Regardless of your library's form and structure (is it a small standalone? One of several branches?), examining your collection in depth and evaluating its level of diversity can be a daunting task. But it’s worth the effort.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the importance of windows and mirrors in stories. Your readers want to be able to easily find characters and stories they can relate to or become inspired by authors with backgrounds like their own. These are mirror stories. Your collection should also spark the curiosity of readers to explore outside their own experiences and learn about the lives, challenges, and stories created by others. These are window stories.
So, where do you start? How do you tackle such a huge project? And what kinds of diversity are we even talking about here? We have a few steps to help guide you in diversifying your collection.
Before we get too far down the process, let’s talk about diversity. We don’t just mean cultural or racial diversity — though these are hugely important. Truly diverse reading recommendations offer a wide array of perspectives when it comes to gender identity, religion, diversity, sexual orientation, age and socio-economic status, and even things like physical and mental abilities or level of education. It means offering books on parenting but not forgetting childless or child-free people. It means offering books in languages other than English. It means providing books for new readers at all age levels.
If we’re talking food here, it’s a salad that’s not all iceberg lettuce or a cheese plate that’s not just brie. A library is and should be a smorgasbord buffet — a place where everyone can find something they want to read or can see themselves reflected.
So, let’s imagine we’re creating a meal at which all members of the community are welcome.
First, let’s find a recipe that balances all your needs.
What are your goals? Do you want to...
identify the audiences represented in your own community?
increase representation of a particular group or groups?
make sure that the books you do have are by authors who are writing of their own lived experiences?
showcase the final product and the results of your labor?
Next, let’s prep your ingredients.
Look at your community’s population, including:
- Socioeconomic levels
- Next, identify what types of diversity you want to elevate or highlight, and what does that even mean?
- Finally, you’ll want to analyze your current collection to find gaps and opportunities for improvement. How much time can you dedicate to this task? Auditing your whole collection can be a challenging task, especially if you are a team of one — or your team (of any size) just doesn’t have the bandwidth.
So, start small — snack-size, if you will! Look at a specific area of your collection, like picture books. Or, if you have access to usage stats for circulation or how patrons interact with your library's catalog, pick an area with high circulation or low circulation that you think should be performing better. Setting bite-size goals can help you focus on the needs of that collection and audience, allowing you a chance to explore different genres and authors and really showcase the diverse stories in that specific area.
Gather your tools and get to work:
What tools do you already have that can help you answer the questions above?
Use NoveList Plus to identify authors or characters that match the characteristics you want to reflect in your collection.
Use Core Collections to identify the best books in each area, using genres like African American fiction or subject headings like People who are blind.
Bon appetit! Enjoy the finished product!
You’ve picked an area to enhance, done your research, and purchased new titles to help better reflect your community. Regardless of the area of your collection you decided to expand on, be sure to showcase those delectable new additions to that community. Make a display of “new to our collection” and give each title a one-line summary of the plot of the book to help entice readers to check them out! Suggest similar titles to spread the love. Make sure that ALL displays have some level of diversity benchmarks — and if those haven’t been created, put some thought into what the right benchmark for your library might be.
You may not be able to address your whole collection all at once, but these steps ensure you’re on the right track to go from a tasting menu that represents the depth of what you have to offer to a full, multi-course meal!