I am getting this post up a day late because, 1, the Library Reads list came out yesterday and I wanted to promote that, and 2, I presented 2x on Day 3 of the conference and I wasn’t able to take notes while those program were happening. After 3 days of conferencing, I didn’t have the energy to come home and create the posts from scratch.
So this is the report on Day 3 of the conference, and yes, I know we are one day after the conference has ended.
I am going to quickly mention my first program which while not RA Service related is something I want to encourage all library people to do--We Should Run: Library Workers in Public Office:
Library workers from all areas of service are uniquely positioned as advocates in our communities. Having more library workers in public office leads to stronger boards, stronger libraries, and stronger communities on local, state, and federal levels. Not to mention that it's good for our own professional development! But where to begin? We will share our personal experiences from the day we decided to step out from behind the desk and jump into the political fray, to our current positions at the big table. We’re here to encourage you to step up, advocate, and lead too.
Kathleen WillisState RepresentativeIllinois District 77
Jill BambenekAccess Services LibrarianDominican University
Corinn SparksMessenger Public Library of North Aurora
Becky SpratfordLa Grange Public Library
Meghan GoldensteinMikva Challenge / Run For Something
Heather BoothThomas Ford Memorial LibraryThe slides with resources and link can be viewed here.
We all talked about our personal experiences being librarians AND elected officials, following the questions you see in the slides. I would highly suggest that any of you who are interested in hearing more about running for ANY office or sitting on any kind of board [be it government or civic or etc...] contact Representative Willis [the only member of the IL Legislature with an MLS] or Ms. Goldenstein.
We are in a profession that is all about organizing knowledge, presenting a balanced view, helping others seek knowledge and clarity-- How can you NOT run for something right now. Our measured and respected voice of reason is needed to cut through the politics and crap.
I am more than happy to talk to IL people about library boards in our state and introduce you to someone in your community who can help you get started. Outside of IL my advice may mean less since all local governments are different, but general advice, about the process, running for election, and being in charge of millions of dollars of tax payer money-- that I can talk to you about. Click here for details on how to contact me.
But now, what you have all been waiting for, the second program I was a part of yesterday, the one that allowed me to have a fabulous lunch with Sonali Dev beforehand [and by the way, she is just as an amazing a person as she is a writer]:
Let’s lay out the facts: more than 80% of librarians are white women. Does your collection reflect your community or does it look more like you? Join the Adult Reading Round Table (ARRT) as we present a panel of librarians, publishers, and authors who will grapple with this touchy subject. Our panel will share straight talk, real world experiences, and practical strategies that build off of the We Need Diverse Books initiative for children, this time with a focus on serving teens and adults. Come ready to engage in this lively and vital conversation.
Becky SpratfordReader’s Advisory SpecialistRA for All
Heather BoothThomas Ford Memorial Library
Annabelle MortensenSkokie Public Library
Sonali DevBest Selling Romance Author
Todd StockeVice President and Editorial DirectorSourcebooks
Heather and I were listed but we were merely the ARRT representatives, organizers, and in my case, I moderators.
Ms. Dev went first and talked frankly about being a “diverse” author, how she is irked that it is a topic she is constantly called upon to address, but also understanding that she has an obligation to speak up about it. Ms. Dev shared much of her personal story, but she used this recent article in the New York Times as the framework for her talk: In Love With Romance Novels, But Not Their Lack of Diversity.
Ms. Dev is quoted in this article and she did tell us some of the same stories you can see there-- with more detail. Please click through, these are points you don’t want to miss.
As for the quick mention, in that article, of the fact that she had 50 rejections for her first book, Ms. Dev elaborated for us that while that is very common for first time, never published authors, she is pretty sure others were not told in their rejection letters that their books contained "some of the most beautiful writing we have ever read," but unfortunately, no one will read a story of two Indians falling in love.
She also talked about tokenism and how having 1 author of color in your stable as a publisher is not enough. She actually got her first novel published because of tokenism when an Indian romance author retired from Kensington and she took her place. But that does not make it right.
