We know that all children need to see themselves in books, but there are also many other reasons to make sure that libraries feature books that include all children and all experiences: We need to see people and places that we don’t ordinarily see in our own lives. It makes us richer and less apprehensive of what we perceive as “different.”
“We live in a small town that is not as diverse as some,” says Spooner Library Director Angie Bodzislaw. “Books are a powerful and easy way for kids to see that there are more people than just them in the world. It’s sometimes all too easy to only read books about people like ourselves.”
For a library, Bodzislaw says, it is important to look at the collection and make sure it represents the world, that it is multicultural and diverse.
While Bodzislaw feels that libraries are getting better at ordering diverse and multicultural books, she said we still have a long way to go. One example of books missing from the shelves is quality, hard-cover books about people on the autism spectrum. And she feels that the publishers are still lagging behind when it comes to accepting books from multicultural authors.
When it comes to the library making sure its holdings are as diverse as they should be, the person who orders the books needs to go out of her way to look beyond best-sellers and catalogs and intentionally look for books that represent everybody.
“We are lucky,” Bodzislaw said, “to have the CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) in our state, a fantastic ‘local’ resource when it comes to anything having to do with children’s literature.”
The next step to ensure diversity in the community and the library, is to actually get a wide variety of books into the children’s hands. Libraries no longer put stickers on books with special designations - it only causes further separation - but strive to present as wide a literary experience as possible in story hours, when featuring new books on the shelves, in providing good subject titles so patrons can locate the wide variety of books that is actually already there on the shelf.
In short, diversity and multiculturalism in books make our lives richer by allowing us to not only see ourselves in books but to also see people and environments we are not used to seeing, and by providing opportunities for us to get to know the world beyond ourselves.
For more information about diversity and multiculturalism in books, check out the excellent website, www.diversebooks.org.
by Eva Apelqvist