Diversity in Libraries

One of the issues I’ve focused on as a library board trustee is looking at how our library approaches diversity. As a queer brown woman, I have to think that part of why I was elected was because my constituents wanted me to be paying attention to that issue.

Last night as part of the board packet, there was a detailed report on diversity initiatives from various of our librarians, addressing different aspects of the issue. Generally, I think our librarians are doing a pretty stellar job of working on this problem, and could serve as a model for other institutions.

But I’m mostly writing here because I wanted to take a moment to point out just how difficult a problem it is, and how, despite years of effort on our librarians’ part, our collection of books, in particular, still skews very white. That is entirely because American publishing still skews very white — the vast majority of books published, including children’s books, still feature white protagonists.

Our librarians try to balance the general audience’s desire for popular books (which is influenced / limited by what major publishers actually put out, what readers see on the bookstore shelves, or at their friends’ houses, or reviewed in major news sources), with the librarians’ own attempts at increasing diverse representation.

(A tremendous tool for librarians in the latter efforts, by the way, are the various blogs and booklists maintained by various communities and reviewers of color, so keep that up, people, please! It’s made it much easier for our librarians to find brilliant, fabulous #ownvoices titles, often from small presses that would otherwise fly under the radar.)

But we’re still quite far from even reflecting the community around us in Oak Park (which is currently around 68% white). Our librarians are going to keep working the problem, and they’re making improvements every week. To really fix it, though, we need big changes in publishing.

Publishers, editors — get on that, please. I know I’m preaching to the choir a bit here, for the publishing folks I’m friends with, who are likely to see this, but maybe this will add a note of urgency to your efforts.

We can’t read the books that show our diverse world in its complex truth if those books aren’t even being published. Our kids can’t read them either.

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