This blog is in reference to the Day of Diversity symposium. For background, click here.
Our day started off with a Keynote address by Dr. Camila Alire of University of New Mexico & Colorado State University. She’s also past ALA President, past ACRL President, & past REFORMA President among many other titles (such as a totally warm, hilarious and wonderful woman). The title of her presentation was “From Broken Yolks to Party Folks: The Importance of Libraries and Literacy in Keeping Diversity Alive for Our Children”.
She began with a story and then threw a lot of statistics at us. All of them were pretty depressing — below is a photo of the first set of stats. The top line of information includes books from 2002 and the bottom includes books from 2013. Statistics were compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center based out of Univ. of Wisconsin – Madison.
To summarize, the number of books about People of Color has decreased SIGNIFICANTLY in the last 11 years. I can only imagine that in the last 2 years it’s decreased even more.
Why does this matter? How does this affect us at the library level?
Short answer: If our patrons don’t have materials that reflect them visually and contextually, they will probably read less and in turn have lower literacy rates. We all like to be able to relate to things and pick up things to read that feel familiar. We also like universal stories — where race, ethnicity, gender orientation, and ability don’t matter. So why aren’t more of these stories told from a POV of a minority or other diversity? Why aren’t there more blogs about the APA experience or the African American experience or the Latino experience? There are many myths regarding the whys and the publishing industry, which will be discussed in my next blog post…
Basically, though, this matters because literacy among all children is critical and lends to their development, success, and future. According to the 2013 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), the average reading score (across the board) did not change from the last assessment in 2009 and reading scores overall decreased since the very first assessment in 1992. What is troubling, though, is that only 23% of hispanics scored on or above reading proficiency, african americans scored 16% (16%!!), and American Indian Alaskan Natives scored 26%. Asian Pacific Americans tied with Whites at 47%. But the APA category was not broken down by ethnicity and typically Pacific Islanders and marginalized Asian groups such as the Hmong score much much lower.
Alire also brought in many more statistics which I won’t bore you with — High School Drop Out rates of minorities, teen pregnancy, and much more. One important statistic that I will note, though, is that according to the 2010 Census, Minority Populations in the US increased 28.8% over 10 years. From 30.9% of the population in 2000 to 36.3% of the population in 2010. And the number will only continue to rise. So why, then are there so few books about such a huge portion of the population?
That’s part of what guided our discussion today. It was also guided by figuring out whether or not a book exhibits inherent or unconscious racism and sexism. I highly doubt that anything is written explicitly to be offensive, but that doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t be critical. If you’re interested in finding out how to tell, Camila provided a great resource which can be found at TeachingforChange.Org. Pdf Here
Our discussions today were about how do we fix these problems? How do we help our children see themselves reflected in the books and media around them? How do we help close these literacy gaps. How do we get publishers on board? Ho do we encourage writers of color to tell their stories?
One initiative she discussed were the family literacy programs created during her presidency. Of which one of them, I am the Chair of! Each Ethnic Caucus created a family literacy program specific to their group. For me, it was Talk Story: Sharing Stories, Sharing Culture which came out of a partnership between the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association & the American Indians Library Association. Many of the programs have done great things, and Talk Story in particular gets yearly funding from Toyota Financial Services which we then turn around and give mini-grants to libraries and community groups across the nation to put on APA themed programs and bulk up their APA collections.
Camila did a great job setting us up for not only a day of dialogue, but also a day of action.