Equity Through the School Library
Every child deserves to have characters that look like them.
There is a startling lack of diversity in children’s literature. School librarians around the country are hard at work trying to fix this problem and bring real diversity to their school’s collection.
The problem is alarming: only ten percent of all children’s books were written by or about people of color. For the past twenty years, the Children’s Cooperative Book Center (CCBC) in Madison, Wisconsin, has collected data about diversity in children’s literature. Sadly, the “10% of authors” statistic has stayed stagnant for the last two decades. Only recently, in 2015, did the numbers start to show improvement. The fact remains: the books that get published do not feature characters or authors that reflect the diverse fabric of our nation. This is problematic for all students. Students of color, who are differently-abled, who are LGBTQA+ don’t see themselves in stories. This can lead to disinterest in reading, a sense of marginalization, and worse. It is also detrimental that students who are white don’t read books with diverse characters. A lack of positive diverse characters is thought to lead to implicit bias and racial anxiety.
School librarians work to champion the diverse literature available. In a study done by School Library Journal in 2018, over 94% of school librarians responded that equity and diversity in their collection were an important or very important priority. Over two-thirds of respondents stated that they purchased more books with diverse characters than they had the year before. It’s clear that school librarians value diversity in their collection; let’s take a look at the work they are doing:
Equity Audits. School library collections are developed over years or decades. A school librarian cannot rely on his or her intentions alone when purchasing new materials to obtain a diverse collection. Many librarians are doing full equity audits, looking at the thousands of books they already have and checking for diverse authors and characters. This is done both by combing through the data in the online catalog and by analyzing the books themselves individually. This is a long task, but one well worth it. The results show school librarians what authors and characters are lacking, and where to begin their work to find a better balance.
Collection Development. The equity audits show the need. School librarians then do some targeted purchasing and acquisitions to fill the gaps. Reading reviews of new diverse works plus researching lists of diverse titles from such resources as School Library Journal, CCBC, and sites such as We Need Diverse Books are two ways school librarians find needed titles. Another important piece: school librarians carefully reconsider older titles that have negative biases or stereotypes of people of color, the LGBTQA+ community, and people with disabilities.
Professional Development. School libraries are used not only by students but also by the school staff. Getting teachers and staff members to read and use books in their classroom featuring diverse authors and characters is also of incredible importance. School librarians create resource lists, share titles, and provide professional development for staff on the diverse titles in the library. Teachers then add these titles to their classroom libraries, feature them in their own book talks, recommend them to students, discuss them with students, and more. This important outreach to staff and teachers allows diverse titles to reach even more readers.
Improved Library Marketing. A diverse collection doesn’t do much good if it is not circulating. One thing school librarians do to get titles circulating is create eye-catching, thematic displays. It is one of the quickest ways to get a student interested in a book. School librarians carefully analyze each and every display for diversity. Students should all be able to see themselves in the library collection. Displaying books with all different kinds of characters by all different kinds of authors is an easy way to do just that. Additionally, school librarians are sharing these titles through reader’s advisory with their students, another powerful way to put the spotlight on diverse books.
In addition, school librarians market their books outside of the libraries, to families and community members. Many school librarians tweet and/or have blogs, websites, and regular spots in school newsletters. Showcasing diverse books on these platforms is another easy way to market them. Furthermore, these platforms are great ways to share lists with students and parents looking for more books on a particular topic.
Joining a National Discussion. Thanks to the CCBC’s work, Lee & Low’s excellent analysis of lack of diversity across children’s book publishing as a whole, and other champions of the cause, there is a growing awareness and discussion around the inequity in children’s literature, which is starting to effect needed changes in the publishing industry. School librarians are joining that discussion, passionate to make a change to create a better reading experience for all of their students. From writing and reading blog posts on the topic, to following and using Twitter tags such as #WeNeedDiverseBooks (or #WNDB), to participating in or reviewing books for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, school librarians are joining the discussion.
Seeing a child’s face light up when they see themselves in a character is one of those moments school librarians live for. Every child deserves to have this connection with books.