Libraries and Diversity

What is diversity and what does it mean? It has become a buzzword, to say the least. The word diversity encompasses many implications, including gender identity, sexual orientation, people of color, individuals with physical or mental disabilities, people of differing religions, and people who don’t “look like us” or “think like us.” Seeing the need for diversity is challenging to the many humans who harbor—consciously or unconsciously—a hardwired sense of tribalism. When we see without labels or preconceived notions and refrain from the thinking trap of “me” versus “others,” that makes practicing diversity not only possible but effortless.

Librarians have been instrumental in this movement, lobbying to provide both windows into other cultures and mirrors that reflect the experiences of all of their patrons, from youth through adult.

Over the last few years, what began as a Twitter hashtag conversation around the lack of diverse images, characters, and voices in literature for children has become a full-fledged movement in the children’s publishing industry. We Need Diverse Books is a non-profit organization formed in 2014 to promote diverse voices in children’s literature.

Authors and children’s literature professors have been more and more frequently using the metaphor of “mirrors and windows” (first introduced by Rudine Sims Bishop in the 90s) when approaching the need for diverse books. Authors of various backgrounds, from Kwame Alexander to Mitali Perkins to Grace Lin, eloquently talk about this idea and their own experiences as young readers, looking for characters like themselves in the books they read.

We live in a time of identity politics and quickly shifting norms. It’s difficult enough for adults to navigate—imagine how much more difficult it must be for children. What they read will help them navigate these changes as they mature, and inform how they frame the world for the rest of their lives. It’s not simply an issue of minority race. These books are also for children with disabilities, biracial children, immigrant children, second-generation children of immigrants, children who don’t feel comfortable in their skin, children whose parents have abandoned them, children of abuse, and children who have friends of every color and orientation.

To this end, we at Brodart offer up five new lists for young readers around the We Need Diverse Books slogan—lists that reflect a multiplicity of voices and experiences. In creating these lists, we sought out as many exciting and diverse author and illustrator talents as possible, with everything from classic books to new titles. Libraries are positioned to provide patrons with the tools to understand and shape their changing world. These books offer a good start.

Ages 0-8 Ages 7-12 Ages 10-19 Youth Biographies Spanish

For more information, visit the We Need Diverse Books website.

When it comes to books, libraries and the publishing world, the initial focus on the need for diversity has been with children’s and teen books. Surprisingly, there has been little discussion of diversity in adult books, despite the interest in and need for it. Looking for diversity in adult interest books is especially challenging since the number of titles published annually far exceeds that of titles for children and teens. With such a vast volume, finding titles that librarians want for their collections can be a bit of the old “needle in a haystack” challenge.
Adult Fiction Adult Non-fiction Biography

This is where Brodart can help. We have identified adult titles that speak with the voice of diverse authors or that deal with diversity and diverse populations in the United States. These are books that portray something about the experience and life of each group, rather than the much larger number of titles that simply feature characters from diverse population groups (such as the novel that features an African American detective). Good points of departure for librarians are these two lists, found in Bibz as “Featured Titles—Adult:”

Bibz enables focused searching with a variety of filters, including Library of Congress, Sears, and BISAC headings. Our TIPS subjects offer an additional level of specificity. These TIPS headings will be especially useful:
  • African-American
  • Asian-American
  • Disabilities
  • Hispanic
  • Homosexuality
  • Indian Sub-Continent
  • Islam (Religion)
  • Middle East
  • Multicultural
  • Native American
  • Substance Abuse & Addictions
  • Women's Studies
We can help librarians set up or edit TIPS profiles to include any or all of the above headings and hone the profile to meet your needs. Send your ideas, suggestions, and questions to: [email protected]

Please note that titles will continue to be added to ALL lists included herein on an ongoing basis.