Missing the mark.

I recently had a librarian friend reach out to me and ask my opinion about a proposed tag that was being suggested as a way to make it easier to identify certain materials.  The proposed tag was “diversity”.  

Many small public libraries in New England have a single “librarian” who does not have a Master of Library Science degree. Some have had a few classes in cataloging through the state or regional organizations; but, clearly, this well-meaning attempt to identify materials about or by people of color is positively cringeworthy.

Diversity is a subjective term. Diversity can encompass many things. Yes, it can refer to different sectors of a population based on race; but there is also economic diversity, educational diversity, cultural diversity, et cetera. By encouraging libraries to add this tag to books they think are “diverse”, you are creating a system that is bound to cause even more confusion for a shared catalog.

Do we label every book that has an African American, Asian American, or a Native American as diverse? I personally don’t consider “Gone with the Wind” a diverse book; but, at its most broad definition, it would be if the intention is to identify materials that include people of color.

When I posted this suggestion to my classmates, many answered with some of the same concerns. We all felt a better choice would be to use the tag #atownvoices. Perhaps another approach is to add tags for those materials that have been recognized by Pura Belpre awards, APALA, AILA, or Coretta Scott King.

The decision has not been finalized yet according to my friend; and she has shared her opinion as well as my own with the folks who are considering this change. As an experiment, I decided to look up Ghost by Jason Reynolds in OCLC Worldcat. This book’s central character is African American. There is also an Asian American character and, of course, the author is also African American. Yet, when looking at the Worldcat record for this book, it does not reference race, or skin color, or say it is a diverse book. Rather, the descriptors are centered around the relevant tags. This is a book about a young man who joins an elite track team. Highlighting this or any book based on the color of a character or author’s skin will just single it out; which is exactly what has been occurring for far too many years. We can do better; and as librarians we should.

Image taken by author at ALA 2019.

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