Tackling Your Children’s Collection Diversity Audit, a TLA presentation recap
This past Tuesday Kathryn King, head of the collection development division at the Fort Worth Public Library, and I presented at the Texas Library Association conference on doing diversity audits. We were honored to get to share some of the great work that is being done at Fort Worth Public Library to look deeply into our collections and evaluate what we have, and what we don’t, so that we can continually work to be and do better to provide the best services and collections to our patrons. If I have done this correctly, you should be able to get the PDF of our presentation here: https://share.wakelet.com/doc/q5LFKPNYcC5Ali09BTiaj
I began doing collection diversity audits in 2015 and at the time, there wasn’t a lot of information or examples out there of how to do them, so I have been stumbling my way and refining the process as we go. These last 3 years at FWPL, Kathryn really has helped me do that in thoughtful ways. You can read previous posts and recaps of this here at TLT (see the resources list at the end of this post). But what I want to talk about today is the methodology, the process, that I have landed on that works for me for doing diversity audits. I think anyone can take these basic concepts, this basic framework, as a launching off point to develop a process that works best for them.
The Basic Data You Need for an Audit
Before you begin looking at your collections, determine what it is you want to audit your collection for. What categories, subcategories, identifiers, etc. are you trying to evaluate your collection for? My first audit began specifically because I had a group of LGBTQ+ teens questioning me about representation in my collection and I decided to do an audit so I could ascertain how I was doing as a librarian in this category. Over time, what I was looking for expanded and I have added more and more category headings. Spoiler alert: my first diversity audit showed that I was doing really poorly, only 3% of my YA holdings had any meaningful LGBTQ+ respresenation in it.
After you determine what it is you want to evaluate your collection for, you can then begin gathering data. Items two and three on my list of items you need is all about data, because you will need this data to determine percentage of holdings. The best way I have found to determine this data a shelflist. So . . .
The One Thing You Need to Do a Diversity Audit: A SHELFLIST
In order to do a diversity audit, I recommend you begin with a shelflist. I prefer using a shelflist that has been converted and exported into an Excel spreadsheet. I prefer this because I can save data, add data, delete data, sort data and more. Also, the spreadsheet will do a lot of the math for me. The less math that I personally have to do, the better.
There are several approaches. My first attempt, looked like this:
This is the least effective way to do a diversity audit. Do not do this. 10/10 do not recommend. After about 5 minutes I thought to myself, there has to be a better way. And there is! Shelflists are your friend. So my second attempt looked like this:
Using Polaris, I exported a shelflist into Excel. I then looked up every title I wasn’t familiar with and made a note of the representation within each title. Yes, if I wasn’t familiar enough with an author or title to analyze it, I researched it. Your initial diversity audit will be your most time consuming, but you have to start somewhere. I promise you, it’s meaningful work and each time you do one it will get better because you will now know more about the titles and the authors in your collections.
Over time, I began exporting shelflists that had subject headings and even annotations whenever possible to help with the process. Having as much data as possible when beginning can help make the process quicker. My first shelflist I had nothing but author and title, but over time I began to add BISAC subject headings, annotations and more. Anything that you can add that helps your cut down on outside research is a bonus.
However you get that initial shelflist, I recommend getting as much data as possible. You can always delete data that you find irrelevant later in the process, but it can be harder to add it in later. So start big and then widdle it down.
With whatever version of a shelflist you have, you then need to examine each title to whatever degree is right for you and your library, and determine what representation category(ies) you are going to place a title in. A note here to remember that not all representation is good representation, so you want to consider this toughtfully and with care to your patrons and the impact that a story can have on them. Also please note, books can and most often do have more than one representation that matters. Books, like people, are more than one thing and intersectionality matters. So a book can have Latinx and LGBTQ representation and you’ll want to make note of that.
My one note about this: DO NOT GUESS! If you don’t know or can’t find good, reputable information, do not guess. It’s better to not have something counted as diverse than to have the wrong things counted as diverse. It’s important to note that I do not believe that there is a perfect diversity audit. Things get missed, and that’s okay. You want to have good, meaningful, reputable data, not bad data.
