Module 26a: Transforming Library Collections Part 1

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Module 25: Transforming Library Space and Policies
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Module 26a: Transforming Library Collections, Part 1
Module 26b: Transforming Library Collections, Part 2

After working through this module, you will be able to:

  • Explain to your faculty, staff, administrators, and parents/caregivers the value of diverse and reflective literature.
  • Evaluate your library’s collection through a racial equity lens.
  • Collaboratively develop a plan to improve your library’s collection to better serve BIYOC.


Diversity is not praiseworthy. It is reality.

Malinda Lo

When we fight for diverse books, we’re really just fighting for a more honest literature. Books that tell the truth. Because when we say, “We Need Diverse Books,” we’re really saying “We Need Books That Don’t Lie To Us About Who We Are Or Whether We Exist.”

Daniel José Older

These two quotes from award-winning authors get to the heart of effective library collections for BIYOC. The library’s collection explicitly and implicitly communicates information about whose lives are valued, whose stories deserve telling, who gets to tell their stories, and who is welcome in the space. Inclusive and equitable library collections contain books that reflect the lived experiences of BIYOC and their communities, in particular, #OwnVoices books!  In this module, we will explore strategies for creating library collections that are welcoming and affirming for BIYOC, share examples of libraries that are putting these strategies to work, and provide guidelines for equitable library collections that you can use to plan for improvements within your own context.

Book covers for Legendborn, Elatsoe, Darius the Great is Not Okay, Ander & Santi Were Here, Ace of Spades, Punching the Air, Felix Ever After, The Firekeeper's Daughter

Why Diverse Literature?

Before we examine the characteristics of effective library collections for BIYOC, let’s pause for a moment and consider why it is important for our collections to be diverse.  While we may all understand why our libraries should be rich with diverse books, we may need explanations to share with colleagues, administrators, and parents/caregivers – especially as we advocate for using diverse literature across the curriculum with all students.

Let’s start with why it is important for BIYOC and other marginalized youth. Texts that reflect their personal experiences and accurately portray characters that look like themselves and their families, friends, and peers:

  • Validate their existence and lived experiences (Bishop, 1990; Tatum, 2009; Tatum; 2017)
  • Connect them with their textual lineage & history (Banks, 1999; Tatum; 2009; Tatum; 2017)
  • Counter the “single story” – the premises, myths, and stereotypes that are often held by the dominant white culture (Adichie, 2009; Delgado, 1989; Tatum, 2009; Tatum; 2017)
  • Support positive racial and ethnic identity development (Hanley & Noblit, 2009; Tatum, 2009; Tatum; 2017)
  • Increase engagement with reading & other academic subjects (Edwards et al, 2010; Tatum, 2009; Tatum; 2017)
  • Provide positive images of the achievement of members of marginalized communities (Banks, 1999; Tatum; 2009; Tatum; 2017)
  • “Provide healing from the damages of living in a racist society.” (Barker, 2010)


In this interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, award-winning author Jason Reynolds talks about how diverse literature can support young people of color in developing positive relationships with literacy.

In this TED Talk, award-winning author Grace Lin shares her experiences growing up as a member of the only Asian American family in her community and the lack of Asian representation in books.


Think of one specific BIYOC you have worked with. How do you think this child or teen would react to seeing their life experiences authentically represented in the resources in the library? In the texts and other resources used in the classroom curriculum? In what ways would it be sustaining for them?

But what if you work in a community with little diversity? All youth benefit from diverse literature. In the blog post Why Do We Need Diverse Books in Non-Diverse Schools?, Taun M. Wright shares research showing that exposure to diverse literature and diverse cultures leads to:

  • Increased Academic Performance. Reading diverse books has been found to support “identity-safe classrooms” for all youth, a key factor in increased achievement.
  • Increased Engagement in Reading. In studies, children and teens have indicated that they want to read books where the characters do not all look the same.  “I like reading about people that are different than me.” “Books about kids that are different than the kids in my class are interesting.”
  • Better Prosocial Development. Research has shown that youth who read a book with intercultural topics showed “not only a reduction in stereotyping and more positive feelings about students representing identities other than their own, but also an increased desire to engage in future contact.”
  • College and Career Readiness. Reading diverse literature can help youth learn to respectfully collaborate and communicate with people from different cultural groups, key 21st century skills.

Additionally, reading literature can create a shared understanding and appreciation for the historical and current social, political, economic, and scientific contributions of marginalized communities to American society and the world (Tatum, 2017), and provide a forum for youth to talk about race, ethnicity, gender identification, sexual orientation, and disability in transformative ways (Hughes-Hassell, 2013).


Watch Jason Reynolds explain that diverse and inclusive literature outside of the white suburban perspective can help children and teens grow into empathetic people.

Watch this TEDx talk by Shyno Chacko about how diversity in children’s literature helps all readers see themselves from more than one perspective.


Watch this video of award-winning author Sharon G. Flake’s poem “You Don’t Even Know Me,” performed by Black male students from Roseville High School in Minnesota. In what ways would using this poem with students benefit youth of color in your community? White youth in your community?


