the state of being diverse; variety.
the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.
Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop in 1990 wrote about books as "mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors." She emphasized the importance of literature reflecting our own lives, and the world around us, back to us; therefore, she stressed that reading is a means of self-affirmation. By consequence, it is necessary that diversity in literature is highlighted, as books have a tremendous impact on a young person's first encounter with their place in society. This necessity does not end in childhood, but continues into adolescence, the most formative stage of a person's identity.
For groups often overlooked or stereotyped in society like Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native communities, it's validating to see their own experiences reflected in books. It also academically engages them. This is what Bishop calls "mirrors."
It's also just as important that books with diverse authors serve as "windows" into the experiences of other cultures for white adolescents. Especially with 70 percent of Black students today still attending racially segregated schools, according to the National Education Association, it can be difficult for children of different races to connect with each other without "windows" into the racism faced by peers of white students. If children can't even see the problem, they can't help fix it. This importance of fostering empathy stretches on to the later stages of life, too. Books can help us relate to the experiences of others without our same race, sexual orientation, religion, or socioeconomic status.
Within the past several years, the Easton Public Library, through the actions of EPL staff and the Library Board of Trustees, has made great strides in purchasing and promoting books highlighting diverse perspectives and authors. It has collaborated with the Easton Diversity & Inclusion Task Force (EDIT) to create a lawn sign exhibit of quotes provided by Easton’s community from diverse authors, and it has provided the community with reading lists and displays (like the one pictured below) of books featuring diverse perspectives.
Many in the community may have heard when the EPL’s lawn sign exhibit was stolen and returned to the library in the fall of 2021.
Recently, an Easton resident filed a Freedom of Information Act request to access every purchase order for books the EPL made from January 1, 2018, to July 1, 2023. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in Connecticut gives the public the right to request access to public records. Often, FOIA requests reveal things about government action that voters deserve to know. However, sweeping FOIA requests for vast troves of public documents require considerable staff time and resources.
Having volunteered in the library for the past seven years and having built the display pictured above, I can say with confidence that the books the library has purchased in the last five years have overwhelmingly diversified the library’s collection of authors, especially for children and young adults. Many of the titles below will feature on the list that the library must now provide.
The expansion of diverse resources in the library is especially critical, given that the library is one of the few places in which students in Easton have the ability to access diverse authors. For instance, below is a breakdown of authors in the required reading for English classes at Joel Barlow High School by gender and race.
List of books used for JBHS English data:
Instead of putting local books in question and threatening free speech under the First Amendment, Easton’s community should be celebrating the progress the library has made in diversifying its collection. If anyone in Easton wants to know what kinds of books our library has been spending its money on, they need look no further than the EPL’s mission statement: “To advance literacy, foster creativity, and enhance lives by connecting people with the world of ideas and information, while remaining responsive to the community.”
By Catie Gutowski, Barlow Grad & DTC Intern