Diversity on Display

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

Recently, I sat down with a group of Collection Development librarians to talk about pressing issues in their work. All of them have been spending a great deal of time and energy examining the diversity of their collections, or performing diversity audits. (If you are unfamiliar with diversity audits, there have been many articles and webinars from ALA, Library Journal, and School Library Journal on the subject. Check out some sources below.) One of the concerns they brought up was that once a team has gone through all the work to balance the collection and purchase new materials, how might front-line staff become engaged in championing and promoting a more diverse collection of titles?

This question lit a fire in my brain. I spent several years on the Display & Marketing team at my public library, where we worked on encouraging face-out displays, shelf-talkers, and diversifying bookmarks and book lists. What would be some creative ways to give diverse books exposure all year long, not just during African American History Month or around Chinese New Year?

The most obvious suggestion is one I already mentioned — make sure that book lists include diverse authors and characters. Include titles about mixed religion families in Hanukkah or Christmas displays. Include characters of different races and sexual orientations in a “Cooking Up Romance” display. Feature some of the many lesser-known book awards like the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors books that “embody an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences,” or the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, which “recognizes books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures.”

Does your library empower all staff members to fill displays and write up recommendations? Encourage them to give suggestions about books to feature. Our staffs are full of diverse experiences, tastes, and perspectives. Get them excited by taking some ownership of promotion.

Since that conversation with librarians, I have had fun brainstorming book lists and displays a library could pull together to incorporate many diverse groups, authors, and experiences. Here are some to get you started that incorporate some of the trends I’ve seen in publishing this year:

Gender-Flipped Classics

Alternative History

Advocates You Never Knew

Pandemic Fiction

Behind-the-Scenes at the Theatre

Sizzlin’ TV Chefs

Magical Realism

Classic Tales Re-told

Horror

Social Emotional Learning

Immigration Experiences

Popular Crafts from Around the World

Space Opera

Reawakened Mythology

Up-and-Coming Detectives

Cooking Up Romance

Bookish Romance

Books Set in Our State

Unreal World Building

Reality is More Diverse Than Fiction

What are some ways your library gets front-line staff involved in promoting diverse titles? Share your suggestions of other great display and book list ideas that could include many voices. I’d love to steal them…I mean see them!

Further Reading:

Diversity Auditing 101: How to Evaluate Your Collection. Karen Jensen. School Library Journal, October 22, 2018.

Conducting a Diversity Audit. Chelsey Roos. ALSC Blog, September 18, 2020

Counting the Collection: Conducting a Diversity Audit of Adult Biographies. Colleen Wood. Library Journal, May 25, 2021

After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.

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