Various studies have provided information on growing diversity rates within the US; as Hughes-Hassell details, the majority of public school students are not white, and population rates of every ethnic group, except for non-Hispanic white children, has grown since 2000 (2015). There is no doubt that many communities are built on diversity, and curriculum and culture should reflect that diversity.
But in reading Hughes-Hassell’s report, I kept thinking about the teachers and librarians in areas that are still predominantly white. Sure, the population of various non-white ethnicities are growing, but that number can’t be constant in every state. What is happening in public libraries in communities that don’t reflect the national rates? It isn’t enough to assume that all librarians are aware of these stats and putting in the work to adequately reflect diverse communities in their collections and programming. Even then, a librarian might be aware of the stats but, because those numbers aren’t reflected around them, might not feel the need to do the appropriate work. In many cases, I’d imagine the impetus is falling on librarians of color when relevant. Hopefully nation-wide training and seminars will help ensure that instilling space for diversity in the library is mandatory, regardless of the community demographics of any individual library.
Of course, it’s unfair to blame a lack of diversity in children’s literature on librarians. Many articles on the topic are missing one of the real problems: the lower publishing rates of authors of color, and/or books with diverse characters in prominent roles. Of course, movements have been undertaken to change this, and there are communities and resources that champion such books when they’re released. But when numbers tend to be so low, there’s even less of a reason to not see those books in public libraries: according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 7% of new children’s books published in 2017 were written by black, Latino, and/or Native American authors. That’s 276 out of 3700 books (Jalissa, 2018). Most large libraries could very easily afford to purchase all 276 of those books, and even small ones with smaller budgets could stand a good portion of those. Hopefully, more work is done to make sure all librarians, not just the ones who want to hear about it, understand the importance of diverse collections, and ensuring everyone is represented on the shelf.
Hughes-Hassel, S. (2015). Examining youth services librarians’ perceptions of cultural knowledge as an integral part of their professional practice. School Libraries Worldwide, 21(1), 121-136.
Jalissa. (2018, May 10). The diversity gap in children’s publishing, 2018. Retrieved from https://blog.leeandlow.com/2018/05/10/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-book-publishing-2018/