Diversity: What We Can Do NOW

Yesterday I had the great privilege to attend ALSC’s Day of Diversity Forum.  This was an all day, invitation only event that was amazing beyond my greatest expectations.  I wanted to film the whole thing.  Every single panel and speaker and break-out session was simply wonderful.  Unfortunately, I did not film a single thing (though I did tweet like crazy).  Since I did not capture the amazing on film, I would like to write about it here.  I will not be recapping the day; instead, I’ll be talking about why we should support diverse books and programs, and then I’ll list some things that we can do RIGHT NOW to help promote diversity in our libraries, schools, and communities (and hopefully, soon, the entire world).

But first, if you’re not up to date on the topic of diversity in children’s literature, ALSC has a great list of suggested reading.  (Scroll down for the reading links.)

Why Promote Diversity:

  • The lack of diversity in media isn’t limited to children’s literature.  Just look at this year’s Oscars nominees.  While the United States is getting more and more diverse, this isn’t being reflected in media.  Kids (and adults) need to see themselves in what they watch and read.  By fighting for more diverse characters in children’s literature, we can hopefully cause a change in other media outlets as well.
  • The topic of diversity comes up every five years or so, but the conversation typically fizzles out without any positive outcomes.  This time the conversation seems to be sustaining itself, but it will only continue to do so if we continue to promote it.  Talking about it isn’t enough; we need to be DOING something about it.
  • Kids are not kids for very long.  Every few years, they age out of various reading levels (picture book, chapter book, middle grade, YA, etc.)  We do not have the luxury of time to sit around and ho hum about this topic.  We need to be proactive so that the children of today can see themselves in (and be inspired by) the books they read.

What Can We Do NOW:

  • Promote diversity system-wide in your organization, whether it’s a library, school, or business.
    • While one person promoting diversity is better than none, this is not a one-person job.  What if that person leaves the organization?  What will happen to all their hard work?  Furthermore, the community needs to see diversity in all areas of the library, not just in one area.
    • All staff needs to be knowledgeable about cultural bias.  If possible, have a university professor or some other expert come in to conduct a workshop with staff about cultural bias.
  • READ diverse books.  Go outside of your reading comfort zone.  It’s not enough to simply hand a diverse child a book that features a diverse character.  This is especially true since many older books portray harmful and inaccurate stereotypes.  Know what these books are about and pitch them to children in a way that will make the child excited to read them.
  • There are more book awards than just the Newbery and Caldecott.  Promote Coretta Scott King books.  Promote Pura Belpre books.  Promote American Indian Youth Literature Award books.
  • Buy diverse books!  Buying books is a political act.  By buying diverse books, we are not only supporting the writers, but we are also showing the industry that these are the books that we want.
  • Go to your local independent bookstore with a list of well-written diverse books and ask them to purchase every book on the list.  You can try this with Barnes and Noble too, though there’s more red tape there.  Hopefully if we ignite diverse book buying at a local level, bigger stores will follow suit.
  • Take a look at the e-books your library is purchasing.  Are there diverse titles?  With more and more people reading on tablets, it’s important that all parts of our collections are representing diversity, including our online books.
  • Reach out to teachers.  Many of them are so busy that they do not have the time to be aware of new diverse books.  Start a custom collections program with your local teachers so that they can learn about and have access to well-written diverse books.  If possible, seek out grant money and adopt a classroom, bringing children new books that they can either keep or check out.
  • Include diverse books in your book displays all year long.  Set up some non-prominent book displays throughout the library so that kids can look at the book without feeling looked at.
  • Learn how to pronounce the names of diverse authors (teachingbooks.net is very helpful here).  Also, show pictures of the authors so that children can see that they can be writers too.
  • Give publishers feedback.
  • Partner with local organizations to provide cultural programs.
  • Set goals and give yourself a timeline to get them done.  It’s not enough to just agree with the diverse books movement, or to just talk about it.  We need to DO something.  So write down three goals:  one that you want to accomplish by the end of the month, one that you want to accomplish by the end of three months, and one that you want to accomplish by the end of summer.

If you’re on Twitter and want to learn more, take a look at the #DiversityMatters tag.  Lots of great ideas and inspiring quotes!