Diversity on My Mind

Reflecting the world in which we live

March 19, 2015

Abby Johnson

Is diversity on your mind? It needs to be. In our increasingly global society, it’s important that children are exposed to ways of life outside their own and that they see themselves reflected in the literature they access. Children’s librarians play an important role to play here. As gatekeepers, we have power over what books our communities and students might be exposed to. It’s not enough to follow the conversation on diversity. We need to consciously think about how we’re including diverse literature in programs, book lists, readers’ advisory, presentations, and displays until it becomes second nature.

Diverse books reflect the varied experiences of people around the world, including people of color, people with disabilities, people with a variety of religious beliefs, and people on the GLBTQ spectrum. The American Library Association and many library cultural organizations, like the American Indian Library Association, recognize outstanding books each year that may be a good springboard for discovering diverse literature.

Include diversity in the goals you’re setting for your library or department. Keep those goals in front of you and check them often to make sure you’re on track. You may aim to include diverse elements in a certain percentage of your programs. You may want to partner with community groups to offer larger cultural celebrations. You may evaluate your collection and identify areas that are lacking: Do you have board books that feature people of color? Do your chapter books reflect today’s global world? Setting ongoing goals and keeping them in front of you is essential. By making diversity a priority, you may be able to achieve more than you thought you could. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a list of “50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know.”

Having diversity at the forefront of your mind can help get you into the habit of seeking out and noting diverse books, especially as you’re ordering. Make special consideration for diverse books when you’re weeding your collection, and think about its balance. Have your predecessors collected for a diverse community?

Ask yourself if your community can see itself reflected in your library. And if you don’t work in a particularly diverse community, you should still feature a wide range of books. Especially in places where kids don’t often have the chance to meet and interact with children who are different from them, books can offer a special opportunity to expose children to cultures and lives that are different from their own.

Remember to include a varied selection of books in your storytime programs. There are diverse books that fit seamlessly into storytime themes you’re probably already using. Use Roseanne Thong’s Round Is a Mooncake when you talk about shapes. Add The Cazuela the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha Vamos when you’re talking about food or cooking. Spike Lee’s Please, Baby, Please has a great rhythm and showcases many familiar situations for your baby storytime crowd.

Children’s librarians are the community’s gatekeepers to the wider world.

As part of your balanced book talking diet, your book talks should not only include different genres and formats but also books that feature diverse characters and subjects. You don’t need to book talk these books specifically as “diverse titles” but just as books your kids will want to pick up and read. Author Grace Lin has created a “Cheat Sheet for Selling Diversity” that provides some examples.

If you haven’t already checked out the great work that the We Need Diverse Books campaign is doing, make sure you do so. It provides great resources you can use today to make a difference in your library, including resources for seeking out diverse books and diverse readalikes for many of your patrons’ favorites.

There’s always a way and a time to increase the diversity of your collections. Your patrons will appreciate it.