This guide is intended to help school librarians increase the diversity in representation of their collections. The resources in this guide explain the importance of collection diversity and teach librarians how to perform a diversity audit of their collection.
Why does diversity matter?
School librarians have a responsibility to ensure that all of their students are meaningfully represented in the school's collection. Even for schools that aren’t particularly diverse, a quality education exposes students to different cultures and viewpoints than their own. Book publishers are overwhelmingly white and librarians in the United States are predominantly white females.This lack of diversity in our profession affects collection development. Not only is there a publishing bias against minority representation, librarians tend to add materials to a collection that reflect their own cultural bias. This bias is often unconscious and we may believe our collections to be sufficiently diverse when in fact they are not. This is where diversity audits can help.
Here is a link to the American Library Association's recommendations for diversity in library collections:
What is a diversity audit?
A diversity audit is the process of evaluating the materials in your collection for representation of various groups that are often marginalized. This can include (but is not limited to) racial or religious minorities, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities, and transgender students. Ideally an audit should be conducted on the entire collection so that each title is evaluated for character representation. If a complete audit isn't feasible there are several different ways to conduct partial audits. There is no timeline for an audit and some librarians stretch the project out over years to incorporate it into their schedule. Audits can be performed by a single librarian, a group of staff members, or even with the help of students. The most common method for auditing is creating a spreadsheet listing the titles to be audited in rows and the attributes being evaluated in the columns (see example below). If the auditor is unfamiliar with the book they are evaluating they can use the information on the book jacket or professional reviews to determine the race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. of the book's main characters. When the audit is complete you can find the gaps in your collection’s diversity and add titles which will make your collection more inclusive (see resource list in the bottom left column). An audit can also provide an opportunity to weed titles with negative representation.
Collins, A. (2016). Diverse library inventory [Digital image]. San Francisco Public School Mom. https://sfpsmom.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Diverse-Library-Inventory.pdf
Jensen, K. (2017, November 1). Doing a YA collection diversity audit: Understanding your local community (Part 1). School Library Journal. http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/ 2017/11/doing-a-diversity-audit-understanding-your-local-community/
Karen Jensen is a teen services librarian in Texas who created the online resource Teen Librarian Toolbox which is available through School Library Journal online. This article is the first of a three part series written by Jensen concerning diversity audits. In this article Jensen discusses how she went about evaluating the demographics of the teens her library serves.
Jensen, K. (2017, November 2). Doing a YA collection diversity audit: The how-to (Part 2). School Library Journal. http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2017/11/doing-a-ya-collection-diversity- audit-part-2/
In part 2 of this series Jensen describes her own process of auditing her collection. She adapted this article from a presentation she gave about diversity audits and she posts pictures of the slides she used in her presentation. Some of the slides picture the worksheet she used which could be very helpful for librarians following in her footsteps.
Jensen, K. (2017, November 2). Doing a YA collection diversity audit: Resources and sources (Part 3). School Library Journal. http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2017/11/doing-a-diversity-audit-resources-and-sources-part-3/
In part 3 of her series Jensen provides a comprehensive list of the resources she used to inform her own diversity audit. In addition to providing multiple links to resources about diversity in publishing, diversity in young adult literature, and population statistics she also includes dozens of links to book lists broken down by character type (LatinX, Native American, etc.).
Parrott, K. (2018, March 7). A diversity and cultural literacy toolkit. School Library Journal. https://www.slj.com/?
This article contains dozens of links concerning the topic of diversity audits arranged into sections. Topics covered include diversity in publishing, stereotypes, language/terminology, selecting for diversity, recommended reading, and suggestions for booklists.
Mortensen, A. (2019, May). Measuring diversity in the collection. Library Journal 144(4), 28-30.
This Library Journal article chronicles the diversity audit performed by a public library in Illinois. The author decided to audit only portions of her library’s collection instead of every title; this is a popular way to audit large collections or to perform audits with limited time or staff.
.Summers, L. L. (2010, March-April). Culturally responsible leadership in school libraries. Library Media Connection, 28(5), 10-13.
This article deals with curriculum reform in school libraries to increase students’ diversity awareness. The author gives theoretical background combined with concrete ideas of how school librarians can engage students with diverse cultures and viewpoints. It includes an excellent summary of questions to ask as you evaluate your collection.
Agosto, D.E. (2007, February). Building a multicultural school library: Issues and challenges. Teacher Librarian, 34(3), 27-31.
This article discusses diversity in a school library setting in terms of a way to advocate for students in minority groups and foster empathy for diverse cultures. It includes a discussion of how increasing selection diversity can help students who are learning to speak English. The author describes five criteria for choosing high quality multicultural materials (accuracy, expertise, respect, purpose, and quality) and provides links for locating such materials.
Shaffer, S., Winner, M., & Miller, S. M. (2019, April 30). Does my collection reflect my community? Diversity in the school library [Webinar]. Alliance for Excellent Education. https://all4ed.org /webinar-event/does-my-collection-reflect-my-community-diversity-in-the-school-library/
This webinar provides an in-depth and thoughtful exploration of many issues relating to school library collection diversity. The panelists provide detailed information based on their own experiences regarding the importance of diversity (and often the lack thereof) and the many ways, including diversity audits, that library collections can be made more representative.
Friebel, J. (2019, January 7). The benefits and limits of diversity audits. Reading While White. http://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-benefits-limits-of-diversity-audits.html
Reading While White is a group of white librarians who are committed to confronting their own cultural biases and educating others about the importance of diversity in materials for children and young adults. The author of this article points out that while useful, diversity audits are only one step towards improving representation.
Eisenberg, J. (n.d.). How to actually implement more diverse libraries at your school. Center for the Collaborative Classroom. https://www.collaborativeclassroom.org/blog/how-to-actually-implement-more-diverse-libraries-at-your-school/
This article provides a thoughtful discussion about the different types of diversity and stresses the importance of weeding out titles that contain misrepresentations.