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#DiversityatALA

2014 June 16
by Hannah Gómez
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Clipart Illustration of a Diverse Group Of Colorful People Wearing Party Hats And Blowing Noise Makers While Dancing At A Birthday Or New Years Eve PartySince you are readers of YA and children’s books, you are likely aware of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, which ignited about a month ago in response to BEA’s all-white lineup for their first ever Book Con. While the hashtag has died down, the furor, uproar, and excitement certainly have not.

Some librarians and authors (myself included) have decided to take a similar effort to Annual later this month. This is something that can be done in person and online, so you can participate whether or not you’ll be at the conference.

The goal is simple: ask reps on the exhibits floor to show you their diverse titles. Ask if they know what those titles are. As many people have noted in the past month (and before), part of the problem with diversity in YA is that publishers do not seem to dedicate the same effort, care, and promotion to these titles as they do to their “mainstream” or “general” ones, so even if they exist, they quickly get lost in the shuffle and then don’t sell, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, since books can’t sell if no one knows they exist. So ask the reps (or, let’s be honest, the editors themselves are often present) to show you what they have in the way of non-white, non-cisgendered, non-heterosexual, or differently abled characters and stories. Are they prepared for the questions? Do they know what kinds of diversity their publisher has in its upcoming catalog? What does it say about them if they know or don’t know? What does it say if they don’t have anything to offer you? If you don’t ask, they won’t know how many people are searching for diverse books.

If you’re fired up about this important topic, tweet about it with the hashtag #DiversityatALA (it’s probably best to use this in conjunction with the official conference hashtag, #alaac14). This is a great way to get buzz going and to ask people to join in on making sure everyone who works at every booth hears this question over and over again. It’s an important one (What are you doing to diversify your list? Does diversity matter to you and your company?), and it’s my belief, at least, that they’re more likely to change for the better if one of their major stakeholder groups (librarians, of course) say they won’t stand for anything less. So tweet your friends and ask them to join in; tweet publishers and editors who will be exhibiting and ask them to be prepared; tweet your favorite authors and tell them you’ll be supporting their works.

It’s up to you what you do with their responses. I, for one, won’t be at Annual this year, but as I’ve been to quite a few conferences in the past few years, I feel pretty saturated with ARCs about the same old characters and the same old problems, and unless it’s an author or a book I’ve heard A LOT of buzz about or I’m personally a fan of, I plan on refusing most ARCs I’m offered if they’re not doing something for diversity in literature. I just don’t care anymore; I don’t need my apartment cluttered with clichés and more books that don’t acknowledge the existence or richness of my story and the stories of the people I know and see in my daily life.

We know you won’t necessarily know what to ask for – upcoming diverse titles don’t always get the publicity spotlight they deserve. So Sharon Rawlins, Allison Tran, and I are preparing a list of upcoming books from major publishers that we think would fit into the #WeNeedDiverseBooks umbrella. Obviously, publishers may not have ARCs for all upcoming titles, but even asking about these titles says that you’re aware of them and want to support them when they do come out. So we’ve scoured fall and winter catalogs to give you some names to drop right away, and Sharon will have a list of recent diverse books you may have missed. Look for that post here on The Hub the week before Annual.

And, of course, I want to know what your plans are for Annual. Do you have any publishers you like to visit? Editors you know are champions of diversity? Books that you’re on pins and needles waiting for and dying to get a sneak peek at? Let us know in the comments! We can’t do this without crowdsourcing.

–Hannah Gómez, having just finished The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson and trying to decide on her next read

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14 Responses
  1. June 16, 2014

    I think that, although it’s really important to have diversity, you also have to be aware that not reading books about stereotypical characters is excluding those books from your reading list. Supporting diversity doesn’t mean discriminating against other books. It’s a very good idea to encourage diversity in the library and outside, however!

    ~Ali

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      June 17, 2014

      For sure- discriminating against books is the last thing anyone here would want. There’s room for personal preference in one’s individual reading habits, which I think is what Hannah was expressing. On a broader level, encouraging diversity in publishing is a form of advocating for our diverse populations of library patrons- ideally, there will be something for everyone on the library shelves. Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts on this!

