change all the time. When Pride and Prejudice was first published, it was dismissed as “chick lit”, but look at it now!

It’s not always easy; it’s still worth doing

Robin called on us to “abolish the expectation that it’s only worth doing if it’s easy to do”. Identify the gaps in your collection and do whatever you can to fill them. This might mean ordering paperbacks when you usually only order hardcovers. It might mean seeking out vendors and publishers you’re not yet familiar with. This is one reason I’m so glad that ALSC has started including the cultural awards in the annual Youth Media Awards announcements. Those awards have helped me discover smaller publishers that I need to be aware of. I’m so grateful to the work of these committees! So, while it might not always be easy, it’s worth the work to move your collection forward.

What else?

What other tips would you share for improving the inclusivity of your collection?

One comment

  1. Polly

    We actively buy and market diverse books, and they go out, and we’re getting rid of the old and better forgotten books by stealth. We weed them and don’t replace them, and usually by the time someone notices, it’s too late, because (as our policy states) we only buy books that are five or more years old if it’s a replacement or we feel there is a really compelling reason to have it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *