Collection development is a craft, a skill that requires expertise, hard work, and insight about your collections and community. We seek out data about our community through information collected through the census, local government, schools, and community organizations. We build connections with our patrons to find out what they are curious about and try to find materials that match their interests. We scour social media for recommendations, pour through review journals, talk to colleagues and friends, join publisher previews, check out on-sale lists, preview books on Edelweiss and Netgalley, and always keep an eye for future acquisitions. As information professionals, we want to seek out excellent print and digital resources that meet the needs of our communities, which requires us to hone our information literacy and sleuthing skills to seek out hidden gems that support our missions. Our patrons are eager to find books that reflect them, to read books that serve, as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop coined, as windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors. Our patrons value our efforts to find and spotlight diverse books, whether that’s through finding them on shelf, face out on displays, promoted as recommended reads, shared on social media and during reader’s advisory sessions. In the past, I conducted a multi-year diversity audit of our juvenile fiction collection at Lincolnwood Library and noticed gaps in my collection. I sought out resources that I could use to fill them - and had to go beyond our primary distributor, who often did not carry them. In the process, I found titles outside my collection - and shared them with the other selectors to work together to add them to their collections. Many libraries purchase materials through large distributors like Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Follett, Midwest Tapes, and Mackin Book Company.
But what do you do if an item is not available through your regular distributor? Why do this seemingly extra work when it seems like buying what is generally popular should be just as good?
Doing this work is often rooted in library policy and aligned with an organization’s mission. For example, Lincolnwood Library’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Collection Strategy policies offer the support we can cite to grow and improve our collection.
According to our EDI policy: “Lincolnwood Public Library District is a public space that prioritizes fostering lifelong learning and responding to our diverse community’s input and experiences through our materials, space, events, and expertise.” According to our Collection Strategy Policy:
“The Library develops a meaningful, diverse collection that is positioned to meet the needs of the community and is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion. We recognize and celebrate that Lincolnwood is unique, with broad and diverse interests…
Developing a diverse collection requires:
- Selecting content in multiple formats;
- Considering resources from self‐published, independent, small, and local producers;
- Seeking content created by and representative of marginalized and underrepresented groups;
- Evaluating how diverse collection resources are cataloged, labeled, and displayed;
- Providing access to content in all of the languages used in the community that the library serves;
- Providing resources in formats that meet the needs of users with disabilities.”
As a youth and teen services librarian, I am also guided by the Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Libraries, developed by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), specifically #4: Knowledge, Curation, and management of Materials:
- Maintains a diverse collection that is inclusive of the needs of all children and their caregivers in the community and recognizes children’s need to see and learn about people like and unlike themselves in the materials they access.
- Advocates for and purchases materials by and about underrepresented communities, addressing the need for more representation of marginalized groups.
Like all things, this is a work in progress, but hopefully you can find some ideas and examples below that will help us all meet these goals.
Seek Out Small/Independent Presses
If you have ever met me, you know I’m obsessed with Shout Mouse Press, “a nonprofit writing program and publishing house for unheard voices. Through writing workshops that lead to professional publication, Shout Mouse coaches writers from marginalized backgrounds to tell their own stories in their own voices and, as published authors, to act as agents of change.” Their books are written by young people, which fills an important gap in our collections. Buying directly from distributors/small presses can help support creators directly, but you can also access Shout Mouse Press books from Bookshop, Amazon, Follett, and Ingram and Mackin. We recently added Black Boys Dreaming: Virtual Verse & Pandemic Prose by Chase, Kevin, Khalil, and Josiah of Beacon House to our teen collection. A couple years ago, we added I am the Night Sky and Other Reflections by Muslim American Youth by the teen artists and writers of Next Wave Muslim Initiative. And last fall, we were able to host contributors, Sasa and Fatima, at a virtual author visit for our community. As libraries, we always want to connect our collections to our programs and services - so this was a win all around!
Another small press we sought out is Reycraft Books. Their books are now available in B&T, which is fantastic news, but when they first launched, they were not available and we did not want to wait to get them to our patrons. Instead, we purchased our copies of Call Me Max by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Luciano Lozano & Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers, edited by Arigon Starr, from Amazon. Libraries often already have Amazon accounts so this makes it an easier process to purchase books, especially when you’re adding materials to be cataloged in-house. Using Amazon or Bookshop.org can also enable you to access out of print or back ordered material that you need in your collection.
How do you find out about upcoming materials being published through these types of small presses? An excellent resource to find books is Publisher Spotlight, which “aims to be a key discovery spot for books by international and independent publishers.” Ellen Myrick and her staff frequently present at the RAILS T.O.Y.S. (Teen or Youth Selectors) group to share virtual previews of upcoming or high interest releases. They are also a must-visit destination when they exhibit at local and national conferences.
