Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Even For Academics, Selection Is Privilege

I try to keep abreast of what is going on in other spheres of the library world besides my own, especially the awards like the American Library Association Youth Media Awards. We have children's literature collection in my current library, a collection that supports an education major among other things, so you can see why it's a no-brainer for me to pay attention to these things.

So... when I learned about this year's list of winners, my first thought was about the purchase order request I was going to have to fill out soon. My second thought was elation because When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds was recognized for the awesomeness it contains. My final thought was that I really have to get around to reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson because holy guacamole it keeps winning awards. And that was where my thoughts ended... until now.

What happened? I learned that there are people - librarians! - who are upset at the fact that the winners were more diverse than they have been in a long time. My reaction:

Amy Koester wrote about how this all happened in a piece titled "Selection is Privilege." Her argument is a good and important one. Of course, Koester's focus is, understandably, on best methods for serving her public library community. Her perspective is somewhat different from how I've worked in the past, but the truth is, this focus on diversity is no less important for those of us in the academic library business. Diversity in my children's literature collection that we maintain to support the education department? Crucial. Diversity in our popular reading materials? Equally important. Beyond that, providing access to a broad range of authors and topics is key to the role of a library at a small academic library that serves the community at a liberal arts college. The materials we have here absolutely must be both broad and deep. Our budget is small, but I've made sure that we spend at least a small portion every year on books about and by underrepresented groups. It's important to my community and to me, and it has been important for a long time.

I'm grateful to Koester for making me think about this and for starting the conversation. Part of me had started to take it for granted that everyone thinks this way, especially since I tend to surround myself with like minded people. But I know this approach has been an evolution in the way I do collection development. I have to admit I wasn't as thoughtful in my approach when I was a new librarian. Ms. Koester helped me remember that not everyone has had the same realizations and opportunities I have.

I'm not sure what else I want to say about this because, to me, it's not a matter for debate. However, it seems that public libraries are sometimes as resistant to diverse books as the publishing industry. I'd like to hear about how other academic libraries handle diversity in their collections. Is it a conscious effort? Or is it a catch-as-catch-can kind of thing where you just buy what you buy without any kind of thought about representation? Or, worst of all, do you find your collection development is dictated by the same kind of cop-outs Koester quoted in her post, such as "We have a copy, but I can count the number of black patrons my library has in two weeks on one hand."?

I know I'm often preaching to the choir here, but more than most posts, I hope this has given you something to think about.

1 comment:

  1. I've added diverse titles to the collections of every library I have worked for over the past decade. Diversity wasn't explicitly written into any of the collection development policies, because most hadn't been updated for quite some time. My big tent definition of diversity includes diverse perspectives (e.g. political and theological). I think too often people fixate on just race and gender when thinking about diversity. It does take time to find diverse titles, but the extra effort is worth it to provide different perspectives and personal experiences as options available to students for reading and research.