I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Double Edged Sword of "Heritage Month" Displays

I been asked the same question about how "Heritage Month" displays do or do not fit into an EDI philosophy of RA Service at least 4 times in the last 10 days, so I thought it was time to answer it more publicly on the blog.

[I will also be linking this post in my EDI webinar so people can access it within context more easily. Here is the most recent version of that program.]

Let me take a small step back and set the stage with some foundational information for this discussion. I argue that the first step in making sure your RA Service considers Equity, Diversity and Inclusion issues every step of the way begins where we always begin in libraries-- with an EDI mission statement. Ideally you would like your entire Department to adapt an EDI mission statement but since I know that would take time, I believe that you should start with yourself, lead by example, and at least make sure the work you do puts EDI at the forefront of your planning, thoughts, and actions.

Mine lives here always. And here is where I wrote about how and why I developed it.

When you put an EDI lens in front of everything you do, you can't help but assess and consider how we are promoting our collections and suggesting to readers every single day. This EDI mission statement is there to guide me and remind me of my ultimate goal every single day. I am so grateful for how it has focused me on what is important.

After I spend 45+ minutes explaining my EDI and RA Service philosophy in my training sessions, inevitably I get a questions about "Heritage Month" displays. This happens because one of my main arguments is that diverse titles should appear in every list and display, all of the time, and that we are not being equitable and inclusive if we only highlight own voices titles on displays in their designated month-- so Native American titles now, LGBTQ in June, African American in February, etc.....

Only displaying these titles during their designated months is a microaggression, I explain, because it assumes the white, hetero-normative, abled body titles are the standard and everything else is "the other." No matter how well meaning you are, this outcome is a problem.

The basic question is then, "Is it okay to do Heritage Month" displays ever or are those a microaggression by default, always.

My answer to these askers is a "No, but..."

There is nothing wrong with utilizing these months as a marketing and promotional event to highlight the breadth of your diverse offerings.


If this is the only time you put, for example, "Native American" works on display, that is a HUGE problem.

Many people I work with use their participation in "Heritage Month" displays as their excuse to not actively audit their other ways of displaying and suggesting titles to readers [whether passively or directly]. The excuses I hear go, "Well I make sure to highlight them at least 1x a year, so I'm doing my part."

However, if you only put out diverse books in a display that is about the diversity of those titles that is BAD, WRONG, and NOT OKAY.

Instead you should highlight specific underrepresented groups during that designated month AND you should also make sure to include diverse and own voices titles in every list you publish, in every displays, and in the suggestions you are booktalking. You should do all of that. And, if you are only doing 1 thing, it should be diversifying all of your displays and then NOT only ghettoizing these works to their assigned month because only doing that is the biggest problem.

You can read a book with, for instance, a LGBTQ frame any month of the year, just like I argue you can read horror any month too.

We have to actively audit the titles we include in all of the various ways we suggest and make sure the options are inclusive....all of the time. And those displays, every single display, especially when the topic is something generic like "Fantasy" or "Hot Reads for Cold Nights," that is where we have to make sure we are being inclusive and considering the widest range of voices. We should have titles by people from all backgrounds represented.

So again, for this popular question about if "Heritage Month" displays are okay..."Yes, But" is the answer.

And if you have further EDI based questions for me, contact me. When I know the concerns that those of you in the trenches have, I am able to develop content to help you both help patrons and make arguments to your supervisors the help you institute needed change.

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