In Module 21, we introduced the five-part framework of Effective Library Services for Diverse Youth. Based on our own research and discussions with BIYOC as well as the research of others working in the library and education fields, we have identified six key features of effective library collections for BIYOC.

Effective library collections are:  Meaningful: They help BIYOC understand themselves and their world.  Reflective: They positively and accurately represent BIYOC; all youth can see themselves in the collection.  Validating: They affirm the value of diversity.  Relevant: They relate to the lived experiences of BIYOC.  Enabling: They empower youth to make positive change in their own lives and communities.  Inclusive: They reflect the broadest possible spectrum of diversity in terms of content and authorship.


In your response journal, reflect on each of the six features of effective library collections. For each characteristic, come up with 3-5 specific ways that a library might embody that feature: What would a _______ library collection look like? Try to think creatively and go beyond the brainstorming ideas you came up with in Module 21. Your examples might come from your own library or libraries you’ve visited before, but you can also think outside the box to explore new ways that collections might meet these benchmarks. Be sure to consider not only the physical collection but also the library’s digital collection.

When you’re done, click here to see some of our ideas - but note that our list is not exhaustive.

  • Meaningful: BIYOC have input into collection development decisions. Diverse literature is purchased, displayed, and recommended through reader’s advisory activities.
  • Reflective: Members of the community whose lives are represented in the resources are asked to help check the resources for accuracy and authenticity. Resources represent the diversity within racial and cultural groups. Resources act as both “mirrors” and “windows.” Collection includes books written by authors and illustrators who belong to marginalized communities.
  • Validating: Resources show positive images of communities of color. Resources address cultural appropriation and misrepresentation of Indigenous communities. Library newsletters, program flyers, etc. are available in diverse youth’s home languages.
  • Relevant: Resources reflect the richness of the lives of people of color and Indigenous people.
  • Enabling: Resources are provided that allow youth to express themselves (e.g. blogging platforms, video and audio recording tools/software, word processing tools, making resources). Collection includes resources that support youth activism and community engagement. Resources present people of color and Indigenous people as heroes in their own lives.
  • Inclusive: Collection development policy includes criteria for evaluating and selecting diverse texts. Resources extend beyond biographies, historical fiction, and social justice texts to include science fiction and fantasy featuring BIYOC.


Use one of the following tools to collaboratively assess your library’s current collection for its cultural responsiveness. Be sure to include input from BIYOC in the process.

After assessing your current collection, set three goals for improving it: one short-term goal that you can accomplish immediately, one medium-term goal that you can accomplish over the next several weeks, and one long-term goal that you can accomplish over the next year. Use the Goals for Improving Library Services for Diverse Youth [PDF] template to write these goals down. We suggest printing this document (in poster size if possible), laminating it, and using it to track all of your goals related to the material in the next several modules. Post these goals somewhere in your library, and work with youth and other library stakeholders to achieve them. Once you have achieved a goal, replace it with another one.

Terms to Know…

COUNTERSTORY TELLING – A concept introduced by critical race theorist Richard Delgado to describe a method of “telling the stories of those people whose experiences are not often told.”  Texts that act as counterstories validate the life experiences of BIYOC and challenge the versions of reality held by the dominant culture. Refer to Module 22 for examples of how counter-storytelling can be used in instruction.

ENABLING TEXTS – A concept developed by Dr. Alfred Tatum [PDF] to describe texts that:

  • Promote a healthy psyche
  • Reflect an awareness of the real world
  • Focus on the collective struggle of African Americans
  • Serve as a roadmap for being, doing, thinking, and acting.

The concept can also be applied to texts that feature other marginalized communities.

#OWNVOICES –Begun as a Twitter hashtag created by author Corinne Duyvis to recommend books about diverse characters that are written by people who share those identities, #OwnVoices has become a movement calling for library staff to purchase books by marginalized authors and illustrators –  books that authentically and accurately portray their lives.

Note: We Need Diverse Books no longer uses the term #OwnVoices, because of “the vagueness of the term, which has then been used to place diverse creators in uncomfortable and potentially unsafe situations.” Instead, they recommend (and we agree) that it is important to use the “language that authors want to celebrate about themselves and their characters.” To read more go to their blog.

Images of Practice - Icon by Adrien Coquet from Noun ProjectImages of Practice

Fifth-grade teacher and edublogger Jessica (@Jess5th) Lifshitz published a post on her blog Crawling Out of the Classroom in which she describes how she engaged her fifth-grade students in analyzing their classroom library for its cultural responsiveness and relevancy. Read her post, titled Having Students Analyze Our Classroom Library To See How Diverse It Is.” As you read the post, respond to the questions below in your journal:

  • What skills and dispositions are the children developing?
  • What larger systems are the children learning to question and examine?
  • If you work in a school library, how might you work with the teachers in your building to engage their students in analyzing their classroom collections?
  • How might you adapt the process Jess used to involve youth in analyzing your library collection?
Selected Resources for Selecting Diverse Books…

(See Module 24b for additional suggestions)


In this section, we address common questions and concerns related to the material presented in each module. You may have these questions yourself, or someone you’re sharing this information with might raise them. We recommend that for each question below, you spend a few minutes thinking about your own response before clicking the arrow to the left of the question to see our response.

