June 1st marked the start of Pride month, and a central theme around the NYLA-SSL conference fit the bill perfectly: “How can we represent a diversity of people in our school library collections?” Students come in all shapes, colors, sizes, sexes, genders, religions, ideals, backgrounds, thoughts, emotions, you-name-its. In 1990 Dr. Rudine Simms Bishop coined the phrase “Windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” to refer to how children need to not only see themselves in books, but also learn about people who may be different than them. Developing a diverse collection that speaks to students in this way is an important part of our work.
Keynote speakers Dhonielle Clayton, author and COO of We Need Diverse Books; Newbery award winning author Matt de la Peña, and Knickerbocker award winning fantasy author Tamora Pierce, all spoke to this theme in their keynote speeches.
Out of all of them, Dhonielle Clayton gave us the most practical knowledge. She gives 5 main pieces of advice for diversifying your collection:
- Don’t rely only on big review outlets. Read the titles that they don’t highlight, and decide for yourself if the books are worth buying.
- Read widely. Read everything. Not just the titles that are pushed out to you.
- Seek balance! In displays don’t highlight just one story (and she didn’t mention this, but if you’ve never seen it, check out this amazing Ted talk “The danger of a single story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie).
- To help us in our selection process, We Need Diverse Books has developed an app called OurStory (www.diversebooks.org/our-programs/ourstory). The app lists “diverse” books that have been reviewed and tagged by librarians.
- Finally, Dhonielle stressed one of the most important point in this discussion: when highlighting diverse books, don’t highlight them for their diversity. Putting together a collection of books to highlight diversity, only segregates them further. Focus on their themes and storylines. For example, at Valentines Day when you’re putting together a display of books on love, just make sure you include books about all kinds of love. If highlighting fantasy books, display books by all kinds of authors with all kinds of characters.
We Need Diverse Books will be brought to the Rochester area on September 24th (1pm-4pm) by RRLC and if you haven’t already registered, please do so. This event is filling up quickly.
Information and registration at: https://rrlc.org/event-details/we-need-diverse-libraries-diversifying-your-bookshelves-for-young-readers-and-teens/