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How To Conduct A Diversity Book Audit

A diversity audit reveals which voices are missing and/or underrepresented, and whether or not the majority of your books are solely featuring white, cis, neurotypical characters and authors.

15 of the 25 book covers from the list on a red background

Did you find any racist or otherwise problematic books in Step Two or Three? Throw them in the recycling bin.

In our January 2021 booklist post, we highlighted and suggested books to add to your collection in order to diversify and decolonize the bookshelves in your home. Alongside adding more diverse titles from authentic voices, an important additional step can be auditing the books already on your shelves. This can be a bit of a lengthy process, depending on how many books you own, but is a valuable way to answer the question ‘how diverse are the books my family is reading?’ A Diversity audit reveals which voices are missing and/or underrepresented, and whether or not the majority of your books are solely featuring white, cis, neurotypical characters and authors.

This process also provides a great opportunity to go through your children’s books, toys, movies, etc. and pare down the collection. Conversely, if you’re already going through things and looking for items to move out of your house, as many of us are at this time of year, why not apply the audit process and look at things through a diversity lens while purging and organizing at the same time? You can either do a preliminary “sweep” to get rid of items you for sure don’t want beforehand, or do this during the audit process as you determine whether books you already own are potentially problematic or no longer suitable for your children for various reasons.

Step One - decide what to audit.

You may wish to focus on all of the books your children own, or, if you’re anything like me and have overflowing bookshelves, you may wish to first focus on a subset such as picture books, novels, etc. You could also apply this process to adult books, toys, movies, or other media your family consumes.

Once you’ve figured out what you’re auditing, you’ll need to determine what you’re looking for, and choose criteria or categories to place books into. This could be as simple as white vs. non-white characters and/or authors. Some other suggestions you could look for include BIPOC representation, LGBTQ+ representation, characters with disabilities vs those who are neurotypical, intersectionality, and authentic or Own Voices representation. You may also wish to take this even further, and look for representation from specific races or cultural groups, or sorting your books with non-white characters according to the voices being represented. Although this certainly takes more time, it can be worthwhile as it will allow you to see specific groups which are not represented at all.

If this is your first time performing a diversity audit and you are unsure what criteria to use, these categories are a great starting point:

  • Only white characters

  • Mainly white characters with some background BIPOC characters

  • BIPOC main characters

  • All BIPOC characters

Step Two - collect your data

Now it’s time to actually go through your books! This is what really takes time, as you’ll need to examine each book individually and ask yourself some questions. For some books, this will be easy and not take much time at all, whereas you may need to spend more time with others. You also do not necessarily need to read each book in its entirety. Obviously this process is quicker with picture books or material that is more visual, as you can look to the illustrations for clues. If you’re unsure, reading online book reviews or using websites such as Goodreads can be a good source of information and take less time than personally reading and examining each book. The questions you ask may vary depending on the categories or criteria you’re using, but some suggestions are:

  • Does the book contain human or animal characters? If you’re working with children’s books, you may also find robots and/or inanimate objects as characters!

  • Are any characters clearly depicted as belonging to a specific race or ethnicity (even the animals and robots, if personified)? If so, what is it?

  • Who are the author and/or other creators (illustrators etc.)? What is their background?

  • Could this book be considered #OwnVoices? Does the author share a background and lived experiences with their character?

  • Could any cultural/racial depictions in this book be viewed as problematic? Particularly, watch for stereotypes in illustrations, outdated terminology, or any otherwise stereotyping or racist views.

Determine how you are going to sort your data. This could be really simple, such as putting books in piles sorted by criteria or making a tally chart of how many books fall into each category. If you want to go fancier, you could try using a digital tool to make a pie chart which gives a nice visual representation and will show percentages of how many books in your collection fit into each category.

Step Three - analyze and compare your data

Have a look at the data you’ve collected. Are there any voices which are overrepresented? What could be missing? Are there any voices which are underrepresented or left out entirely? Now is also a good time to research the authors and other creators of your books, if you haven’t already done this during step two. To do this, take a look at the books which you have indicated as showing diverse representation. Find out who the author is, and see if you can determine their background. For some, this will be as simple as reading the author’s biography on a book jacket, or for others you could try a quick Google search and/or reading book reviews on the internet. Once you’ve determined this, consider whether or not the book is an Own Voices title, as the author writes with authentic voice sharing the same background and lived experiences as their character(s), or whether this may be a white author writing about racialized characters. A small word of caution: you may end up with some titles for which you’re unsure of the author’s background. These titles aren’t necessarily problematic, as we need to consider the possibility that an author may be white presenting and there may be a lack of information online sharing their biography, particularly for titles coming from smaller publishers and/or lesser known authors.

Step Four - figure out how you could better balance your collection

Did you find any racist or otherwise problematic books in Step Two or Three? Throw them in the recycling bin. DO NOT DONATE THESE. If a book is considered too problematic to be in your household, it doesn’t need to find its way to someone else’s bookshelf. Do you have too many books featuring predominantly white characters? Figure out which you could get rid of, and if they’re in good condition you could pass them on to another family or donate them. Many schools and community organizations collect donated books for families and children in need, and some school libraries will gratefully receive donations of gently used popular titles. However, if you are donating to your school library, please check with the teacher-librarian beforehand and be prepared for them to say no thank you if they determine the books are unsuitable for their collection. Finally, determine what you need to add to your collection to make it more diverse and more balanced. Those voices you discovered were missing in Step Three? Make a note of these here, as they are the ones you will want to first focus on adding.

Step Five - fix it

This is the fun part where you get to buy more books! This definitely doesn’t have to be a huge shopping spree, and can be done slowly and incrementally, adding one title at a time as your family budget allows. If funds are tight, you could look in used bookstores, or focus on borrowing diverse titles from your public library in order to balance those titles you’ve decided to keep in Step Four. Sometimes you find the best books while browsing in your favourite bookstore, but I also recommend doing some internet research and perhaps creating a list of titles you’re looking for. Obviously my top recommended resource for finding out about diverse titles would be our monthly MAR book lists, but some of my other favourite resources include:

Not all titles showcased here are diverse, but CBC publishes many diverse kids’ booklists, as well as showcasing Indigenous authors. As well, many of the resources I’ve included here are American and it can be more difficult to locate Canadian content.

A Canadian Indigenous owned and operated online bookstore and publishing house. Not all of the books that they carry are Indigenous, but they are a fantastic resource for local authentic Indigenous content.

This hashtag started a movement on Twitter to draw attention to books written with characters from marginalized and/or underrepresented groups written by authors from these marginalized and/or underrepresented groups. There is no one website as a resource, but it can be a useful term to use while Internet searching.

Read this blog post for more information from Corinne Duyvis, the creator of the hashtag.

And here’s a good article, Why We Need Diverse Authors in Children's Literature, on the importance of #OwnVoices.

Finally, once you’ve gone through this process for the first time, decide what you’d like to audit in your house next. You’ll likely become a little bit quicker with each audit you conduct, as you modify your criteria and categories shift to make the process more efficient. Most importantly, once you’re finished, share what you learned through this process with the MAR community as well as your friends and family. You never know who you may inspire to conduct an audit!

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1 Comment

Nicole Spencer
Nicole Spencer
May 06, 2021

This is fantastic, thank you! In addition to purchasing books, there's also the public library to help supplement on an ongoing basis, especially when resources are maxed out for purchasing content :) I find they have some great lists too.

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