Library Matters / Libraries Matter: #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Posted on March 22nd, 2018 by

Think back to the books you loved as a kid, the ones you loved to read (or have read to you) over and over again. Now ask yourself how many featured brown or black characters as the main character? How many portrayed main characters who were differently-abled? Or who had single parents? Or LGBT parents? Or who were themselves LGBT?

For this white, middle-aged blog post author, most of the books I read as a kid featured white, straight kids with two parent-families who subscribed to some fairly predictable gender roles.

And yet for those of you who are (ahem) younger than this author, things probably aren’t that different. According to Dr. Krista Aronson of Bates College, the percentage of children’s books featuring people of color, for example, hasn’t changed much since 1960, remaining at about 10-14% of all picture books published each year (quote is midway down the page).

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center has been collecting data about representation in children’s books for years; their most recent counts indicate that change is slow to come to the publishing industry. The CCBC blog delves further into the 2017 numbers, including some of these findings:

For example, an early-November analysis of the 698 picture books we’d received so far in 2017 from U.S. publishers revealed:

  • A character in a picture book was 4 times more likely to be a dinosaur than an American Indian child.
  • A character in a picture book was 2 times more likely to be a rabbit than an Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American child.
  • A female character in a picture book was highly likely to be wearing pink and/or a bow, even if she is a hippopotamus, an ostrich, or a dinosaur.
  • A child with a disability appeared in only 21 picture books, and only 2 of those were main characters. Most others appeared in background illustrations.

Representation matters (and if you have doubts, read this interview with Michelle Obama). Libraries play an essential role in providing people with access to materials. We bear a huge responsibility in making sure our collections reflect the wealth of experiences in the world.

At the Gustavus Library, we have a dedicated fund for diversity materials (and a bookshelf featuring new arrivals from the fund in the GLA Reading Room, which also has permanent We Need Diverse Books and Black Lives Matter displays and reading lists). We think about diversity when we create displays and order materials for our Children’s and Young Adult collections. We have an online guide about We Need Diverse Books, including resources within our library. And we have an ongoing diversity interest group, consisting of library employees, to discuss and plan diversity initiatives.

We also want to connect you to resources that will help you find diverse books. These sites will be especially useful:

  • We Need Diverse Books, a grassroots organization which aims to put diverse books in the hands of all readers, and which also provides curated lists of diverse books, as well as support for writers, since supporting diverse authors is HUGELY important; learn more about #ownvoices  as it is a big part of the movement
  • Diverse BookFinder, one of several important resources developed by Dr. Aronson and her colleagues at Bates, including humanities librarian Christina Bell, author-illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien, and Bates alum Brenna Callahan.

Finally, if you know of books we should consider for our shelves, let us know using our book suggestion form. Together we can continue to develop a collection and library services to better support and reflect our diverse world.

This post is part of the Library Matters/Libraries Matter blog series



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