Striving for diverse identities and experiences in library collections by Brittney Uecker

In November, I attended a virtual training from the Montana State Library about implicit bias and the role libraries can play in better serving the underserved in our community. The talk was presented by Miranda Murray and Jordann Lankford, facilitators for Bright Trail Education and Indian Education for All (IEFA) instructional coaches. A key focus of the training was confronting bias and inequity in literacy education and how to support diversity in a positive way through collection development.

Such a collection development strategy must take a conscious, careful, and consistent approach to promoting diverse identities in the materials we as librarians choose to add to our collections, share through programming, and promote through displays. This process must also be applied on the other end of the spectrum when we remove books from our collections through weeding. An overabundance of depictions of just a few identities means that those who don’t identify with those identities don’t see themselves reflected in the books they read. Collections shouldn’t just reflect the communities they serve, but go beyond that to depict and normalize identities that those communities may not interact with on a day-to-day basis. This diversity doesn’t just refer to racial and ethnic identities, but cultural, religious, and gender identities, as well as ability and neurodiversity.

Bright Trail Education and IEFA both provide excellent and thoughtful resources and considerations for libraries and educators to take into account when striving for diversity in their collections and classrooms. Though these organizations primarily focus on American Indians, these general concepts can be applied for all identities. These considerations include:

  • Who is this book by? Who is telling the story? To achieve an authentic and accurate reflection, these stories should be told by those that have experienced them or who personally identify with them. If not, the information should come from thoughtful consultation with sources that directly identify with the experience.
  • What is the message being sent? Consider the purpose of the story being told and the message being sent to the reader by the way the information is portrayed. Omission, dehumanization, and stereotyping are obvious red flags, but value judgement, biased language, and variations on traditional stories are more insidious ways that identities can be negatively distorted.
  • What are the consequences of this story being shared? Consider who potentially benefits and who could be negatively impacted by the story. Does this story accurately and considerately share the experience of an identity in a way that educates the reader? Or does this story perpetuate a limited or biased understanding?
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