Creating Community through a Diverse Collection

One of the greatest services that libraries can provide their patrons is a sense of community.

They can create a physical connection by providing gathering spaces, and they can create emotional connections through their programming and collection development.

That makes it all the more important for a library’s collection to be able to speak to every community member. When a library has a diverse, equitable, and inclusive collection it can more robustly support and enrich the lives of all patrons.


Diverse, equitable and inclusive collections create connections

When a collection has been curated to be diverse and inclusive, for example, a library can more easily and strategically promote and support events such as Black History Month, Native American History Month and Disability Pride Month, to name a few.

Patrons are increasingly expecting to see libraries recognize and celebrate diverse populations. (Read this story to learn about how some groups recently approached Black History Month.) When materials are at the ready, a library can more easily create programming that suits its demographic, whether it is creating a book display, organizing special storytimes or holding a month-long celebration.

Some libraries in the U.K. recently found creative ways to use their collections to support LGBT+ History Month. Lambeth Libraries in London, for example, hosted a month-long program of LGBT+ History Month events that showcased Lesbian Rom-Coms, Gay detective books and more. Manchester Libraries featured special collections of local LGBT+ authors.

Diverse collections also can comfort patrons whenever they need it, particularly those who recently moved to the area. ABC News, Australia, shared the story of Rabiha, a 13-year-old Afghan refugee who arrived in Melbourne, Australia. She couldn’t understand people and they couldn’t understand her, leaving her feeling lost. Her father took her to the local library where she worked on her English reading a variety of books. She also made a close friend when she met a girl perusing the library shelves one day.

Rabiha shared with the reporter: “I’d felt so lonely since I came to Australia, [that] I felt a sense of belonging [with books].”


Helping patrons see and be seen

Literature allows children to see their own life and culture and get a view of the lives and cultures of others. Materials that accurately portray diversity can positively impact a child’s sense of self. Everyone wants to see images that reflect their lives. A diverse collection can help young readers develop an appreciation for their culture and for the culture of others, fostering empathy.

On the other hand, a lack of representation or misrepresentation and inaccurate stereotypes can be hugely harmful, creating community divides and other damage.

In the 1990s, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop published an essay about the importance of providing young readers with diverse books that reflect the “multicultural nature of the world in which we live.” In the essay, Dr. Bishop coined the phrase “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors” to illustrate how books can act as mirrors allowing children to see themselves, windows giving a glimpse into the lives and perspective of others and sliding glass doors by allowing readers the chance to become a part of the world through imagination.

Diverse collections provide libraries with these windows, mirrors and doors.

For example, disabled people, their allies and companies are working together more than ever to celebrate disabled and chronically ill people (DCI). (Learn how here.) Disability Pride Month in July offers libraries an opportunity to use their collections to raise awareness of outdated attitudes and stereotypes, and combat ableism.

Recognizing the importance of including diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in collection development efforts, the American Library Association offers guidance for libraries in its Library Bill of Rights.

The ALA says that library workers are obligated to “select, maintain and support access” to such content. According to the ALA, “books and other library resources should be provided” for the use of “all people of the community the library serves”, and material should not be excluded because of the content creator’s “origin, background or views”. Materials should present all points of view on both historical and current issues, and materials should not be removed because of partisan or doctrinal approval.


Diversity growing in collections worldwide

Recent research has found that DEI representation accounted for an average of 17% of collections in a sample of U.S. public libraries and 14% in a sample of Canadian public libraries, while libraries in Ireland and the U.K. had average DEI representation of 10% and 8% respectively. Data collated from public libraries in Australia and New Zealand found an average of 16% and 17% respectively.

Within the U.S., libraries of all sizes have average DEI representation in the double digits. Very large library systems were found to have an average 18.4% DEI representation, while medium, small and very small libraries had DEI representation of around 16%.

*DEI averages are based on customer collections submitted to collectionHQ’s DEI Analysis tool and may not be fully representative of all holdings.


Technology can improve DEI representation

Ensuring a collection represents the vast viewpoints and backgrounds of a community can feel daunting. Yet there are tools that can help librarians more easily see and fill gaps in their collection that best match the changing demographics of their communities.

This ongoing monitoring of a collection is vital as communities constantly evolve, particularly during the pandemic, which saw many people move. Librarians can use Census data or other demographic data to make sure their collection is tracking with population changes.

Librarians are also turning to evidence-based tools for confidence and peace of mind when making DEI collection decisions.

DEI Analysis from collectionHQ offers evidence-based tools that empower libraries to discover, monitor, analyze and evaluate content at a branch and system-wide level. Libraries subscribing to collectionHQ can view how their collection compares with the averages highlighted earlier in this blog, and monitor changes in their collection’s provision of DEI material over time.


Selection Lists

Another important tool for diversifying collections are curated, strategic selection lists.

Title Source 360’s new “In Case You Missed It” selection lists feature titles from high-demand BISACS based on usage data from collectionHQ. The title lists are well reviewed and include backlist and forthcoming titles. For example, May selection lists are in celebration of two June holidays – Pride Month and Juneteenth.

Titles include:

  • We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys (ISBN 9780063030244) by forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, investigates the notorious Dozier Boys School. The Arthur G. Dozier Boys School was a well-guarded secret in Florida for over a century, until reports of cruelty, abuse, and “mysterious” deaths shut the institution down in 2011.“With We Carry Their Bones, Erin Kimmerle continues to unearth the true story of the Dozier School, a tale more frightening than any fiction. In a corrupt world, her unflinching revelations are as close as we’ll come to justice,” said Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer-Prize Winning author of The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad. [Source: Annotation from Title Source 360, Baker & Taylor]
  • Gender Queer: A Memoir (ISBN:9781637150726). “In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Then e created Gender Queer. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fan fiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: It is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.” [Source: Annotation from Title Source 360, Baker & Taylor]

Libraries are making great strides in diversifying their collections. With the help of data-driven tools and other technology-based solutions to deepen insight, libraries can make sure everything in their collection is representative of their community while also ensuring that all facets of their community are represented within their collections.

Enjoyed this blog? Customers of Title Source 360 from B&T can click here to access the new “In Case You Missed It” selection list, featuring titles to help libraries build their collections for upcoming displays and celebrations.

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