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Friday, July 29, 2016

RA for All Guest Post: Annabelle on Diversity in Library Collections

Todays post features Annabelle Mortensen, the Collection Development Supervisor at Skokie [IL] Public Library and a member of the ARRT Steering Committee.
Annabelle has a frank post about how her library is trying to put the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement into action. As she point out below, it is her job to figure it all out, but as she also shares, it is hard to do correctly.
Read what she has to say, but also Annabelle, is asking you to share what you are doing. Please help all of us to do better.  Thanks.
It’s been two years since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement launched and everywhere you look in libraryland, the discussion continues. Last year, Becky reported on the findings of the Lee and Low diversity baseline survey and the RUSA CODES diversity conversation. In recent months, more works by authors of color were showcased at BookExpo America and ALA; Booklist made an open call for diverse reviewers; and Kirkus increased transparency on their practices in reviewing youth books and romance. In ARRT, we’re trying to include a broader range of writers and books in our current Speculative Fiction genre study and are looking toward future programming touching on this issue. 
As a profession and as individuals, we should be looking at ways to address this call to action. At my library (Skokie Public Library in suburban Chicago), we’ve identified equity as a core value, and are beginning to work on a three-year diversity objective for collections and programs to “ensure adequate representation of different groups and cultures and to foster equitable access to learning and leisure materials.” This is particularly important as we serve an extremely diverse community (more than 70 languages are spoken in local households).
How are we going to accomplish this? As collection development supervisor, that’s one of the things I need to figure out. We’ll likely conduct baseline surveys of the diversity of our collection and media used in storytimes, book discussions, and movie screenings, and then identify some benchmarks and strategies to acquire and promote diverse collections. 
Like many libraries, we’re already involved in promoting diversity: Our collection development plan touts the need for diverse materials. We aim to showcase diverse books year-round, not just saving them for heritage month displays. And we do buy many diverse books already, going beyond review journals to social media and websites such as the excellent Read in Color to fill gaps.
But these are scattershot approaches, not taken on in any coordinated way. How do we tie our collections to our advisory staff and to our patrons? How do we define diversity? How do we work on promotion and increase the bottom line (i.e., circulation or turnover)? If we weed books with LGTBQ themes or those written by people of color, are we replacing them in kind?
The last bit is the trickiest element of all. The “We don’t buy much X because it doesn’t circulate well” argument is a real problem for libraries, and I think we have to balance bestsellers with materials that allow readers to see themselves in the pages of books. In some cases and communities, circulation will follow. In a lot of cases though, we need to find ways to promote these books and put them in the hands of all readers. And while some of it involves forces larger than ourselves (what gets published, what gets marketed, what gets a good cover), we also have to make efforts from our end of the spectrum.
If your library is working on a similar initiative or if you have any strategies you use to promote diverse titles, I’d be eager to hear them, either in the comments or directly at amortensen [at] skokielibrary.info. 

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