A library collection diversity audit is an incredible way of gathering critical data on the state of representation present in your library collection. This data can be pivotal in your collection development, advocacy, and outreach efforts. There is no denying that a diversity audit is an intensely valuable asset in our efforts to develop library collections and programs that are inclusive and representative.
Unfortunately, diversity audits are also time-consuming and labor-intensive. Sadly, many libraries are not adequately or appropriately staffed or funded, and that means completing a true comprehensive audit (which means literally researching every individual book in your collection) can be, in practical terms, an unrealistic goal for many librarians.
The good news is that it’s okay if you can’t accomplish a full comprehensive audit. There is always more than one way to approach our goals, and everything need not be “all or nothing.” You can approach a diversity audit on smaller scales and narrower scope, and still reap many of the benefits. Some data is better than no data, and small steps toward our goals are always better than no steps toward our goals. Let’s explore some of the options you might consider in lieu of a full comprehensive diversity audit. I challenge every librarian to commit to at least one smaller scale diversity audit goal. I promise there’s something on this list that is manageable for most every librarian.
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Audit a Random Sample & Extrapolate
One suggestion for how to still benefit from an audit when a full audit isn’t possible is to audit a randomized sample of your collection, and then extrapolate your data across the collection. Not a foolproof method, certainly, but it absolutely will give you a snapshot of the state of your collection, and that data will still be invaluable in helping drive your purchasing and advocacy decisions going forward. You could choose to start with just one genre, or even just a completely random 10%–15% of the entire collection. This is one strategy that most libraries could reasonably undertake, especially if you allow yourself a realistic time frame to try to accomplish it.
Audit New Purchases Going Forward
You might not be able to commit to auditing the backlog of every book currently on your library’s shelves. That’s fair! But perhaps you could commit to auditing every purchase list you submit from now onward. If you commit to making room and time for that smaller scale action, over the course of several years of purchasing you’ll find that you actually will have collected audit data on a considerable percentage of your collection! Maybe you can’t audit the current collection all at once, but by auditing what you’re adding to it each year you’ll be able to better see if you are at least satisfactorily working toward better inclusion and representation. You’ll also have a clearer and more honest picture of how diversely you are actually purchasing, especially if you collect the data across genres as you purchase. Doing this may help you spot your implicit biases/preferences and help you start to fill the gaps you may not have noticed are happening in your selection practices.
Audit What You Weed
Similarly to the last suggestion, you could also get into the habit of auditing what you weed out of the collection each year. This can help give you a sense of what’s leaving the collection, which can be as helpful as getting a sense of what’s entering the collection!
Audit Your Lists & Displays
This is the one thing I’d love for every librarian to commit to! In my opinion it is the most important thing you can do, and it’s something I believe every librarian CAN reasonably be expected to do as the bare minimum. Get in the habit of consistently auditing your book lists, recommendations, displays, etc.—all of the little groupings of books we interact with every day. Even if it’s a quick visual audit (it does not need to always be a formal and recorded audit) this is something that will dramatically impact your practice and quickly help you to ensure a greater commitment to consistently prioritizing inclusion and representation in the library. Some examples include:
- An ELA department asks you to develop a 10-book-long “Summer Reading” list.
o You should do a quick audit on the 10 books you choose before you finalize the list. Ask yourself if you’re including a diverse and wide amount of representation, perspectives, experiences, etc., in the books you chose. Or are they quite homogenous?
- A student asks you for some good mystery recommendations.
o If you pull three books off the shelf to do a quick booktalk to the student, be sure you are internally auditing your choices and choosing a diverse array of representation to recommend.
- You’re choosing about 20 books for a Valentine’s Day display.
o Do a quick audit on the 20 books you’re choosing. Are they all featuring the same kind of characters and the same kind of idea of what love and romance looks like? Have you ensured that you’ve chosen a truly diverse and representative collection of 20 books to include in the display?
- You’re posting a digital book display (like a BookTok or a picture of book recs for Instagram).
o Even our digital displays should be continuously audited to ensure we’re consistently highlighting and promoting diversely and including a variety of representation there, too. Remember that your online presence is an extension of your library’s physical space, and it should be representative as well!
- You’re putting two front-facing books on every bookshelf.
o The books you choose to “front-face” are just another kind of display, so it’s important to be auditing your choices as you go. Get in the habit of taking a quick glance at your shelves with an eye toward informally auditing which books are getting highlighted as “front-facers.” Check to see if you’re tending to spotlight only certain types of books or representation and challenge yourself to do better!
A Note About Intersectionality
Don’t forget about intersectionality when choosing books for displays and lists. For example, if you’re setting up a Queer Stories display, it’s really important to choose books that represent the diverse spectrum of Queer experiences. It’s common to find far more MLM (male-love-male) stories (especially white MLM) featured on these kinds of displays and lists, than it is to find rep with characters of color, ace rep, WLW (woman-love-woman), trans and nonbinary rep, or poly rep. There is no such thing as a monolith experience, so intersectionality is key when choosing books for displays, recommendations, lists, etc. Diverse representation WITHIN diverse representation is very important!
Use Analysis Tools
You may have heard of MackinVia and Follett’s “diversity tag analysis tools.” These are often conflated with “diversity audits,” but they are not actual audits. Even the companies offering them are clear about that. However, they do provide a way for librarians to get a quick and easy “snapshot” look at the diversity and representation that may be present in their collections. Even though these are not actually an “audit,” they can still be very helpful, and they are the kind of thing that literally everyone has time to use. All you do is upload your MARC records into the tool, and then within a day or so you’ll get the data, which you can then review and use for things like informing purchasing and advocacy.
The biggest downside to these tools, and the reason they won’t provide the same level of thoroughness and accuracy that a true manual audit would, is that they can only pull from info available in the MARC record, and MARC records are not known for being especially comprehensive about the diversity and representation in a book (or about their authors). They also don’t account for intersectionality. So, if you want to pull data to see how many of your fantasy books have main characters who are boys of color, these tools won’t allow for that the way your own audit would. You may be able to find some of the fantasy books that have boy main characters, and you may be able to find some that have main characters of color, but you won’t be able to find that intersection. That’s just one example to demonstrate the limits of these tools. But I still think these analysis tools are awesome, and they are a real lifesaver for librarians who want to get some data on their collection’s diversity and representation, but who don’t have time to literally research every book individually.
I hope some of these suggestions resonate with you and that you now feel equipped (and, dare I hope, inspired!) to begin incorporating a few of these strategies into your practice.