This is a guest post by Stacey Goldade, head of the Statewide Catalog Development Department at the North Dakota State Library.
For patrons to want to come to your library, you’re going to have to have something that appeals to them. That means a wide range of topics, formats, genres, stuff for all ages, etc., which means making sure you have enough materials about diverse kinds of people. I know you may say that practically all your population is white and of Scandinavian descent, but that’s changing and even if it was true, the whole point of a library is to learn about new things. So even though I’m a white woman, one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read was Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, which let me see what being a black man in the south in the 1950s was like. It’s very unlikely you have anyone in your community that is an astronaut or a pro-football player, but you have books about space and sports right? Because people still want to learn about those topics even if that’s not their profession or their background. People want to learn about other people too, so make sure you are providing them with books about all kinds of people.
If you are making purchasing decisions because you think a book won’t circulate in your community, you may need to reconsider what you are doing to get books to circulate. This article at The Show Me Librarian expands on that topic.
I once had a very interesting college instructor. I don’t remember the exact name of the class, but it was something related to psychology or sociology I think. The thing I remember her saying, from way back in 1994, was that she was teaching us to be better people because we were the ones that were going to interact with her children and grandchildren and she wanted us to be well rounded, accepting and informed. That’s a great idea I think. So, let’s say you don’t have many books about people with physical disabilities, people of different skin colors, or people of different sexual orientations. But you do have people that fit those descriptions in your community, even if you don’t realize it. So, in addition to providing books for those populations to identify with, I think you should purchase books about those topics to educate everyone in your community about these issues. Because who knows, you might have a niece, son, daughter-in-law or granddaughter that will have a physical disability, be gay, or be biracial. Don’t you want their teachers, basketball coaches, Girl Scout leaders, coworkers, friends and everyone else they interact with to treat them with respect and understanding? You can help educate your community about these sorts of topics by providing a wide range of library materials that have these kinds of characters in them.
You are probably not the minority in your community, so there are likely many books for you to choose from that reflect your experiences. People that are minorities need access to books and videos that reflect their experience as well, but they also need people in the majority to understand, as much as possible, what they are going through and what their life is like. So the point isn’t always to buy books about people of color for only people of color to read, it’s about exposing everyone to the ideas so that those in the minority will feel more understood and accepted. Because no one likes to be the odd person out, be discriminated against or feel like an outsider that no one understands.
The article “Promoting Diversity at Your Library” explains that “It’s important to stop thinking that books about white kids are for all children, but books about Latino/a or black kids are just for black kids and Latino kids.” It makes the points that, “Reading about others and finding the common humanity within us all is the most effective way to eradicate racism,” and “Integrating multicultural books in displays year-round and including titles featuring multicultural characters when offering suggestions to any young reader, regardless of his or her background, are easy ways to foster diversity.”
In case you think, multicultural books just don’t get checked out, so I’m not going to buy them: you may think you know what will get checked out and what won’t, but I’m sure you’ve had instances in the past where something has been very popular, which surprised you because you almost didn’t purchase it in the first place. And of course, there’s always great literature that would be popular if only people would hear about it, so tell people about all the great titles that you have available. Emphasize the parts of the book that everyone can relate to, not the parts that might be different from the patron’s own experience.
If you want to read more about this topic, with a slant towards YA books and book reviews, check out “Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews” by Malinda Lo.
Also, check out the official site of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. There is a lot of info there, but some specifics to check out are “A cheat sheet for selling diversity” and “Where to find diverse books.”
A library is a place to learn about new things and new topics so make sure you’re providing a well rounded selection of books that explore the many diverse aspects of people.