Seeking out small presses can also increase the amount of authentic voices in our collections. During the recent Spring 2022 Baker Diversity Lecture: Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Youth Literature: APALA’s Youth Rubric, presented by Amy Breslin, Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen & Becky Leathersich, they talked about Native Hawaiian and Pacific Isalnder invisibility in children’s literature - and the dearth of books by cultural insiders. As Amy Breslin shared, “... by allowing this invisibility to persist on library shelves, we perpetuate the cultural erasure that began over 200 years ago…” They recommended two sources for Native Hawaiian materials for children: Bess Press and Kamehameha Publishing. (I highly recommend checking out the entire lecture; it is an essential resource to critically evaluate and select AAPI literature.) JoAnn Yao has also curated a list of Pacific Islander or Pasifika kidlit on the We Need Diverse Books blog, including more small presses. This also means buying and sharing titles like Punky Aloha by Shar Tuiasoa, one of the first mainstream Pacific Islander picture books by a Pasifika illustrator in the U.S, so publishers know we want more books like it. Check out this amazing conversation with Kristian Fanene Schmidt on the Conscious Kid Instagram to learn more.)
Seeking out independent publishers takes more time - but it is the work we’re meant to do.
Go Beyond Review Journals
Review journals are an essential part of collection development and often used as a foundational support for acquisition. But they shouldn’t be the only source of feedback about books. We should not be prevented from adding powerful books to our collections because they didn’t receive a trade review and we should revise our collection development policies if they do require it. Prioritize reviews from folks within marginalized communities. We always look to Dr. Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, and the teen-led Indigo’s Bookshelf for their knowledge about Native and Indigenous books for youth. We sought out the Disability Visibility review of We Move Together by Anne McGuire and Kelly Fritsch, illustrated by Eduardo Trejos, when evaluating this picture book. We eventually selected We Move Together for our community read for Coming Together in Niles Township. My colleague, Ann Santori, originally found out about this groundbreaking book on social media. To my knowledge, it has not been reviewed by a trade journal - but it truly belongs in every collection. Social media is a useful resource to help discover new books - and gain input from colleagues about their quality. You can also access galleys on Edelweiss and Netgalley to preview or read them for yourself. I have put together a Collection Development resource here that I use for my research, which I hope can be helpful.
Support Local/Independent Authors
When local Evanston author, Dahlia Richards, published her newest book, Amoya’s Accent, her follow-up to Amoya's Big Move, I excitedly purchased several copies from her website, including one to add to our library collection. This also means your copies can be signed, if requested! The most recent American Indian Literature Award for Best Picture Book winner, Horizon by Daniel Vandever, is available through his company, South of Sunrise Creative and now, Birchbark Books. Thankfully, several libraries in our system have already purchased it, which will make the cataloging process easier when our copy arrives.
Use Your Network
Use your network to ensure access to books. When schools and public libraries connect, we reach readers in powerful ways. Thanks to local Gifted, Differentiation and Enrichment Strategy Coach, Leanne Ellis, who has access to the fabled Scholastic Book Orders, our library added two fantastic nonfiction collective biographies, Asian Pacific American Heroes by Mia Wenjen and Native American Heroes by Dawn Quigley, to our collection that are only available through the Scholastic Book Club. These engaging, accessible, and informative books fill a significant informational need in our collections. Using your network can also mean reaching out to your distributor or rep to ask them to stock the books or connecting with the publisher to encourage them to make them more widely available.
Consider Location and Purpose
Some materials are better suited to different collections - and that’s okay. When our nonfiction selector, Sue Christon, purchased What We Believe: A Black Lives Matter Principles Activity Book by Laleña Garcia,
Illustrated by Caryn Davidson, she realized that it would be better suited for our Parenting Collection. As an activity book, you may have guidelines that may not allow you to add it - but then it’s time to question the purpose of those guidelines. We have added a label in the book that asks patrons not to write in the book and encourages people to make a copy of the page they want - and seek out the Educator’s Guide. We have also purchased another copy as an EDI reference resource for our library.
Knowing the limitations that libraries have when it comes to activity books, Lee and Low is publishing a companion to What We Believe, How We Can Live by Laleña Garcia and illustrated by Caryn Davidson is “a picture book that will engage hearts and minds as it introduces children to the guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter movement.” How We Can Live releases October 18, 2022. As selectors, we always get excited about upcoming releases!
Now that we have unique materials in our collection, you can also copy catalog our records and don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Here’s a link to our list to easily find all of these items. We might be the only (or one of the few) ones in our consortium who have some of these books - but I hope we can soon say that we all own hidden gems. Which unique items have you discovered? What tips do you have to ensure access to these materials? Feel free to share! And feel free to contact me if I can support you in this work.
Our guest blog post today is by Eti Berland, Youth & Teen Librarian at Lincolnwood Public Library District