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Module 24a: Transforming Library Collections Part 1
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Module 24b: Transforming Library Collections, Part 2
Module 25: Lifelong Learning for Equity
After working through this module, you will be able to:
- Discuss some of the key topics that must be considered when collecting diverse texts.
- Develop a plan to stay up-to-date with and address these topics and others that may arise.
There are a number of important topics that need to be considered when collecting diverse texts. In this module, we will highlight several of them for you to think about and act on.
topic 1: The diversity gap in children’s publishing
In 1965, Nancy Larrick brought national attention to the need for diverse literature in her landmark article “The All-White World of Children’s Books.” In her study, Larrick found that only 6.7% of the books she examined contained one or more Black characters, and less than 1% featured contemporary African Americans. She concluded that the lack of representation has a profound impact on youth. Larrick identiﬁed two consequences of the omission of African Americans from books for children. First, across the country, 6 million children of color were learning to read and to understand the American way of life in books that either omitted them entirely or scarcely mentioned them at all (63). Second, 39 million white children were learning from their books that they were “the kingﬁsh” (63). Larrick concluded:
When the only images children see are white ones…as long as children are brought up on gentle doses of racism through their books… there seems to be little chance of developing the humility so urgently needed for world cooperation.
In 1982, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop reexamined the “all-white world” of children’s books to determine whether progress had been maintained. In her work, she assessed the status of African Americans specifically. Bishop found that while the number of books had increased, many publishers had fallen into the “trap of knee-jerk political correctness.” She identified three categories of books:
- Social conscious books: books that appeared to be written to help white children understand about the experience of people of color.
- Melting pot books: books that included children of color alongside white children, with no evident differentiation between them. The implicit message: we are all just alike, except for the color of our skin.
- Culturally conscious books: books that were intended primarily for African American children and reflected both the uniqueness and the universality of their experiences.
Bishop was also one of the first to question the authenticity of the writing. She concluded that “at issue is not simply racial background but cultural affinity, sensitivity, and sensibility…The irony is that as long as people in relative power in the world of children’s book—publishers, librarians, educators—insist that the background of the author does not matter, the opportunities for Black writers will remain limited, since they will have to compete with established non-black writers whose perspective on the African American experience may be more consistent with that of the editors and publishers and whose opportunities to develop their talents as writers have been greater.”
Dr. Bishop (1990) is perhaps best known for her argument that youth need books that serve as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. She writes:
Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange.
These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author.
When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror.
Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.
-Rudine Sims Bishop
Today Larrick and Bishop’s messages still ring true, reminding us that the continued lack of representation in children’s literature remains problematic, must be addressed, and has real-world consequences for BIYOC.
For decades, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) has been collecting statistics on the number of children’s books published each year that are by and about people of color and Native peoples. Starting in 2014, the number of diverse books began to grow but it still needs to improve. This infographic, developed by David Huyck and Sarah Park Dahlen in consultation with Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, and Molly Beth Griffin, depicts the 2018 CCBC data. Differences in representation among cultural groups are highlighted by mirrors – larger and more indicating greater representation.
As you can see, the majority of books published in 2018 were still by and about whites. Alarmingly, the percentage of books by and about people of color and Native peoples combined continues to be smaller than the percentage of books about animals and trucks. Think about the message this sends to youth about whose story is important to tell. Think about how this erases the richness of the lives of BIPOC.
**Note: Book statistics are updated annually on the CCBC website. To keep up with movements in this area, visit this site to see the most recent data (data for the previous year are usually published in Spring).
In this video from WNDB, author Rita Garcia Williams talks about why diverse books are important.
What steps can you take professionally and personally to send a message to publishers that representation matters and that publishing books by authors/illustrators who belong to marginalized communities is critical? How can you challenge them to amplify the voices of African American, Black, Latinx, Native, and Asian American creators? How can you involve youth in calling for more diverse representation?
Need some ideas? Check out these suggestions from We Need Diverse Books.
topic 2: Lack of diversity in the Publishing Industry
A related issue is the lack of diversity in publishing. A 2015 Diversity in Publishing study, created by Lee & Low Books with co-authors Sarah Park Dahlen and Nicole Catlin, looked at the demographics of the publishing industry itself, finding that 92 percent of respondents identified as not disabled, 88 percent identified as heterosexual, and 79 percent identified as Caucasian. In 2019 Lew & Low repeated the study, co-authored by Laura M. Jiménez and Betsy Beckert, the study, finding few changes. In fact, “the field is just as White today as it was four years ago.” Many people in publishing care deeply about the lack of diversity in publishing and want to fix the problem; however, the industry as a whole continues to struggle to change. To understand more about this topic, read the resources we’ve provided below.