So I have a book in the collection that misrepresents a community. What do I do?
In considering what to do with a book that misrepresents a community it is important to consider the ramifications of keeping that title on the shelves. If we keep the book but don’t engage in critical discussions with youth about the book, what messages will they receive? How will the book make youth of color or Indigenous youth feel about themselves and their communities? What stereotypes will be reinforced for white youth?  These are important questions to ask. We often say “Reading changes lives,” but when a person of color or Native person points out the negative and harmful stereotypes about their communities that are contained in books we consider to be “classics” or in books that are written by authors we admire, too often we resort to “But it’s only a book.” We can’t have it both ways. If reading does change lives, then the books we provide youth must not perpetuate harmful stereotypes of communities of color and Indigenous communities. If we decide to keep a book, it is important to develop strategies to encourage youth to read other books that provide accurate and authentic representation. This is where our reader’s advisory skills come in. If a child asks for one of the books from The Little House on the Prairie series, recommend one of the books in the Birchbark series too.  We can create, “If you liked this book, try this book” booklists or book displays to expand their reading interests too. To read more about this topic, check out the following blog posts: “Thoughts on: But Kids Say That Stuff!!!” by Allie Jane Bruce; First Person Stories by Parents and Kids on Debbie Reese’s blog (listed in the right sidebar) in which Native youth and their families talk about being required to engage with text that presents negative stereotypes of their communities.


What if the white students at my school don’t want to read books about people of color?
This is where reader’s advisory comes in. If we’re excited about a book, then we will get students excited! Be intentional in every display you develop, every suggested reading list you create, every formal booktalk you present, and in every informal conversation you have with youth and their families to include books by and about authors and illustrators who belong to communities of color or Indigenous communities. First and foremost, books by and about these authors and illustrators are good books and they need to be championed by us! 


The teachers in my school insist on continuing to teach the classics - many of which contain offensive stereotypes. What can I do?
One strategy would be to collaborate with teachers to teach students how to read the texts through a critical lens. In an NPR interview, Larissa Pahomov, an English teacher in Philadelphia, explained that when her seniors read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest she had them think about the following questions: “What resources did [the author] draw from to write this book, and this character? What has been the Native American reaction to this book specifically? What was the reaction of the psychiatric treatment community? How do we look at it now? What’s the treatment of women?” Through conversations like this, youth are able to identify stereotypical and racist, sexist, ableist content and messages, examine the text in historical and current contexts,  look at the text from multiple perspectives, and consider the impact on the communities that are being stereotyped. Another strategy would be to recommend alternative texts and to help teachers think about how they might approach them. So, for example, if a teacher wants to teach To Kill a Mockingbird, you might suggest they teach The Hate U Give or All American Boys. Sometimes teachers continue to fall back on the same titles because they are unfamiliar with contemporary children’s and young adult literature. They are open to change but just need assistance in identifying titles that help them meet their instructional goals.


Additional Resources

Hogan, K.(2011). Tribal libraries as the future of librarianship: Independent collection development as a tool for social justice. In Loriene Roy, Anjali Bhasin & Sarah K. Arriaga (eds.) Tribal libraries, archives, and museums: Preserving our language, memory, and lifeways (p. 81-103). Lanham: Scarecrow Press.

References and Image Credits

Adiche, C. N. (2009).  The danger of a single story.  Filmed July 209 at TEDGlobal 2009.

Banks, J. A. (1999). An Introduction to Multicultural Education.2nd ed. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Barker, J. (2010).  Racial identification and audience in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963Children’s Literature in Education, 41, 118-145

Bishop, R. S. (1990). “Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3).

Delgado, R. (1989). Storytelling for oppositionists and others: A plea for narrative. The Michigan Law Review Association, 87, 2411-2441.

Edwards, P. A., McMillon, G. T., & Turner, J. D. (2010). Change is gonna come: Transforming literacy education for African American students. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Hanley, M.S., & Noblit, G.W. (2009). Culturally responsiveness, racial identity, and academic success: A review of the literature. Retrieved April 18, 2014, from

Hughes-Hassell, S. (2013). Multicultural young adult literature as a form of counter-storytelling. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83(3), 212-228.

Tatum, A.W. (2009).  Reading for their life.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann Publishing.

Tatum, A.W. (2013). Fearless voices: Engaging a new generation of African American adolescent male writers. New York: Scholastic.

Tatum, B.D. (2017). “Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” And other conversations about race. Revised and Updated. New York: Basic Books.


Go Back:
Module 25: Transforming Library Space and Policies
You Are Here:
Module 26a: Transforming Library Collections, Part 1
Module 26b: Transforming Library Collections, Part 2