In 2015 only 14.2% of characters in children’s books represented minorities; this number covered four different nationalities while 73.3% of characters were white. Meanwhile, 12.5% of characters were animals or inanimate objects. What does this mean? This means that there were more books about rabbits and bulldozers than about any other non-white race. With that in mind, the Minot Public Library began a Diversity Audit in 2020 to look deeply at their collection of books see if the collection represented diversity in a thoughtful way.
Why does diversity and representation matter for public libraries? Public libraries are intended to serve, and thus represent, everyone within a community. During the Minot Public Library’s November “Sweater Weather” program, staff reached out to local indigenous community members and asked them “When did you first read a book by an indigenous author?” One person responded stating that she didn’t read a book by an indigenous author until she was 20 years old and enrolled in a Native American Studies course in college. This is a striking statement on the materials available to people. In a 2019 article for Young Adult Library Services Journal, Nicole Cooke (a Library and Information Sciences professor) warned that a “lack of perspective and diversity of thought can become dangerous, particularly to impressionable youth who don’t see themselves in books and consequently are at risk of developing a skewed perception of what the real world actually looks like.”
The Minot Public Library, like all libraries, understands that they have the responsibility to allow patrons to access information on a wide variety of topics and this includes race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, ability/disability, religion, socioeconomic status, and family situation. In her 1990 essay “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” educator Rudine Sims Bishop emphasizes this responsibility by stating “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” This access to different perspectives and images is important for your local library because libraries exist to help level the playing field and provide equitable and authentic access to information, resources and services.
The Minot Public Library is working to highlight diversity within our community. To do this, the Library has started a series called “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives.” Adult Services Librarian, Zhaina Moya, said this series started as a part of Black History Month, but will continue to highlight other underserved populations. “To kick off this program we asked some of our local black business owners, professionals, and community influencers to select an influential African American and share a little about what this person did and why he/she influenced them. In addition to highlighting influential people, we wanted to highlight the amazing people within our community and all of the great things they are doing,” Moya said. “We plan for this new program series to extend beyond Black History Month and hope to showcase other populations such as women, indigenous people, lgbtqia, disabled people, latinx, Asian Americans, and more.” In March, the Library will focus on Women’s History month and will continue sharing videos on their social media about influential women throughout history as well as local female business owners, community leaders, and influencers.
As public libraries, we know that inclusion goes beyond race, gender, sexual orientation and religion though. Inclusion goes back to the idea that libraries level the playing field and this means providing no-cost access to technology and more. As the world becomes increasingly more technologically advanced, library staff witness the effects of “information poverty” daily. Information poverty was defined by scholar Elfreda Chatman as “knowledge gaps or barriers to knowledge and/or a lack of processing skills.” Chatman further explained that information poverty can demonstrate a lack of understanding that results from a lack of access and availability of information. The Minot Public Library strives to overcome this by offering access to technology as well as one-on-one instruction to assist patrons in learning how to respond to everyday problems and tasks which now require technology.
As the Minot Public Library continues to bridge gaps to access and work for a more diverse collection does this mean that James Patterson and Danielle Steele are on their way out? Absolutely not! However, we hope that people who enjoy reading these authors will also discover Louise Erdrich, Paulo Coelho, Yaa Gyasi, James McBride, Brandon Hobson and much more.
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