Looking for Diversity in the Children’s Book Collection at the Bedford Free Public Library

Image (c) University of Wisconsin, all rights reserved

 

How accurately does the Bedford Free Public Library’s (BFPL) children’s book collection reflect the demographics of the community?

Librarian Jess Dyment undertook a “diversity audit” of the collection in the fall of 2020 as her final project toward her Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) degree from the University of Rhode Island, which she received in December. With the building closed during the pandemic, it was a fortuitous time to conduct such an exercise since much of the study involved manually looking at the 12, 714 books audited.

Library Director Richard Callaghan said of the audit: “It’s a good snapshot of the collection to make sure our collection is responsive to the town’s makeup. It shows what we have and what needs improvement.”

The introduction to Dyment’s report explains, “the purpose of this audit was to see whether our collection is accurately representing the population of our town, and of our greater society. Diversity Audits serve as a tool with which to measure the level of diversity within a library collection, and gather information about what changes need to be made in order to improve the collection’s overall diversity.”

Dyment focused on diversity as it pertains to race, culture, gender, sexuality, and disability.  Her findings will be used to inform Children’s Librarian Bethany Klem in her ongoing book selection process.

Results of the BFPL diversity audit for the total children’s book collection:

Diverse Representation out of 12,714 total books audited:

  • Black: 678 (5.3%)
  • AAPI: 307 (2.4%)
  • Latinx: 182 (1.4%)
  • Arab/Middle Eastern: 35 (.3%)
  • Native/Indigenous: 64 (.5%)
  • Mixed/Multiple/Unspecified: 481 (3.8%)
  • LGBTQ: 117 (.9%)
  • Disability: 231 (1.8%)

The remaining 86% of the total titles either feature exclusively white main characters, or non-human characters.

These findings are not inconsistent with the demographics of Bedford. Dyment writes:

“As of the 2019 US Census, the racial makeup of the Bedford population was as follows:

  • 74% White,
  • 15% Asian,
  • 4% Black.
  • Of the population under 65 years of age, 4% have reported living with a disability
  • There is no collected statistical data on the LGBTQ community in Bedford.”

The graph shows one category called “Own Voices,” which is defined as “an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from an underrepresented group” (Seattle Public Library, 2020). So, for a book to be considered ‘Own Voices’, the main character(s) and the author will share a marginalized identity.”

Dyment’s report states, “Of the middle-grade books reported to have characters (main characters or otherwise prominent characters) with marginalized identities, 43% were “Own Voices” books. “ Because there are some authors whose cultural identity, gender, sexuality, or disability is not publicly stated, there might be an underestimate of the number of ”Own Voices” books in the collection.

Comments by the Trustees

The Library Trustees briefly discussed the audit at their July 13 meeting.

Trustee Rachel Field offered statistics from the Census Bureau and the Brookings Institution on the nation’s growing diversity, saying “more than half of the nation’s population under age 16 identify as a racial or ethnic minority.” She felt the Library could do more to bring in books that reflect this reality.

Trustee Alma Hart, drawing on her experience working in a large bookstore, commented that the goal should be books of high quality.

Select Board member Emily Mitchell, liaison to the Trustees and herself an editor, responded that “as of 2019, latest data, 85% of books published in the U.S. still feature white characters, so it’s not that there are a ton of books out there.” She feels that the publishing industry is getting better; “the number of books featuring non-white characters as the main character grows incrementally every year.”

Chair Mike Pulizzi summed up his thoughts: “It is important that our children’s collection has a wide variety of books by a diverse group of authors that offer multiple perspectives. People from all backgrounds and walks of life should be represented in our library’s collection. Having books that focus on different settings, cultures, and backgrounds provides children with the opportunity to see and learn about realities that they otherwise might not be able to experience in person. Hopefully, this will encourage children to be more aware and accepting of the world that exists outside of their own day-to-day realities.”

HOW TO DO AN AUDIT

Conducting the audit required a variety of approaches.  For the Graphic Novels, Chapter Books, and Fiction part of the collection, Dyment used a Google Sheets template provided by a consultant from the Mass Library System. Book titles and authors were uploaded into the spreadsheet, then Dyment went through the tiles alphabetically to determine which books were representative of the respective chosen categories. This process involved analyzing synopses, reading professional and consumer reviews, and looking through the physical books.  A time-consuming effort!

PICTURE BOOKS

The Audit Process: To analyze the Picture Book collection, Dyment worked with Diverse Bookfinder, an organization developed at Bates College which researches and collects racially and culturally diverse picture books. Libraries can cross-reference their own picture books against Diverse Bookfinder’s collection, which aims to collect every racially diverse title published after 2002.

