Libraries Are Paving The Way For Cultural Unity

Our country is a melting pot of rich cultures that are steep in vast customs and traditions. Yet libraries, parents and educators are left without the tools needed to encourage youth's exposure to cultures other than their own - diverse children's books.

According to the most current data from the U.S. Census Bureau our country will experience a demographic shift within the coming decades as our society becomes more Latino, African American and Asian among other cultures.

Yet, the lack of diverse children's books published annually does not reflect the rich cultural tapestry that surrounds us. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC), only 393 of the more than 3,500 titles published in the U.S. in 2014 represented Nonwhites. Also CCBC data shows that only 168 of submitted 2014 titles were written and/or illustrated by a person of color.

The lack of diverse children's books has reached a crisis level, a situation recognized by such organizations as the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association. ALSC and other like-minded groups are working to advocate for diverse books and cultural unity.

One established approach to celebrating multiculturalism is to highlight the various other cultural resources libraries offer. From bilingual story hours, cultural exchange programs/events, to national multicultural literacy events such as El día de los niños/El día de los libros (children's day/book day), libraries are places of cultural acceptance and promotion.
Commonly referred to as Día! Diversity in Action, El día de los niños/El día de los libros is a national literacy initiative that takes place in communities, libraries and schools throughout the year with annual culminating events held on April 30. Events highlight library staff's efforts year round to connect children and their families to a world of learning through multicultural books, programs and events.

For example the Center for the Book and the Young Readers Center of the Library of Congress will host a Día symposium exploring diversity in children's literature. The event will explore how to use culturally diverse literature to support families and teen literacy.

Last year alone nearly 600 Día! Diversity in Action programs were held across the US and data collected by ALSC shows that 53 percent of surveyed libraries reported that their Día program resulted in a stronger relationship with community members; 46 percent of respondents reported a greater number of library visitors than usual; and 41 percent reported that their program resulted in first-time library visitors.

The lack of exposure to other cultures fuels intolerance and cultural invisibility. Our hope is that you'll join us is celebrating multiculturalism not only on April 30, but throughout the year as library staff work to put diverse books in the hands of youth.

Ellen Riordan is the president of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association. ALSC is the world's largest organization dedicated to the support and enhancement of library service to children. With a network of more than 4,000 children's and youth librarians, literature experts, publishers and educational faculty, ALSC is committed to creating a better future for children through libraries.