She also talked about how the word multicultural is awful. For example, she said her books used to be categorized as “multicultural” but as far as she could see they were singular-cultutral as they were only about Indians.
She also gets frustrated with the fact that there can only be 1 narrative for each group. She used the example of three upcoming books by Indian women to show how different an “Indian” story can be. The titles she mentioned were, Love Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, My Last Love Story by Falguni Kothari, and her own upcoming book A Distant Heart. Please click on the titles for more information about these books.
Finally, as an immigrant with American born children, she also talked about how hard it was for her, as a mother, to find titles for her children to read, titles they could see themselves reflected in. The American titles were not perfect, but clearly neither were the Indian titles.
Then Todd Stocke, spoke on behalf of Sourcebooks to give the publishers perspective. He talked about how demographics are changing and that today’s kids are 51% POC, but that those making the decisions about what gets published are overwhelmingly white. There is a slide in the presentation which he used to show this very clearly. He talked about how Sourcebooks always fished outside of the small pond where the Big 5 found books [hint: it is mostly from white agents], but as they grew and became one of the big publishers they had to stay committed to seeking those diverse voices out.
He highlighted some of their titles, but he also talked about The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, a book they lost the bidding war to publish. He was glad to see all of the accolades and attention this fantastic book is getting, but, he also was concerned. He is surprised he is not seeing an onslaught of “copy cat” titles being pitched to him like he did after Hunger Games was huge and every other title crossing his desk was dystopian. This is usually par for the course in publishing. Why not now? Are white agents not comfortable finding more of these voices to promote? He doesn’t know why they aren’t getting to him yet, but he is concerned enough that he is trying to find some for himself because publishing those different voices is how Sourcebooks is making their money and they don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
He reminded the audience multiple times that librarians are gatekeepers. Publishers know we get books in people’s hands. They want to make money, so if we advocate loudly that we want more diverse titles, publishers will listen. We have to stand up and be heard. It is up to all sides of the publishing equation to make this overdue and necessary change.
Finally, Annabelle Mortensen gave us an update on the work Skokie is doing to be consciously inclusive. Her slides are included here, and the slides also have a link to the first part of this discussion hosted by ARRT back in June, You can also see my notes from Day 2 when Kathy and Ally presented in more detail on some of the Skokie initiatives to be consciously diverse.
When Annabelle first presented, they had a plan, but now she has some initial results. For example, they looked at their increase in trying to suggest more diverse books through their BookMatch program- which was over 70% books by white women before they started-- and saw it only went up 6%. But, as she said, this is just the beginning. There is a learning curve for the staff, but more importantly, the publishers need to give them books that can fill the unique requests of patrons. With BookMatch, patrons want a specific type of book, and sometimes, no matter how hard the staff look, those books don’t exist.
She gave an example [which I cannot remember the specifics of now but it was clearly a “diverse” book request] and when she looked through her library’s collection, there were no books to fit that request. When she looked through traditional reference sources, also nothing. But when she looked on Goodreads, there were tons-- all self published or micro presses. That is where the readers go to talk about the books they love. Goodreads doesn’t care how they got the books, they care about the conversation about the books.
So, she put in a plug again for library workers to look outside of the traditional publishers for books to add to their collections because readers want these books. People are writing them. Readers are loving them. Go out and find them. She referred to Robin Bradford’s ALA talk [linked in the slides] where she calls for this too.
That’s the gist of what we discussed. I did have feedback immediately that the next voice we should hear from is the distributors-- the ones who get the books from the publishers to the libraries. So as ARRT, and all of you, continue this conversation we will be looking to that side of the story next.
I attended a third program, but I am going to hold off on a report on that one because I am working with the presenter to give the topic an entire post at a later date. [Ooh, teasers.]
On a final note, thanks to all my readers not from IL hanging in there with me this past week. I have heard from many of my IL colleagues that my notes have been extremely helpful, but I really think those of you reading from other places can learn from these posts too. I made the choice to blog, rather than live Tweet because I could add links and a lot more detail to these three days of notes and reports.
I am confident that there is much there for everyone and anyone who works with leisure readers.