Number of picture books audited: 651

Picture Book Representation: Diverse Bookfinder identified racially and culturally diverse picture books in the Bedford collection with the following racial/cultural groups:

  • Asian/Pacific Islander/Asian American
  • Bi/Multiracial/Mixed Race
  • Black/African/African American
  • Brown-Skinned and/or Race Unclear
  • First/Native Nations/American Indian/Indigenous Latinx/Hispanic/Latin American
  • Middle Eastern/North African/Arab

As Diverse Bookfinder notes, “picture books are powerful tools for children in developing literacy, and a sense of self and others. They act as either ‘mirrors’ in which children can recognize characters like themselves, … or  ‘windows,’ introducing children to characters whose lives are different from their own, fostering curiosity, understanding, and empathy.”

GRAPHIC NOVELS

The Audit Process:  Dyment had to manually input all of the data for each title in the other parts of the collection. For the Graphic Novel collection, she opted to not track data about “Own Voices” titles, as many comics are a collaboration between authors, illustrators, and colorists, and it was difficult to determine if a title is “Own Voices” if not explicitly stated.

Number of Graphic Novels Audited: 855

Graphic Novel Representation:

  • Black: 6% (4% girls, 2% boys, <1% other gender)
  • AAPI: 4% (2% girls, 2% boys)
  • Latinx: 1%
  • Arab/Middle Eastern: <1%
  • Native/Indigenous: N/A
  • White: 49% (20% girls, 29% boys, <1% other gender)
  • Mixed/Multiple/Unspecified: 5%
  • Animal/Non-Human: 35%
  • LGBTQ: 2%
  • Disability: 1%

CHAPTER BOOKS

The Audit Process: “The chapter books make up a smaller portion of the collection, and many of them are multiple titles in a series. However, representation is important in chapter books as they are designed with specific interests in mind and are meant to encourage a lifelong love of reading.”

Number of Chapter Books Audited:
573

Chapter Books Representation:

  • Black: 6% (5% girls, 1% boys)
  • AAPI: 2% (2% girls, <1% boys)
  • Latinx: 3% (2% girls, 1% boys)
  • Arab/Middle Eastern: <1%
  • Native/Indigenous: N/A
  • White: 56% (34% girls, 22% boys)
  • Animal/Non-Human: 31%

FICTION

The Audit Process: Dyment reports the fiction collection took the most time to manually review and audit. For fiction, she focused on the same categories for racial/cultural representation, as well as LGBTQ+ and Disability representation. She also marked books as “Own Voices” when such information was publicly available.

Number of Fiction Books Audited:
2,466

Fiction Books Representation:

  • Black: 5% (3% girls, 2% boys)
  • AAPI: 4% (3% girls, 1% boys)
  • Latinx: 2% (1% girls, 1% boys)
  • Arab/Middle Eastern: <1%
  • Native/Indigenous: <1%
  • Multiple/Unclear: 4% (3% girls, 1% boys)
  • White: 70% (34% girls, 36% boys, <1% other gender)
  • Animal/Non-Human: 12%
  • LGBTQ+: 2%
  • Disability: 5%
  • Own Voices: 43% (43% of books with marginalized characters are written by authors who share that identity)

CLICK THIS LINK TO VIEW THE DIVERSITY AUDIT REPORT: https://sites.google.com/minlib.net/bfpl-diversity-audit/home

 


Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Terry Traub
Terry Traub
11 months ago

According to this audit, there are more “black” books than there are “black” population in the town (5.3% vs. 4%). Therefore, 1.3% of the “black” books can be removed, without offending anyone… right? Since we’re going strictly by the math here.

As for the 86% “white or non-human”, can you please break that down by species? Exactly how many of the books are about completely non-human creatures? And, should we not feature creatures that are not part of the town’s population, since that is the primary criteria for allowable material in the library?

Perhaps we should set up a Political Correctness Committee to review all of the books in the Bedford Public Library. After all, there are probably plenty of books in the collection that are offensive to one group or the other, and we can’t have that!

Kelly Korenak
Kelly Korenak
11 months ago

I didn’t know about this audit, but I’m so glad to see it, and that the library has posted it on their website, and it actively engaging in the results and the conversation. I hope this leads to some new acquisitions for the library, though it’s clear our library is working hard to create engaging activities for users and represent the community fully with the bilingual picture book collection, and the many book guides they publish. Much of this is trickle down from the publishing industry doing a poor job for so long, but glad to see that folks are stepping up all around.

Many thanks to our great library staff, and I encourage parents to bring their kids and check out something new, something you might not have thought to pick up before!

Sharon McDonald
Sharon McDonald
11 months ago

It was my experience as a librarian that when I displayed children’s books including some titles about or from the point of view of a minority character, Bedford readers would not choose them. Those books were left on the display shelf when all the others were taken. Magnificently illustrated folktales from around the world? Nope.

Until recently, Bedford was upwards of 90% white. I am glad to think things are changing in the reading audience as well as in the demographics.

3
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x