Which adds me to another point about labelling people and the books they write. We don’t do diversity audits becase we want to label and other people and their books. We do them because we want to identify gaps in our collections because we want every single child to find not just one book, but multiple books that represent them in our collections and we know that doesn’t happen because we all have personal biases and publishing is, well, also not great at representation. You should not consider a book written by a Latinx author and starring a Latinx character as a Latinx book and silo it to a specific audience; however, you should be aware that a book has a Latinx author with a Latinx character to make sure that the Latinx population is represented in your collection and so that if you have a patron who asks for a book by a Latinx author with a Latinx character you can not only say yes, we have that, but you can put it in their hands and satify a patron request. Books are books and every book is for every person, so we want to be careful that we don’t turn this data into another way to marginalize and other books, their authors or their audience. As with everything we do, we must be vigilant to ensure that we aren’t causing more problems as we try to solve other ones. Diversity audits are a tool that be used for good, but if not approached and used correctly, they also have the potential to cause more problems and more biases. So as you should with all things, approach diversity audits with intentionality, awareness, and consideration for the impact they have on the world and the people that live in it.
So You Have a Shelflist, Now What?
Once you have come up with a good shelflist, you should also have two really important numbers:
1) A Total Number of Collection Holdings
This is a total number of titles in whatever collection you are evaluating. So if you are looking at your YA collection, you need to know the total number of YA titles that you have in a collection. In the interest of ease, let’s say the total number of books you have in your YA collection is 100 titles.
2) A Total Number of Category Holdings
This is a series of numbers that breakdown and examine the representation in the books in your collection. Again, in the interest of ease, let’s say that after evaluating said collection I have confidently identified 10 of those titles as having good, healthy, meaingful LGBTQ+ representation.
To deteremine your percentages, you will divide the smaller number (your category counts) by the larger number (your total number of holdings). This will help you determine what percentage of your collection you have for each category. So I will divide 10 by 100 and ascertain that 10% of my YA titles have LGBTQ+ representation. Now I know something about my collection and I can interpret this data and make a plan for future purchasing.
Let’s Talk for a Moment About What That Percentage Number Means
When I talk about doing collection diversity audits the question I get asked the most is this: what is the target number I should be striving for? I used to try and fumble my way to answer and have landed on this: there is no one true, correct target number that you should be striving for. What you want here is to get a snapshot of where your collection is and then work towards growth. In fact, after doing a baseline diversity audit, you should consider doing a yearly or periodic diversity audit and what you want to see is an upward trajectory in your numbers, you want to see growth. The number is not the goal, information is.
Growth and accountability are also the goals, so you can use that number to track how you are doing by repeating your audits. But don’t panic, once you have that initial shelflist, you can then juse create yearly shelflists for titles added during the last year and combine that data with the previous data that you have. You only have to start from scratch once! And hopefully, you will see that you are moving in the right direction.
So, Let’s Talk More About Shelflists (something you probably will only ever hear on a librarian blog)
I have done all of my diversity audits in systems that use the Polaris ILS system and have been able to successfully create shelflists to do this task. But I know that not everyone has access to Polaris, so a did a survey to find out what other systems do and don’t allow you to do. Here’s a look at those replies:
From the responses that I got, it looks like a lot of ILS systems do allow you to create and export some type of a shelflist. So for a lot of us, this task is definitely doable.
If your system doesn’t allow you to export a shelflist, there are a few alternatives you can try. Some vendors allow you to create carts and export those titles into a shelflist with or without subject headings. I have access to 3 vendors and I tried all 3 in the quest for better data. My favorite export vendor is Bibz, and I actually create carts and export them as Excel spreadsheets for a variety of nontraditional ways, including doing diversity audits and creating recommended RA lists to share with staff.
You can also capture this data and export it into an Excel spreadsheet using Google Forms. I learned about this method from Annabelle Mortensenten. Google Forms allows you to create a series of questions that you answer for each book and then it collates the data for you.
But Isn’t It a Lot of Work? What’s the Value Here?
The truth is, yes, yes it is. But it is valuable and meaningful work. In fact, the value goes far beyond getting a percentage number. Diversity audits are for more valuable than a mere number.
For one, you will gain a deeper and more intimate knowledge of your collection, and this is a good thing. It helps every step of the way with RA, future collection development, programming, displays, and more.
You will also learn where there are gaps in your collection, which is a very good thing. Identifying gaps means that we can help fill them. You can’t fill a gap and you can’t correct a problem if you don’t know it exists.
You will also learn where you have some personal biases in your selections, and this is both a good thing and a hard thing. Because if you are doing it correctly, you will work to examine and break down those personal biases and fill those gaps in both your heart and your collection. The first time I did that diversity audit, my LGBTQ+ holdings were at 3%. Now I knew something about myself and my purchasing, and I used that information to do better. By the time I left I had gotten that number up to around 9%.
