Library undertakes inital diversity audit

Picton Branch of the Prince Edward County Public Library. (Desirée Decoste/Gazette Staff)

Everyone should be represented by the books in the library collection, as well having access to reading material that leads to learning about people that are different from themselves.

One of the most frequently referenced pieces on the importance of representation in literature is entitled “Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors” by Rudine Sims Bishop. Bishop describes the ways books can be windows (a view beyond yourself) mirrors (reflecting the reader) and sliding glass doors (a doorway in the imagination to walk through and be immersed in a new world or new perspective).

We recently completed our first ever diversity audit. This involves taking a mathematical approach to assessing the library’s collection – in this case we were looking at the diversity of authors represented in the collection.

This first phase was focussed on our most popularly borrowed item type – adult fiction. Library staff were given a list of all adult fiction titles in their branch. They researched each author and based on the author’s own self-identification they were included in a category of ethnic origin. There are countless ways that people identify, but for this audit, the categories and terminology used are from Statistics Canada. After we had a count, we compared those numbers to the statistics from Prince Edward County and Ontario-wide.

All of this work is to create a baseline from which we can improve – a process limited by budget, space, and inequities in the publishing world but one that we embrace fully. In addition to purchasing additional titles by authors from underrepresented groups, we will also use the results when choosing books to discuss in avenues like this column and social media, and in our program planning. If you’re interested in seeing the complete report, it will be available at every branch of the library and posted online at peclibrary.org.

“This diversity audit is part of our ongoing commitment to municipal leaders and the community to provide education and access to information around the recent conversations that have been occurring about race and ethnicity,” said library CEO Barbara Sweet.

We recognize that the diversity audit is an imperfect process. Not every author discusses their ethnic background or fits into just one category. Some books are ghost-written, and there are many other facets to human identity that were not included in this audit. Almost all the books purchased by the library come from patron requests. We encourage anyone with suggestions of new titles they would like to read to request them either by completing the request for purchase form at peclibrary.org/rfp or asking at your local branch.

Coincidentally, in the midst of this process, 555 Brewing Co. held a fundraiser to purchase books by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) authors. This fundraiser was a great success and resulted in almost sixty new books being added to the library collection.

-Liz Zylstra