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The Most Diverse Picture Book Collections in the U.S. & How the Diverse BookFinder Can Help You Diversify Yours

As we find ourselves in the thick of mud season (AKA spring) here in central Maine, and the trees are finally budding after a long winter, we’re excited to share our own news of growth! This coming fall, the Diverse BookFinder (DBF) will launch a free, online Collection Analysis Tool (AKA “the CAT”) to help public and school libraries nationwide diversify their picture book collections. As we work toward releasing the CAT (meow), we wanted to first share a bit of the backstory that brought us to this exciting moment. (Yes, we’re aware of the popular association between librarians and cats -- the acronym is unintentional and a bit on the nose, but also…convenient).

If you’ve been following our development, you know that one of the things that makes us unique within the broader diverse books movement is that we are a research-based project with a circulating picture book collection housed in an academic library. Since the first book hit the library shelves, the DBF collection has maintained its status as the most circulated of all collections within our library. This means that our widely accessible collection draws not only the interest of the public, but also that of the 1700+ budding researchers who walk past its shelves on the Bates College campus.

As you can imagine, this has some great benefits for us! The DBF collection has been the focus of nine student theses since our founding, with two of the more recent projects propelling our mission and vision into further action – that is, by prompting the birth of the CAT.

CAT Foundations

In the summer of 2016, Bates student Randy Peralta (’18), advised by DBF founder and Psychology Professor Krista Aronson, undertook an exploratory study entitled, “What’s on Your Bookshelf?” Using WorldCat, the world’s largest and most accessible library registry and catalog—which itemizes the collections of 72k libraries in 170 countries and territories—he worked closely with Bates’ Social Science Librarian Christine Murray to identify a sample of approximately 11,000 public libraries in the U.S. Randy then cross-referenced the collections of those libraries with the DBF collection. The results allowed him to determine which libraries in the country had the “most diverse” picture book holdings.

Following on the heels of Randy’s research, in the fall of 2016, Bates student Spencer Daus-Haberle (’17) returned to these results to take a more qualitative dive into the numbers with a study entitled, “Perspectives on Diverse Collection Development in Public Libraries.” In an attempt to detect collection trends that influence the diversity of a picture book collection, Spencer did one-on-one interviews with children’s collection developers at the “top libraries” identified by Randy.

To ensure that the libraries with the biggest overall collections or the lowest service areas would not skew the data, Spencer calculated the per capita diverse title holdings for each library and also separated them into tiers based on the size of their service area. He interviewed 23 (of the top 28) libraries, which are ranked here based on their tier.

Most Diverse Picture Book Holdings

Tier 1:  1 – 3.9 million people served

  1. King County Library System, WA
  2. Hennepin County Library, MN
  3. Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative, FL
  4. Orange County Library System, FL
  5. San Diego Public Library, CA

Tier 2:  500k – 999,999 people served

  1. Milwaukee Public Library, WI
  2. Nashville Public Library, TN
  3. Alameda County Library, CA
  4. Omaha Public Library, NE

Tier 3:  200k – 499,999 people served

  1. High Plains Library District, CO
  2. Monroe County Library System, NY
  3. Salem Public Library, OR
  4. Dauphin County Library System, PA
  5. Kansas City Public Library, MO

Tier 4:  100k – 199,999 people served

  1. Birmingham Public Library, AL
  2. Finger Lakes Library System, NY
  3. Round Rock Public Library, TX
  4. Provo City Library, UT
  5. Johnson County Public Library, IN

Tier 5:  10k – 99,999 people served

  1. Elk Grove Village Public Library, IL
  2. Los Alamos County Library System, NM
  3. Mill Valley Public Library, CA
  4. City of Commerce Public Library, CA

We’ve saved a summary of Spencer’s interviews for a separate post about trends in library collection practices, but what’s important here is that his research made it very clear that even those libraries with the “most diverse” picture book holdings in the country (at that time) had:

  • no easy or simple way to gauge the “diversity” of their existing collections, and
  • no efficient or comprehensive way to identify, explore, and purchase multicultural picture books for their collection.

That is, no matter how much intention and commitment to diversify a collection existed within a particular library, the tools to improve and streamline the process simply didn’t exist – until now.

Birth of the CAT

Drawing on this collective student research, the Diverse BookFinder team, working with a software programmer, developed the Collection Analysis Tool (CAT) to address the above gaps, and more.

The CAT will enable any library to submit their children’s collection online to be cross-referenced with ours, resulting in a report of not only how many diverse picture books a particular library has, but also (using the DBF’s own unique book categories) an analysis of the messages those titles send about the Indigenous people and people of color (IPOC) within those books.

No matter how much intention there is to diversify a collection, the tools to streamline that process just didn’t exist – until now.

While “diversity audits” are by no means new, ours is the first systematized tool that offers a look at who is represented in diverse picture books, and importantly, HOW they’re represented, all in one place. The CAT will make finding diverse books and identifying who is in them and how they are represented much easier, hopefully allowing librarians to spend their valuable time on the more important effort to understand the meaning and effects of these results, and to shift their purchasing, programming, and advocacy practices accordingly.

As we head into Phase II of our CAT pilot, we hope you’ll stay tuned for its launch this fall (September 2019) and spread the word by sharing this post!

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