Having concrete data helps us hold ourselves and others accountable in meaningful ways. Most of our libraries have fuzzy statements in our collection development policies about “building diverse collections” and then we just kind of assume we’re doing it, by gut instinct I guess. But having concrete data let’s us see whether or not we are really achieiving that goal in meaningful ways, where we need to be and do better, and it gives us measurable goals to work towards. While working on our presentation Kathryn looked at me at one point and said, “our diversity has consistently increased over the 3 years you have been working here, good job.” We had meaningful data that she could look at, we could discuss, and it made us realize that we were doing a good job of building our collections. Are our collections where we want them to be? Not necessarily. But we could see that we were moving them in the right direction and that was affirmation that made us feel better about the work we were doing.
If we believe that knowledge is power, and I hope that we do in this profession, than finding ways to get additional information about our collections is a good thing. I highly recommend incporating collection diversity audits into your regular collection development processes.
Diversity Audit Basics and Blog Posts
Teen Librarian Toolbox how to conduct a diversity audit with resources: http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/files/2017/11/Diversity-Audit-Outline-2017-with-Sources.pdf
Lib Guide on Diversity Audits https://cod-lis.libguides.com/c.php?g=1144450&p=8354287
Lerner Diversity Audits https://lernerbooks.blog/2019/10/diversity-audits-and-choosing-books.html
Cornell University Libraries have identified some subject headings useful for auditing diversity: “Feminism”; “Gender”; “Sexuality”; “Race”; “Class”; “Disability/Ability.” Using all or some of these headings will help identify what books are in the library, where gaps exist, and opportunities to make the collection more inclusive and representative. To keep our task manageable, we focused on one topic at a time, with race as the first subject of our audit. – Source: https://www.libraryjournal.com/story/Counting-the-Collection-Conducting-a-Diversity-Audit-of-Adult-Biographies
Measuring Diversity in the Collection by Annabelle Mortenson https://www.libraryjournal.com/story/Measuring-Diversity-in-the-Collection
Discussions of Representation Statistics in Kidlit
Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) Statistics on Representation in Children’s Literature: https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp
Lee and Low Books has a breakdown of various diversity in publishing and children’s book statistics: https://www.leeandlow.com/
Reflection Press has a look at how many additional books would need to be published by Own Voices authors to get equal representation with current demographics: https://reflectionpress.com/childrens-books-radicalact/
Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop on Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors: https://scenicregional.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Mirrors-Windows-and-Sliding-Glass-Doors.pdf
Sources to Check for Representation
Equity in the Library has a great list of diversity centered publishers, blogs and book lists to get you started: http://libequity.web.unc.edu/selecting-diverse-books/publishers-bloggers/
Lee and Low also has a good resource list for finding and evaluating diverse books for quality and matters of representation: https://blog.leeandlow.com/2020/01/09/finding-the-best-diverse-books-for-your-classroom/
Megalist of Good Resources can be found at DiverseBooks.org https://diversebooks.org/resources-old/where-to-find-diverse-books/
Don’t forget to check the book award sites
Sample Audit Questionairre
Lee and Low
Regarding Own Voices
Why We Need Diverse Books Is No Longer Using the Term #OwnVoices https://diversebooks.org/why-we-need-diverse-books-is-no-longer-using-the-term-ownvoices/
A Critical Look at #OwnVoices Books – Diverse BookFinder https://diversebookfinder.org/about/a-critical-look-at-ownvoices-books/
#OwnVoices: Tagging, Cataloging, and Making Your Library Collection Completely Searchable – A Fuse #8 Production https://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2021/06/14/ownvoices-tagging-cataloging-and-making-your-library-collection-completely-searchable/
What is Own Voices doing to our books? https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/04/228847/own-voices-movement-ya-literature-impact
A Personal Note of Thanks
This is my private and personal blog, so any opinions expressed here are not those of the Fort Worth Public Library. However, I want to say that I am very thankful every day to get to work at this library and with Kathryn King. They’ve taken the work that I began in 2015 on my own and implemented it in thoughtful ways. And Kathryn has helped me refine processes, expand my thinking and more. I hope that you all get to work at a library that respects your experience and knowledge, gives you space to think, learn and grow, and approaches collections in thoughtful and considered ways.
I also want to thank everyone who came out and listened to our presentation. I hope that you found something in it informative.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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