by Jill Andreasen, MLIS, Collection Development
Last month I had the very good fortune to be able to attend SLJ’s first one-day Diversity Workshop – it was held in the extremely well-appointed conference room facilities in Nashville Public’s main downtown branch.
There were so many interconnected topics covered over the course of the day regarding diversity in literature, the library field, and the broader world around us: cultural competency, recognizing privilege, intersectionality, anti-oppression…I could keep going…they’re all important. But I want to focus on something we discussed that sits squarely in my area of expertise, collection development. Specifically, how to avoid cultural appropriation and promote authentic diverse narratives in a library’s collection. Let’s talk about #ownvoices.
What is the movement centered around #ownvoices? It’s highlighting and choosing books by and about cultural minority populations, written and/or illustrated by a cultural insider. A gifted storyteller can produce a beautiful novel outside her identity or culture, but can it be as authentic as a narrative from a cultural native?
Kayla Whaley, editor at Disability in Kidlit, puts it this way: “There’s a long history of majority-group authors (white, abled, straight, cisgender, male, etc.) writing outside their experience to tell diverse stories…many times, they’re rife with stereotypes, tropes, and harmful portrayals. Time and again, marginalized people have seen their stories taken from them, misused, and published as authentic, while marginalized authors have had to jump hurdle after hurdle to be published themselves.” Kayla has a very clear-eyed view of why diverse creators of literature are important—because the richness of our collective literary landscape is at stake, among other considerations—and I highly recommend reading her piece on it.
One of the Q&A topics that really resonated with me was how can librarians encourage publishers to put forth not only narratives with diverse characters, but those that are authentically #ownvoices? One of the day’s presenters and Simmons College Librarian Anastasia Collins had a very definitive answer to that question: librarians should vote with their budgets! Sure, talk to publisher reps at library conferences, but the most persuasive argument is financial. I started to consider how I can also facilitate getting these important titles in front of our library customers, and voilà! Here are some recent and forthcoming diverse stories: #ownvoices Juvenile & YA Fiction*.
I hope SLJ will do more of these workshops and would encourage anyone to attend; I left feeling like my horizons had been broadened, status-quo challenged, and feeling more connected to my fellow librarians in the field after sharing very personal stories and goals for our respective communities.
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