GUEST POST by Luis Chavez-Brumell
Luis Chavez-Brumell is the Branch Manager of the Wilson Library in New Haven, Connecticut, and a member of the Diverse BookFinder’s Advisory Council.
I was first introduced to the Diverse BookFinder when I met Anne Sibley O’Brien at a workshop in March 2018. The workshop was sponsored by the Connecticut State Library and centered on the importance of having materials that reflected society. Anne shared her career expertise and work and mentioned the Diverse BookFinder. I participated on a panel with librarians of color to discuss our experiences with diverse books and what libraries can do to support diverse materials.
In the library science field materials and especially books are referred to as “the collection,” which connotes to me the importance of something not only to be found but to be preserved. The questions that the Diverse BookFinder asks us to consider are:
- What are we preserving?
- What is being created?
- What effort do we put in creating works that appropriately reflect the world we live in?
The most important question that was asked of me and my fellow panelists was:
How can libraries justify spending money on materials that their communities may not want to read?
This is a legitimate issue as public libraries are often underfunded, and even those who believe that children should find themselves reflected and celebrated will face criticism for those who believe that the intent is not worth the money.
I answered this question by highlighting demographic trends in the U.S. which are becoming more diverse. Ironically, the country’s “normal” town reflects my hometown and city where I work: New Haven, CT.
In short, homogeneous communities are going to become more diverse whether you like it or not. I highlighted the importance of youth librarians — and by extension children’s materials (especially picture books) — that have the function of increasing children’s understanding of the world. Public libraries who do not buy diverse materials for their children are doing their communities a disservice.
Of course, the simple argument against my answer is that it is easier said than done. However, I recently had this exact opportunity. As a Manager of a neighborhood library in a predominantly and historically African American and Latinx (especially Puerto Rican) community our library has children’s books that reflect the African-American and Latinx communities including books in Spanish. However, a demographic shift is starting to happen in our library’s neighborhood. Refugee families from Afghanistan are starting to move in. These families speak limited English (many speak Pashto) and we as a neighborhood library did not have any books in Pashto.
In reading Krista’s story of how the Diverse BookFinder came to be, I realized that providing diverse materials to communities, especially children, is a way to not only increase literacy, but also to promote peace. Let’s all do our part to better present the world as it is so the world can become what it should be.