Hello there! I hope you’ve been reading some great books lately. I just finished Far From You and look forward to sharing a review with you guys. But you should know I really enjoyed it! I know I haven’t been around of late (hello, book slump), but I have something special for you guys today. Last month I got in contact with Lauren, a library worker for an interview on diversity and today I get to share it with you all! I hope you enjoy.
From being a reader and working in a library, what’s your thoughts on diversity and the WNDB campaign?
For me personally I have spent most of my working life with books – either in the bookstore or at the library where I currently work. I greatly admire the motivation behind the WNDB campaign and it is something of great importance for discussion but I think it means something else/more to me.
We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.
While I admire and support the aim of the WNDB campaign above, my interpretation of diversity means so much more. At the library, we have a responsibility to represent the needs/demands/interests of our local community. It is not only the responsibility of a public library to be a source of information and resources but to make sure they are relevant and most importantly, accessible. So from the point of view of a library, diversity also means materials produced in a variety of languages that reflect the various nationalities of the community. Not only must the languages reflect our clientele, but they must also be accessible to a variety of reading levels – English as a second language, beginner readers – and abilities – large print, audio, Braille – and I think that these can sometimes be areas where there is great potential to fail our goals.
We as a library are as affected by availability as a purchaser. We must ensure that we have a wide variety of large print books, of audio, and of books printed in a variety of languages and the smaller the client base the more difficult and more expensive it becomes to source such material. Balancing the demand for a particular genre or format from your clientele and what publishers are willing to provide can be quite difficult.
As I am a storyteller (and also because they are just awesome) I read a lot of picture books. I am very conscious of the content of these books. While I tend to select books that are full of crazy adventures involving aliens, monsters, pirates, Santa Clause and IMAGINATION, I am very keen to make sure those books include books with both boys and girls and books that are not reduced to gender stereotypes. My favourite books will have as many girls wrestling dragons as there are boys doing craft. But my ideal picture book would be one that isn’t tokenistic and doesn’t draw attention to its diversity. The greatest picture books are the ones that just ARE. That show kids of all nationalities that have varied interests, that have varied talents and abilities and that represent the different dynamics and makeups of a family unit without declaring loudly and proudly ‘I AM THE ISSUES BOOK! LOOK AT ME, BEING POLITICALLY CORRECT ABOUT ISSUES!’
"I also want to know that those books are well written and are about something more than ticking a box in an attempt to be politically or culturally aware.”
Having worked in books for years, when did you first notice the lack of diversity?
I think having my own blog and getting involved in all the social media was probably what made me question what I’d read and taken for granted. Probably the first big wakeup call would have been the scandal surrounding the casting of Rue in The Hunger Games. I hadn’t read the books until after the movie, but I remember being so fascinated by the unfolding drama surrounding people insisting Rue was a little white girl. The next was probably that the scifi book by Beth Revis had had the cover rereleased with a much less ethnically diverse couple than were represented in the story.
We Need Diverse Books campaign is US-based, but hopefully spreading all around the world. Since then, have you noticed a difference in books being loaned or in readers requests?
I’m not sure that social awareness has been of great concern to our borrowers. In terms of the youth of our library, I’m usually so delighted when they DO borrow that what they borrow doesn’t really matter. As far as I can recall, I have not received a complaint about a lack of diversity in the content of our collections. As I said, social awareness hasn’t really cropped up in the conversations I overhear from the teens that come to the library. Perhaps, sadly, rather than make a complaint or request, such borrowers would simply stop using our services.
One of the most common requests would be for books in other languages which I do count as a request for diversity and we cater to those requests by ordering material from the State Library in the language of their choice. The more we have promoted this service, the more awareness our borrowers have and we are certainly seeing more, not less, of these requests.
"the concept of diversity will be so commonplace it won’t NEED mentioning."
For readers wanting to do their bit to support diversity in books, what can they be doing personally/in conjunction with their library?
If people think that a certain section of the community or of a collection is being underrepresented or excluded, definitely raise that with the staff. A member can always put in requests for particular titles or collections and the library in question should do their best to fill that gap or purchase appropriate titles to the best of their budget ability. The aim of anyone working in a library is (hopefully) to promote knowledge and information, to be accessible and to make sure what’s in the collection is being put to good use.
If they find a particular book they think deals fantastically with a particular subject – PROMOTE IT – tell the staff, tell them they do a great job in selecting material, ask your teachers to include it as part of a reading list or on the syllabus, tell the staff how it relates to an HSC topic, check to see whether the subject headings appropriately reflect what the book is about, tell your friends to borrow the book, ask the staff if you can write a review of it somewhere. Libraries routinely look at what’s being borrowed as a measure of success, if a book has a lot of loans, we’ll buy more from that author or buy more copies for the other branches or make sure we buy more books like it.
And last but not least, do you have a diverse book recommendation for us?
I think one that I haven’t seen get much attention from bloggers is Ambelin Kwaymullina’s The Tribe series which is set in a post-Apocalyptic Australia and features an Indigenous girl as the main character and draws much of its strength and from the Dreamtime lore. It is a dystopian novel with a government determined to weed out those with powers and has the fear of the ‘Other’ story that has been so big the last few years but I found this story to be such a refreshing new take on the genre.