- Why Publishing is So White – This article published in Publishers Weekly takes a look at why the publishing industry remains so white despite the recognition that more diversity is needed.
- Comping White – This article published in the Los Angeles Review of Books examines how whiteness is perpetuated in the publishing industry.
- The Elephant in the Room – In this article published on the Publishers Weekly blog, Elizabeth Bluemle discusses the whiteness of the publishing industry and makes suggestions for change.
- Diversity in Publishing – Still Hideously Middle-Class and White? – While focused predominantly on the publishing industry in Great Britain, this article explores why publishing needs to diversify and provides an update on its success in doing so.
Topic 3: Book Reviews
Just like the publishing houses are predominantly white, female, and heterosexual, so are the individuals who write reviews for the major reviewing sources. A 2014 survey conducted by SLJ, for example, found that SLJ reviewers were largely white (88%), female (95%), and heterosexual (90%). The resources below explain why the lack of diversity within the reviewing community is a concern, and a potential impediment to creating more diverse, authentic, and equitable library collections.
- Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews – blog post by Malinda Lo
- When Whiteness Dominates Reviews – blog post by KT Horning
- Diversity in Reviews: Behind the Scenes with SLJ’s “Gatekeeper” – blog post by Kiera Parrott
- BookExpo 2017: On Race, Reviewing, and Responsibility – by John A. Sellers
topic 4: Misrepresentation and the perpetuation of stereotypes
While the number of diverse titles is increasing, it is important to remember that not all diverse titles are “created equal.” Misrepresentation and the perpetuation of stereotypes of BIPOC continues, and as many scholars and practitioners argue may be as harmful as, if not more harmful than, no representation. To find out why, explore the following resources.
- Knowing Better, Doing Better – In this blog post, Elsa Gall explores how racist imagery and messaging show up in children’s literature and how they negatively impact the lives of children of color and Native youth.
- Censor This! – In this blog post, Edi Campbell discusses the role children’s literature plays in socializing youth and the impact misrepresentation, stereotypes, and invisibility have on the lives of BIYOC.
- Awards Discussion Fodder: Thoughts on Stereotypes – In this blog post, Allie Jane Bruce unpacks the word stereotypes for us and discusses what this means for book evaluation.
- Critical Indigenous Literacies: Selecting and Using Children’s Books about Indigenous Peoples [posted on the NCTE blog] – In this article, Dr. Debbie Reese focuses on unlearning stereotypical representations of Indigenous peoples and replacing harmful narratives with accurate information and understandings.
- Day of the Dead, Ghosts, and the Work We Do as Writers and Artists – In this blog post, author Yuyi Morales discusses the Day of the Dead and its misrepresentation in recent children’s books.
- Voices – In this blog post, Edi Campbell discusses how anthropomorphic images in children’s picture books perpetuate racist and harmful stereotypes.
- ·Skippyjon Jones: Transforming a Racist Stereotype into an Industry – In this blog post, Beverly Slapin discusses the racist stereotypes present in the Skippyjon Jones books.
- Ghosts – This blog post from De Colores: The Raza Experience in Children’ Books, discusses the cultural appropriation found in Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier.
- Evaluate your collection for titles that misrepresent and/or perpetuate stereotypes. If you decide to discard a title, be prepared to explain to teachers, parents, administrators, and the community why you made this decision. If you choose to keep titles that contain problematic representation, develop a plan to ensure that your users become critical readers/viewers who are able to recognize the misrepresentation and/or stereotypes.
- Provide professional development for teachers and parents about how to evaluate titles for cultural accuracy and representation. Use these resources to guide the discussion: Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books for Racism and Sexism [PDF] by the Council on Interracial Books for Children; How to Tell The Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Honest Portrayals of Raza Peoples from De Colores; How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias by Doris Seale, Beverly Slapin, and Rosemary Gonzales; Beyond Good Intentions: Selecting Multicultural Literature by Joy Shioshita.
- Provide alternative titles for teachers, students, and caregivers to use that accurately portray communities of color and Native communities – books that counter misrepresentation and stereotypes. For example, if a student wants to read the Little House on the Prairie series, suggest The Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich.
