Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Naomi Bishop: Publishing and Diversity

Editor's Note: Today's blog post is by Naomi Bishop. She received her MLIS from the University of Washington iSchool in 2010. She is an American Indian Youth Literature Awards committee member, the American Indian Library Association secretary, and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community (Akimel-O’odham/Pima). She lives in Tucson, Arizona. 


Publishing and Diversity
by Naomi Bishop

The face of American children has changed.

In 2012, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) established a committee to push “diversity” in children’s literature. They presented a panel on their diversity initiative at ALA Midwinter Conference in Seattle in January of 2013. I attended it, after having read Debbie Reese’s blog post that says several books on their Good Reads shelf for Native Americans are stereotypical.

According to the CBC “Diversity” website,

CBC Diversity is dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children's and young adult literature -- encouraging diversity of race, gender, geographical origin, sexual orientation, and class among both the creators of and the topics addressed by kid lit.

While this is a noble initiative, there are flaws in its implementation. First, the initiative is only pushing books by members of the association and not supporting great books of non-member publishers. Second, considering the presence of stereotypes in some of their books about American Indians, the association has a non-critical viewpoint and method for evaluating the content of the children’s literature it promotes. Third, the CBC does not consult with ALA ethnic caucuses on the books selected. 

After attending the panel session presented at ALA Midwinter, I did more investigation into CBC. Here are more statements from the CBC webpage:

The Children’s Book Council is a national nonprofit trade association of children’s book publishers. The CBC offers children’s publishers the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the industry at large, including educational programming, literacy advocacy, and collaborations with other national organizations.


Membership in the CBC is open to all children's book publishers, packagers, and related companies in the United States. Personal memberships are not available.

At the presentation I listened attentively and actively participated in the discussion. I asked the panelist three questions about the “diversity” initiatives.
  1. What does the CBC diversity group have as qualifications to recommend books and what is the personal background on each member?
  2. What process does CBC use to vet the books on the Good Reads shelf?
  3. If books on the Good Reads shelf are not representative of a particular group will the CBC take them off the list?

My questions were answered with mixed responses, but the overall message was that the CBC only promotes books by its members.

My overall reaction is that CBC is an economic publishing organization that does not care about the quality of the books published. This was particularly evident in their response to my third question. The CBC, I was told, does not say that the books are good or bad, they are just “diverse.”

As a Native American (Pima) librarian getting started in my career, I am upset with the CBC initiative, and disappointed that the American Library Association would allow such an economically driven “diversity” panel. The session would have been far better if other ALA affiliate groups and children’s awards committees were on the panel, too.

Within ALA and nationwide, conversations about multicultural youth literature are happening, but I think CBC Diversity is taking advantage of libraries and librarians. If libraries want to embrace diversity, they need to know about all the people writing and illustrating books about people of color. Librarians, me included, need to understand the economics of publishing and get to know editors, publishers, and authors. Small independent publishers like Cinco Puntos Press are a great example to the publishing world. They publish excellent, well-written stories for children by authors and illustrators of diverse backgrounds. We need to know about their books.

While at ALA we celebrated the Newberry, Caldecott, and other awards for outstanding youth literature, and we may have thought that the CBC was another means for us to celebrate diversity in children’s books. In reality, I think the CBC’s exclusivity is a disruption to inclusivity in children’s and youth librarianship, and I question ALA’s sponsorship of the panel. The American Indian Youth Literature Awards are recognizing the value and quality of books about American Indians, yet they are not a part of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I would like to see the American Indian Youth Literature Awards become a part of the big announcements in Children’s Literature alongside other awards committee.

If libraries want to high quality children’s literature about people of color on their shelves, librarians must take a look at what is being selected by APALA, AILA, REFORMA and other affiliates. It is not ok for stereotypical books to be part of a “diversity” Good Reads virtual bookshelf, or on any public library bookshelf or lists of books about diversity.

It is 2013! In order for our libraries to be truly inclusive, we need to start thinking critically. We need to think about information literacy! We need to think critically about accuracy, currency, definitions, and how we evaluate of characters, place, and time. We need to think about the people writing our stories! Are groups being represented as they wish to be represented? Are we promoting literature for the new faces of America? Are we selecting high quality books and supporting small independent publishers?
The children and librarians of the future deserve the best and it is our responsibility to educate, speak up, and participate in the discussions that are happening.

Naomi Bishop 


You may be interested in these publications by the American Indian Library Association:

Here's the American Indian Library Association's page about its literature awards:
American Indian Youth Literature Award

And here's two previous posts to AICL about the CBC Diversity Committee:


kansasliz said...

Very interesting and informative article! Thank you for bringing this topic to my attention!

Satyra King said...

This issue of "diversity" without perspectives, points of view, or any concerns as to authenticity
will only become worse over time.
I remember once many years ago when I was doing demo lessons in classrooms, using the school district approved basal reading series. One of the students -- a little blonde, blue eyed thoughtful person -- asked me, the brown lady, why all the people who wrote the stories were all different colors whenever I read the stories. It turned out that despite all the work that had gone into putting together diverse stories from diverse authors, with author bios all clustered in an author glossary -- with pictures -- at the back of the book, I was the only one who ever pointed out all the different kinds of people writing the stories. So even if thestories were diverse, it never occured to anyone to point out that the material was coming from a wide range of people -- yet to him it was "of interest" and noteworthy. Hummm!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this information, Debbie. Your site teaches me so much that I try to pass along whenever I can. In the midwest, I talk to many professionals who have not thought about the issues you raise. Based on information from you, I strongly encouraged my book club to read The Round House by L. Erdrich and they agreed! I'm looking forward to our discussion!
Thank you,