In early 2019, Saint James High School/Middle School librarian Kimberly Ramsey found a wonderful opportunity for professional development offered by School Library Journal, a national publication for libraries and librarians. The online course entitled, Evaluating, Auditing, and Diversifying Your Collection, seemed a perfect fit with the initiative already begun two years earlier of updating and weeding the library’s extensive collection of books.
“A big part of my job is to provide reading materials to grade levels 6-12. We have a diverse group of students at Saint James, and I began to notice that the library offerings were in need of an update. The focus of this course was to help librarians systematically evaluate the collection in their libraries to see if they accurately represent the patrons/students and help show students an accurate view of the world we live in today. I want all of my students to see themselves represented in my library,” explains Mrs. Ramsey.
The course consisted of training in the many elements of diversity, including racial diversity, cultural diversity, and differences in physical abilities. It presented a glimpse of the past publication industry biases and groups that have been underrepresented in fiction of the past.
“My favorite part of the course was the class about OWN Voices. The movement concentrates on presenting novels and other works written by diverse authors about authentic lives in their communities. For example, Asian authors who write about Asian communities and stories, African American authors who write about Black communities and stories.”
More simply put, this looks at ways to provide books that speak directly to the students by covering topics and feelings they experience in their day-to-day lives.
After attending the 15-hour course, the real work began: an audit of the entire library’s collection. This began in the spring and continued through the summer of 2019. Mrs. Ramsey worked with the complete shelf list of fiction works in the library - almost 4,000 books. Each was evaluated and classified by who wrote the work, what group is represented, and if it qualifies as an “OWN Voice” work. The work was eye-opening.
“My findings were both wonderful and startling. I found that our previous librarians had done great work bringing in available books that represented different groups and backgrounds. I also found that with the exploding published offerings rooted in diversity, I have a lot of work to do! This course helped me view my book orders differently and set different parameters for my subscriptions so that we receive books that represent all of the many students at Saint James. I am proud of the work we have done and look forward to the work ahead!”