- Engage students in discussions about the impact of misrepresentation and stereotypes in literature. For ideas for how to do this check out these two blog posts by Jessica Lifshitz, a 5th-grade teacher in Northbrook, IL. – Teaching Our Students That What We Read Affects The Biases and Stereotypes We Hold and Helping Students Confront and Examine Their Own Biases Using the Images on Covers of Picture Books.
topic 5: Beyond the Big Four
When collecting diverse titles, it is important to be intentional and to collect beyond the Big Four – biographies, historical fiction, social issue books, and award winners. While these books are important, they are not enough. As author Jerry Craft points out:
Too many books for kids of color are biographies about slavery and the Civil Rights movement. If the only books that white kids had were on Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt, then maybe they wouldn’t be so excited about reading either.
We want our collections to be broad and deep, including all genres and formats. We want to make sure communities of color and Indigenous Peoples are represented in graphic novels, science fiction and fantasy, realistic fiction, humor, romance, mysteries and adventure, poetry and short stories, etc. We want to make sure the richness of their lives are represented and that their multiple identities are visible and celebrated in every area of the collection.
Examine your collection. Think about your diverse books.
- Do all your books featuring Black characters focus on slavery? Do they all assume all Black Americans are of African descent? Do all your books about Latinx characters focus on immigration? Are all of your books about Native Americans set in the past?
- Do you have any books featuring BIPOC characters that are not primarily about race or prejudice?
- Are BIPOC and their diverse identities represented in all genres and all formats?
- Do you have books that reflect the intersectional identities of BIPOC? Books that for example, feature Latino lesbian youth, or Black youth with disabilities, or Native youth who live in cities?
- Are the BIPOC books in your collection created by #ownvoices authors or are they primarily created by white authors/illustrators?
Images of Practice
Elementary school librarian Haley Ferreira stepped into her first full-time school library job in the middle of the school year and immediately noticed gaps in the collection. Her school serves a student population that is 58% Black and 37% Latinx, and she knew that she needed to work toward a collection that reflected and celebrated their diversity. Watch the video below, in which Ferreira discusses some of the steps she took in her first six months to assess and improve her collection.
Topic 6: Finding Titles
Two of the biggest reasons giving for not including more diverse books in the library or the curriculum is, “I can’t find them” or “They aren’t available from my library’s vendor.” While both of these statements might be true, they can no longer be used as excuses for not collecting diverse titles. WNDB provides an extensive list of resources you can use to find diverse titles. There are also a number of book awards that celebrate diverse titles. And, there are a growing number of publishers that devoted to publishing diverse books including:
- Al Salwa (Arabic children’s books)
- Arte Publico Press (literature by Hispanic writers)
- Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low (bilingual English/Spanish picture books)
- Cinco Puntos Press (adult and children’s literature, and multicultural and bilingual books from Texas, the Mexican-American border, and Mexico)
- East West Discovery Press (multicultural and bilingual books in 50 + languages)
- Groundwood Books (Canadian publisher of books for young readers with a focus on diverse voices)
- Just Us Books (Black interest and multicultural books for children and young adults)
- Lee & Low Books (diverse books for young readers featuring a range of cultures)
- Oyate – (books and other resources that lift up of writing and illustration by Native people from across North America)
- Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público (juvenile and young adult books focused on Hispanic culture and by U.S. Hispanic authors)
- Roadrunner Press (fiction and nonfiction for young readers focusing on the American West and America’s Native Nations)
- Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low (diverse middle grade and young adult speculative fiction)
- Shen’s Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books (Asian/Asian American books for young readers)
It is incumbent on us as professionals to educate the administration (principal, bookkeeper, system-level purchasing department, etc) on why it is critical to make sure purchasing regulations include not only large vendors, but also small presses, independent bookstores, alternative presses, etc. Policies can always be changed; it may take time, data, and continued advocating on our part.
Now that you’ve completed this module, evaluate the following from a racial equity lens:
- the reviews you are reading;
- the selection tools you and your library rely on;
- the vendors your library or/and the system utilize;
- the collection development practices that are included in your library’s policies; and
- who is selecting/buying books & other resources for your library and how intentional they are in the decisions they make to acquire diverse and reflective texts written by and about communities that are often marginalized.
Join the conversations taking place on social media about diversity in children’s literature. Here are a few blogs to help get you started:
- American Indians in Children’s Literature
- Brown Bookshelf
- Reading While White
- Rich in Color
- The Open Book Blog
- We Need Diverse Books Blog
Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3).
Bishop, R.S. (1982). Shadow and substance: Afro-American experience in contemporary children’s fiction. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Larrick, N. (1965, September 11). The all-white world of children’s books. Saturday Review, pp. 63–65, 84–85.
|Go Back: |
Module 24a: Transforming Library Collections Part 1
|You Are Here: |
Module 24b: Transforming Library Collections, Part 2
Module 25: Lifelong Learning for Equity