Right before I left on vacation, RUSA CODES hosted one of their email conversations for members. This time the topic was on Diversity in RA. You can click here to see the details about the topic itself.
Cindy Orr, the chairperson of the committee sent out the notes from the conversation to those of usnsubscribed to list-serv and she gave me permission to share and highlight them here on RA for All. Thank you Cindy; in fact, thanks to everyone on the committee and those who participated for taking the time to have such an honest and open discussion about a sensitive topic.
You can click here to view a copy of the notes which include 9 pages of VERY useful information for anyone who works at any library helping any leisure readers. There is so much here that any library worker can use in the day to day work. Please click through.
Now on to my thoughts and opinions on the topic. Warning, BEGIN RANT...
My overuse of the word any just above is on purpose. As someone who has blogged about “multicultural” books since I started this blog AND as a straight, white, suburban lady who reads and promotes books featuring characters who are nothing like me all the time, the problem I have had with discussions of diversity in literature and our role as RA library workers in it is that I was shocked by how many librarians thought they could not suggest diverse books to white patrons.
I guess I have more faith in humanity than I should have, but honestly, this part of the problem was shocking to me.
Heck the book I was the biggest evangelist for in 2015 was Delicious Foods by James Hannaham. I never once thought, “Hmmm maybe I should think about the fact that I am giving a book about African American crack addicts who are victims of modern slavery to that little old white lady.” I never thought this because the book is AMAZING. It is a book anyone who appreciates an original, heart-wrenching, and haunting story-- PERIOD. The fact that some librarians worry that a white lady in Nebraska won’t enjoy a good story about a black, crack addict, stuns me.
Click here for my full review. In it, I also make readalike suggestions that do not only care about race.
I have many more examples I could share with you, but that is not important here. What is important is that this RUSA moderated conversation allowed library people to honestly express their concern for promoting diverse books to all audiences.
As I told my neighbors in college who chose the women’s colleges over my co-ed one down the street-- the world is filled with both sexes. If I want to excel in the world, I need to be able to excel over men AND women. (And I did by the way, winning both prizes in my major). But why would I chose to eliminate one experience? Why would I not challenge myself to beat the guys at their own game? I needed to know them to work with them. Heck I am even happily married to one of them.
Same thing goes with reading and books. Books are a great way to experience the entire world and as many different viewpoints as possible without leaving your chair. We are very lucky to have so many diverse book options, but we need to make sure they are being promoted to the right reader.
I do not “warn” white people I am giving them a diverse book. Rather, I suggest a book that is the best match for that reader. I book talk it in a way that gives them an idea of what to expect which will probably get at the diversity if it is there. It is then up to the patron to take the book or not. But give people a choice. Some of my best hand selling successes are from booktalking Sally Hemmings by Barbara Chase-Ribould and The Round House by Louise Erdrich -- books about a black, slave woman and Native Americans to white and hispanic patrons.
But I also do not go out of my way to purposely suggest a diverse book to make a point. I am noticing some people are doing that now and I get upset about that too. But that is a whole different issue I am not touching right now.
What I do is make sure I am exposed to as many voices and authors as possible and then, if the story is right for the reader in front of me, I will suggest the best book for them.
I want to be clear I am not judging anyone who has had a hard time with suggesting diverse books. I am just working through my own shock at the scope of the problem. I always thought it was more an issue of the diverse books not being promoted by publishers and/or not being reviewed, but it is so much deeper.
I am so thankful that we are having these difficult and complex conversations in an honest and open way as a profession.
Let’s keep it up.
If you don’t know where to get started in your promotion, personal reading, or collection development of diverse books, the notes from the convo are a great place to start.
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