Monday, 26 May 2014

Talkin' about the issues...

So, last week, I attended a networking event for the ALIA New Graduates Group in Melbourne. They meet up every couple of months, and it's a great opportunity to meet other like-minded professionals at similar points in our careers. And even though it's been over eight and a half years since I graduated as a librarian, I still often feel like a new graduate - especially compared with most established librarians who seem to have been in the industry for decades!

Anyway, I went along with my video camera to stage an impromptu vox pop session, asking librarians (regardless of sector) their opinions on what they thought the issues were for children and youth library
services in 2014. Here are some of the responses:

One librarian who preferred not to be filmed mentioned the challenges of supporting the diversity of the community. She recounted an incident where the children's librarian had organised a program of "festive storytimes" which represented different cultures. Despite the events being clearly publicised, during the Chanukah storytime session, one parent interrupted the event and quite vocally objected
to her children being exposed to these stories, saying that they were inappropriate for the festive season.

This tale reminds that the issues of Censorship and Diversity are often closely related. Books
that are awarded as the best amongst its peers are often more closely scrutinised for their representations of race, disability and culture. Encouraging diverse representations in literature and programs can also stir up malcontent amongst those in the community with conservative and insular values. Librarians need to have the professional principles to support diversity in the community, whilst
still maintaining a sensitivity to a diverse range of cultural needs - and this can be a challenging line to toe!

On a final note, it was interesting to note that there were a number of librarians who didn't feel that they had a sufficiently informed opinion on the current issues for children and youth services. This was understandable, given that many librarians inhabit the tertiary education, government and corporate sectors, and rarely encounter children or youth in their roles. One librarian even suggested that there weren't any "real" issues in children and youth librarianship - certainly something of an inflammatory statement! However, it does highlight the sheer scope of issues that professionals face, and the
lack of awareness that they might have of the professional issues in other sectors within the industry.  Furthermore, I found interesting the implication of a professional hierarchy, where some librarian work
is considered "more professional" than others, where legal, medical and tertiary academic librarians are at the top, and children's librarians are at the bottom. It is true that professionals in each sector require a very specific - and different - set of professional skills, but each are just as valid as providers of essential professional services in the community.


Finegan, A. (2014) Librarian Vox Pop. Retrieved from

Monday, 12 May 2014

Diversifying our collections...

How well does your library's collection reflect the diversity of your readers and community?

This was a question that Virginia Kay Williams and Nancy Deyoe explored in their recent peer-reviewed article "Diverse Population, Diverse Collection? Youth Collections in the United States" in
Technical Services Quarterly (2014). Looking at over 5000 academic, school and public library services across the US that held collections of children's or young adult fiction, they assessed how many titles
each library held, where central characters in these titles:

  • Were from ethnic or racial minorities, specifically African America, Hispanic, Latino, Asian or American Indian, and Pacific Islander.
  • Had a disability;
  • Identified as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer / Questioning (LGBTQ).

Instigated by casual conversations which indicated a recurring opinion that children's books in library collections were often "middle class, white, straight" and lacking in strong disabled characters, they set
out to investigate whether these biases actually existed, focusing on the above three populations.
Some of their findings were perhaps unsurprising:

  • Public libraries' collections held more titles representing these minorities than school or academic (p. 115);
  • Public libraries held more of these titles in the Northeast of the US than public libraries in other regions (p. 116); 
  • Libraries with bigger budgets held more of these titles (p. 116).

However, of the libraries spending over $100,000 per year on materials, over one third of them did not sufficiently stock titles with representations of ethnic/racial diversity or disability, and half did not hold adequate levels of titles representing LGBTQ themes.(p. 116). Furthermore, over 700 of the 5002 libraries - 15% - held zero titles from the LGBTQ checklist (where only 3 libraries held no titles from the racial/ethnicity checklist, and 48 from the disability titles).

Why is this important? Williams and Deyoe quote the ALA's Freedom to Read Statement as a guiding principle in promoting diversity through libraries whereby "It is in the public interest for publishers and
librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular or considered dangerous by the majority" (para. 8).

They also observed that 36% of the population of the United States were members of racial or ethnic minorities, but less than 10% of children's or YA books published in the US were by or about these minorities. (p. 99) They assert, quite rightly, that literature containing these characters "reaffirms young people's sense of self and the value of their culture whilst providing opportunities to expand their awareness and understanding of other viewpoints and cultures". (p. 98)

So, why is this happening? Firstly, issues of sexuality, racism, prejudice and disability - or, indeed any literature that engages and empowers readers of a social minority - could be considered by some to be controversial or transgressive. At the same time,
it is refreshing to see titles such as John Green's "The Fault in our Stars" receiving widespread popularity, where the central characters have varying levels of disability and illness, yet they are not defined or ruled by them. The literary world could definitely benefit from seeing more positive and healthy representations of minorities in the community.

How can we work to ensure that we have a diverse collection? This paper lists a number of awards and lists that recognise and celebrate diversity in children's and YA literature, including:
  • The Coretta Scott King Award (African American culture)
  • The Pura Belpre Award (Latino culture)
  • The Asian Pacific American Library Association awards
  • The American Indian Library Association (AILA) Youth Literature Awards
  • Schneider Family Book Award (experience of disability)
  • The Rainbow List (LGBTQ)
As youth librarians, we can rely on these lists as a starting point for stocking diverse titles in our collections. Furthermore, we need to recognise the diversity in our own Australian communities, in our  collection development guidelines to ensure that we aren't ignoring these minority representations in our collections

His article revealed to me some hard evidence to show that more needs to be done to actively and consciously devlop collections that represent and speak to the minoritis that live in our community, and thos is something that all library professionals should be considering when developing collections.


American Library Association & Association of American Publishers. (2004). The Freedom to Read Statement. Retrieved from

Green, J. (2012). The Fault in Our Stars. Camberwell, Vic.: Penguin Books.

Williams, V. K., & Deyoe, N. (2014). Diverse Population, Diverse Collection? Youth Collections in the United States. Technical Services Quarterly, 31, 97-121. doi:10.1080/07317131.2014.875373