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An Experiment with Inclusive Literature, Part II: One White Elementary Librarian’s Endeavor to Diversify Her Picture Book Collection

As some of you may remember, I started this year by writing a blog post about a collection development experiment I decided to undertake that was focused by this question: What if the only picture books and picture book biographies I buy for my K-3 collection only featured characters of color? It is now late-February and I am half-way through the school year. It is time to check in to see where I stand with this goal.

At the beginning of the year, I ran a quick inventory of picture books and picture book biographies of the previous year and created a pie chart to demonstrate the number of books that I had purchased that included characters of color. See it again below, compared with this year’s pie chart:

2017-2018

138 titles total

Y = Yes, characters of color | N = No characters of color | NH = non-human characters

2018-2019 (Sep - Jan)

94 titles total

Y = Yes, characters of color | N = No characters of color | NH = non-human characters

Last year, I purchased 138 titles of which 30% included characters of color. This year to date, I have already purchased 94 titles, 55% of which include characters of color. Since one of the goals was to increase the number of books with characters of color to at least 50% of the total picture books/picture book biographies purchased, my immediate reaction is “Yay! I’m doing it!” Interestingly enough, the percentage of books purchased that do not include characters of color has remained approximately the same.

So where did I find all the books that I purchased? I used a handful of strategies for locating books that satisfied my preset criteria. One of the most effective strategies was to immediately put a book on an order list with my primary vendor, Ingram, once I heard about a book or book list through my social media accounts. A few examples of who I follow are We Need Diverse Books and Kirsten Cappy of Curious City. Following great people who care about diverse and inclusive literature as much as I do saves a lot of time! In addition, I love to browse the Lee & Low website, the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the United States.

Also, when the 2019 Youth Media Awards (YMA's) were announced this year, I added everything that fit my criteria to my order lists. I was exceptionally thrilled that the YMA’s made it easy for me to identify the APALA (Asian Pacific), AJL (Jewish), and AILA (American Indian) winners. I even went back through a few past winners’ lists to see what I could purchase to fill in some gaps. Every once in a while Ingram did not have a particular book and I almost always found it in Follett. There have been a title or two that I couldn’t find at either of my vendors and did not pursue it elsewhere, for I was finding other titles to purchase in its place.

However, sometimes I could not wait for social media to deliver titles to my inbox or wait for the annual awards to be announced, so I actively pursued titles by using the Diverse BookFinder Search Collection feature remembering that it is not a curated collection and I still needed to vet titles before purchasing. For instance, my school has a large Indian population and I wanted to increase the number of titles that include Indian characters.  I selected "Indian" using the Diverse BookFinder's Ethnicity filter. Each title links to the record in the Bates College Library which includes links to professional reviews. This helped me to locate a good handful of titles appropriate for my K-3 readers.

So far, I’ve had a great start. Now I wonder: Will I be able to continue through the end of the year maintaining this percentage? Will I run into difficulty locating picture books with characters of color since I bought so many of them already? Look for my end-of-year blog post where I make my final comparisons and share my reflections on the whole process. And, I promise, I will share a list of titles I have purchased, too!

Laura Beals D'Elia serves on the Advisory Council of the Diverse BookFinder and is the school librarian at the Armstrong Elementary School in Westborough, MA.

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