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

Since summertime is the perfect time to look back on a year’s worth of work, I’d like to reflect on the professional goal that I set for myself where I asked, What if the picture books and picture book biographies I buy for my K-3 collection only featured characters of color?” I started this journey with this post and then updated my progress in the middle of the year with this post.

If you will remember, my objectives were to:

  1. increase the number of books with characters of color to at least 50% of the total picture books/picture book biographies purchased, and
  2. identify pathways for efficiently identifying titles to purchase.

Looking at the pie charts below, I can clearly say that I definitely reached my first objective. I find it interesting that I purchased fewer books with non-human characters to make more room for characters of color without decreasing the number of books purchased with no characters of color. Hmmm.

I originally asked the following questions before I began this process. Here are my end-of-year responses:

  • Will there be enough picture books and picture book biographies published to purchase?
    • Yes! I’m still collecting titles into a waitlist to purchase when I have more funding. And the trend to publish more diverse and inclusive stories and titles is definitely encouraging.
  • Will these titles be easily available through my two vendors, Ingram and Follett? 
    • Yes! If I couldn’t find a title in one, I almost always found it in the other. There were a few titles that I did not purchase due to them being unavailable in either, which typically meant the title was no longer being published.
  • Will I have to search for other vendors to find the titles I want to purchase and, if so, how easy or not easy will it be to purchase from a different vendor? (PO’s, processing, etc)
    • Never really used this as an option; there were plenty of other titles to purchase and I did not find myself absolutely, positively needing a specific title that I had to hunt down.
  • How will I find new inclusive, quality titles to purchase? 
  • Will I, a white librarian, do this experiment justice?
    • Perhaps that is not for me to say. But I can say that I have tackled this goal as earnestly as I could. So when that Muslim child held the book Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets in his hands after I read it as a Mock Caldecott contender and said with awe, “I didn’t know you had books like this in the library,” I think I just may have done it a little bit of justice.

I also took a look at the 40 titles that did not have characters of color to see why I purchased them. In almost all cases, each one was purchased because it included diverse representations beyond racial/cultural difference (such as Days with Dad that has a character in a wheelchair), it won an award this year (such as Hello Lighthouse), or it met a curriculum need (such as Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing, which was used for an engineering project in the third grade).

Now I have lots of books with characters of color in my collection and I will still continue to be focused and intentional in my purchasing. But now what?! Purchasing inclusive books is a wonderful first step but I’m not satisfied with stopping there. If these books don’t find their way into the hands of my students, all of my students, then the point is mute. As an additional reflection, I decided to look at all the books I used in my lessons this year, which could be books I already had in my collection before I began this project. I wondered what percentage of them were books with characters of color?

I read a lot of books with non-human characters in my Kindergarten classes! I’m doing well with my first grade, and potentially my 2nd grade classes, but I clearly need to work on my lessons with third grade and Kindergarten classes. Great notes for next year!

One last thought. Many of you asked about a book list of all the diverse and inclusive picture books that I ended up purchasing this year. See this Collection for all of the titles.

Thinking about your entire library collection in terms of a "diversity audit" can seem unbelievably daunting. Doing a project the way I did it this year is time-consuming. May I suggest you start with just your picture book collection? The Diverse BookFinder has developed a unique Collection Analysis Tool (CAT), which allows you to upload a report of ISBNs from your entire collection and offers an analysis of which characters of color are represented in your collection, and how they are represented, through the use of nine categories: Any Child, Cross Group, Oppression, Beautiful Life, Information, Biography, Race/Culture Concepts, Folklore, and Incidental. The CAT will be online and ready for you to use by fall 2019 -- so stay tuned!

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