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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The State of the: books added this year

On 28, Mar 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

One of my goals and major projects this year has been to examine the different sections of our collection, weed and update them, ensure they are being used, and introducing more diversity into them. I’m going to start sharing the numbers and my ideas on how I’m going to improve the collections. 

The Collection

The books we’ve added through out the year have been a mix of materials. Some have simply been new releases that are intended to build our fiction collections. Others support specific curricular units.

I worked hard on updating and upgrading our transitional chapter book collection (the red books) adding new books with more appeal, weeding older titles that didn’t circulate and were in poor condition. I also worked very hard to get a more diverse set of books into that part of the collection.

We also bought a fair amount of fiction and nonfiction to support various areas of the curriculum. I bought a lot of Native American books and Latino books to support the second grade social studies units in these areas. I am especially proud of this collection development as I made sure to purchase books written by native authors and that were well reviewed by Native Americans (thank you Debbie Reese in particular!).

The Numbers

So far this year we have added 588 books to our collection (I’m sure that gives you a sense of what our budget is). We are working on purchasing a few more books shelves so we probably won’t add more than a 50 more books for the rest of the year. Which is my way of saying this is pretty close to our final number.

The numbers here aren’t perfect. I looked specifically at the main character in most of the books, although sometimes there were two, in which case I counted both of them. I think a few books that I added new records for slipped in but weren’t technically new books. Also, if I could tell in a nonfiction book that there was a specific gender being shown throughout the book or on the cover I counted this into my tally (for example How to Fly a Jet Fighter, a math-based graphic novel, is narrated by a woman), but it wasn’t possible for every book. Incidental ethnicity in some of the nonfiction and fiction isn’t reflected here because it was hard to tell if people pictured were an actual ethnicity. There are also plenty of longer chapter books that I am not completely familiar with. If they weren’t on the cover I marked the book as white. Let’s face it, people will assume the characters are anyway.

Some of the animals were actually inanimate objects or insects (Stick and Stone or The Day the Crayons Quit). Sometimes you could tell that there was a gender, but not an ethnicity. “Other” refers primarily to Indian characters, but there were two or three Ancient Greeks which I didn’t want to call white (which I think of more as Western European ancestry). In the gender section, +3 refers to three or more main characters that made it difficult to count everyone accurately.

This time around I did look at family structure and at religion because I know I intentionally bought books that showed these things, but for the majority of the books we bought there wasn’t a particular religious or family theme. We added three books that specifically mention or deal with Judaism. We added three books with Muslims in them and only two that were overtly Christian. There were two books added with same-sex parents and two that dealt specifically with divorced parents.

So again, these numbers aren’t perfect, but they give a very good snapshot despite this.

Thoughts and Concerns

This was harder to look at because many books we bought didn’t specifically deal with race or religion, etc. The numbers are still pretty bad. Okay, abysmal. Much as our numbers with the biography collection.

I understand that race is not the only form of diversity, but frankly other types just didn’t feature in the books we have added (I know one book I bought shows a child in a wheelchair). This is a place we really need to focus our attentions. I didn’t want to look too closely at disability either because many of the books you see it in are our chapter books and I know many of those don’t fair well under scrutiny of their portrayals of the disabilities.

I am ashamed to admit many (6ish) of the Asian characters in books are actually Lego Ninjago characters. Ugh.

I am going to pat myself on the back here for a minute. I looked at the books I specifically bought since I made a concerted effort to be buying more diverse materials. I think I did an okay job. Okay stop patting. That being said, I can do a lot better and am challenging myself to do better for the rest of this year and next year (and any years to follow). My point in running these numbers was not to make me look good, but to show that if you focus on getting more diverse materials it makes a BIG difference in your numbers. We have to be intentional about this.

I put the Star Wars books in their own category because it was this big set I bought. I guess I’m trying to make myself feel better about my numbers, but I am also not sure if there are any in there that have any of the female characters featured or the new character that is black (I know so little about Star Wars, I’m sorry!). The animal character numbers are high because I have a soft spot for them!! Good to see that so I can work on checking that bias.

It’s not easy to find good quality literature that celebrates diversity, but it is out there. And the last thing our library needs, as the numbers are beginning to show, is yet another book with a white boy (and to some extent girl) in it. I believe we have a good collection at its core, by weeding and being more selective in what we purchase we can make it an even better collection. We can sell what we already have in the library and worry less about adding new books. I do hesitate when I know kids come in and ask for certain books that might not fit with my efforts to buy diverse titles, but I have to balance wanting to encourage kids with wanting to spend our budget on better books.

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