    • June 17, 2014

      Anything you don’t read is being excluded from your reading list – it’s impossible to read everything. I’m not sure how that equals discrimination; I’m merely pointing out that on a personal level, and generally speaking on the level of this effort, the point is to get publishers to recognize that stereotypes and cliches are just that – stereotypes and cliches – and they cease to be worth people’s time over and over again when they could be reading stories that more validate and acknowledge the richness of the world around us.

      • June 17, 2014

        I tdefinutely admire that! I was referring to other people who sometimes go too far – not by any means pointed at you! I think you have a really good idea which I’ll try to follow!

        ~Ali

        • June 17, 2014

          I’m still not sure how avoiding offensive stereotypes or overdone stories is ever “discrimination” or a bad thing, but okay! I think maybe we’re just not understanding each other because it’s one of those things that’s better expressed in real words, not online :-)

  2. charlene.librarian permalink
    June 16, 2014

    Thanks for your post. I hope there is positive buzz and promotion at ALA annual this year on the topic, and this is a good way to get broad contributions.

    I want to give a shout-out for Lee & Low Books http://www.leeandlow.com/ which has been a champion of diverse book titles. Many thanks for all their efforts over 20 years.

    Charlene

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      June 17, 2014

      Thanks, Charlene! We’ll be sure to take a look through Lee & Low’s upcoming offerings in preparation for the follow-up to this post, where we talk specific titles.

  3. June 17, 2014

    I second Charlene’s shout-out to Lee & Low and also add Cinco Puntos Press and First Second as ardent supporters of #DiversityinPublishing. I would also encourage folks to explore the myriad of collection development resources created by the ALA affiliates and round tables, such as AILA and APALA’s joint literacy project Talk Story Together.

    Also, at ALA Annual in Vegas, the YALSA Board will be voting on a proposal to create a Cultural Competencies Taskforce, whose charge is to create a cultural competencies toolkit that includes resources for designing culturally competent collections, programs, curriculum, and more.

    See you in Vegas!

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      June 17, 2014

      Thanks for the great suggestions, Candice! And I’m excited to hear more about the Cultural Competencies Taskforce– I love the sound of it.

    • June 17, 2014

      That is AWESOME, Candice! I won’t be at Annual this year, but I’m excited to hear what comes out of it!

  4. June 19, 2014

    Excellent! I’ll definitely tweet (not going to ALA either).

    To Lee and Low and Cinco Puntos, I’ll add 7th Generation, a small publisher putting out books by American Indian authors/illustrators. I’ve read several of their books and like them a lot. http://www.nativevoicesbooks.com/catalog/1

  5. Naomi permalink
    June 19, 2014

    You can support ALA affiliates by attending Affiliate Youth Literature Awards ceremonies. Check out the very best and meet the authors at Awards presentations. Sunday, June 29th Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast 7-9am Caesars Palace ticketed event, Sunday, June 29th Belpre Awards 1-3pm Caesars Palace, Sunday, June 29th American Indian Youth Literature Awards 4:30-6:30 Flamingo Hotel Laughlin III, APALA Youth Literature Awards Saturday June 28, 5:30-8:30 KJ Dim Sum and Seafood register on APALA website.

  6. June 19, 2014

    I’m so glad that the push for diversity is going to have a presence at ALA this year – it really does make a different to publishers to know that librarians are paying attention and that there is a concrete demand for diverse books. And thanks to everyone who mentioned Lee & Low Books – we love being part of the conversation.

    Lee & Low will be in booth #626 so if you’ll be going to ALA, please do stop by and say hello! In addition to our own swag we’ll have a limited number of #weneeddiversebooks buttons and bookmarks in the booth. We’re also doing a book buzz on Sunday from 3:30-4:00 about diversity in books and how to create real change. You can see more about that event here: http://blog.leeandlow.com/2014/06/03/join-us-for-a-diversity-discussion-at-ala-in-las-vegas/

    Looking forward to seeing some of you very soon!

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