Encourage Your Patrons to Read Diversely

Have you ever thought to yourself “Diverse books don’t circulate in my library because my community isn’t actually diverse”? While you may feel your community is not diverse, a lack of diversity may not be the reason why diverse titles aren’t circulating. It may be that you as the librarian need to make your patrons aware of these titles and promote why your patrons might enjoy them. Have you ever chosen not to purchase books because you think they are too “diverse” to circulate in your library? They definitely won’t circulate if they are not on the shelves! Remember that books don’t have to be about diversity, they can simply be diverse.

Once you’ve purchased them, what can you do in your library to help get books circulating?

  • You probably already do book displays, but do they highlight diversity in your collection? Try using an infographic to help people select a good match. There’s no need to make the display only about diversity, simply incorporate diversity into displays you already have planned.
  • If you do a program such as Blind Date with a Book, be sure to include some diverse choices. The whole idea of a Blind Date program is to get patrons to try something new that they might not usually read.
  • Diversity in YA, a blog which highlights “young adult books about all kinds of diversity,” has a guide for how to encourage diversity in your collection. One of the suggestions is “recommend diversity.” What’s one primary reason books are often popular? Because people are talking about them! Kids in particular want to read what everyone else is reading, so talking about books will go a long way toward getting them to circulate. Even adult patrons come in asking for books they heard about on TV or the radio. Once you have the momentum of word of mouth, you will see increased circulation. What are some ways to talk about books?
    • Mention titles in your weekly article in the newspaper
    • Mention titles on Facebook, Pinterest, etc.
    • Mention titles at book club meetings
    • Work with the school librarian to cross-promote
  • If you’ve never tried book trailers, try featuring them on your library website or Facebook page. Not all books have them, but you can find them on YouTube, or you can try the website of the author or the publisher.
  • You can’t read everything, so familiarize yourself with websites that can help you advise readers on what books they might like. Also, the State Library offers access to NoveList (under Books & Literature), another great resource for connecting readers and books.
  • If you don’t usually do book talks, read up on how to do a book talk and try it with some titles you’ve enjoyed.

After the winners of the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced at ALA Midwinter in February, there was some discussion online about how award winning books are not always appealing to children, and they don’t always circulate well. The discussion also mentioned how books with diverse characters also tend not circulate as heavily at many libraries. Over at The Show Me Librarian, Amy Koester felt compelled to address the low circulation of diverse books in a post you might have seen called “Selection is Privilege.” I’d highly recommend you read it if you haven’t already.

Many of the comments she highlights about people claiming diverse books don’t circulate I can easily see being said by librarians in North Dakota because these comments all tend to say “Diverse books don’t circulate in my library because my community isn’t actually diverse.” Living in a small town in North Dakota, you might respond that that is, in fact, the case your town. You might point out that most North Dakotans are of German or Scandinavian ancestry. You may point to Census data that shows that North Dakota is 89.6% white. However, diversity doesn’t have to mean race or ethnicity. You might point out that you don’t know any gay people in town. However, you can’t tell someone’s sexual orientation by looking at them, so it does not mean gay people do not exist in your community, simply because people are not aware of them. You may not know who they are because they are afraid that they will not be accepted in your community.

Your library should not be a place where people feel uncomfortable checking out a book, regardless of whether or not they identify with the main character. Last year, a study was published that demonstrated how reading Harry Potter can increase empathy for people different from yourself. If you feel your community is not accepting of diversity, the library is a great place to start initiating a cultural shift.

Amy, however, does not believe a lack of diversity in your town is at fault for low circulation numbers. She says “I feel very strongly that if the excellent diverse books in your collection do not circulate, you are not doing your job of getting great books into the hands of readers.” She highlights another commenter who agrees with her: “If books don’t circulate there are things we can do to help promote circulation, including book displays, book talks, sharing book trailers and more.” Hence the list of suggestions above.

This year the Morris Award winner was Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. It was criticized in reviews for having a lot of Spanish but no glossary. (Having read it and never having studied Spanish, I can say this did not detract from my reading experience.) In the book, after Gabi’s father dies of an overdose, she comments on the awkwardness of her teachers in dealing with her, saying “I bet most of them have not had to deal with those realities” (page 160). We need to keep in mind that because something is not our reality, that does not mean it is not real for someone else. Despite not being Mexican-American and no longer being a teen girl, I was still able to relate to Gabi’s character.

You may have heard about how when author Shannon Hale recently did a school visit, she discovered that girls were let out of class for her presentation but boys were not. There are boys and girls in every town. They should be encouraged to read all sorts of books, regardless if their sex matches that of the author or the protagonist.

Over at Future Librarian Superhero, there is a post called “Diversity in Collection Development” that talks about how libraries are all about access, and provides suggestions for increasing diversity in your collection. Even if your town is super uniform, you don’t want kids growing up thinking the entire world is that way. Also, many people read as a way to escape. While it’s important for kids to be able to see themselves in books, we also need to provide books that allow them to experience situations beyond what they might normally encounter.

When a student asked author Malinda Lo why diversity in books is important, she responded “Diversity is not important. Diversity is reality. Human beings are not all the same. We come from many different places and have many different identities and experiences. Having only one kind of human being in the stories being told is flat-out bad storytelling. Diversity is reality. Let’s stop erasing that.” Let’s also keep in mind the big picture of diversity – even if your community is very uniform, we are all different. Not all of us are from North Dakota, even if we look like we could be. We do not all share the same beliefs, interests, or backgrounds. The We Need Diverse Books campaign highlights this nicely with the images people have shared. Patrons should be able to find books both about people like themselves and about people unlike themselves. The library is a place everyone should feel welcome.

Want to add some diverse books to your collection? Enter by April 10 for a chance to win a set of 5 books from Diversity in YA.

tl;dr  – If low circulation is making you think patrons aren’t interested in certain books, first make sure you’ve tried promoting those books to your patrons.

How do you encourage diversity in your library? What are your tips for getting undiscovered gems into the hands of your patrons? Share your stories in the comments!

2 responses to “Encourage Your Patrons to Read Diversely

  1. Great information! I encourage everyone to put these ideas into practice instead of just reading this post and then forgetting about it.

  2. Pingback: Dia! Diversity in Action | Field Notes

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