Jenny's Library

Books 2014: Statistics

Posted on: June 26, 2016

Books 2014: Statistics

The numbers themselves are pretty self-explanatory for 2014, owing to the fact that I read just about 100 books. So the percentages are pretty much exactly what the totals are.

However, since I am years late posting this, I thought that I’d include a reminder/explanation as to why I even keep track in the first place.
The main reason is because my brain is weird and I find it interesting to compare all these numbers.

I also do it because, as a youth services librarian, I feel that it’s important that I read a certain amount of books, and certain amount of different types of books, in order to do my job properly. My main concern is making sure that my reader’s advisory suggestions are varied and current. I currently only order teen ebooks, so it’s not like I need to keep up on new picture books in order for my library’s collection to stay current. However, reading widely and often also helps with storytimes, displays, and all kinds of other responsibilities.

The reason why I keep track of different types of age/format categories should be pretty obvious, given the reasons I’ve stated above. But I suspect many people may be confused as to why I care about keeping track of how many authors of color that I read, or how many books by men that I read.

It still comes down to my wanting to be able to provide quality reader’s advisory.

Back around 2012 or so, I began to notice that whenever I’d go to pull books for kids to look over – middle graders in particular – most of the time, the protagonists were all white. The kids I was helping however, were not. Not that this would still be acceptable if the patrons had been all white, but there’s a particular sort of erasure and “not really actually being helpful” and “likely not inspiring kids to read more” to a white, middle class librarian constantly suggesting that kids of color read books that feature only white, middle class kids.

There are a huge number of useful lists I can go to to find suggestions for books that feature protagonists of color, but the way reader’s advisory works, it’s not always very effective or efficient to rely on those lists in the moment. I’ve found these lists incredibly valuable in terms of both collection development and choosing my own reading material, but lists usually don’t capture things like: tone, sense of humor, relationship dynamics, pacing, and the like. I’m also just more likely to remember and therefore suggest a book that I’ve actually read, even if I didn’t personally like it.

So if what I’m concerned about is the identity of the protagonist, why am I instead keeping track of authors? After all, there isn’t a one to one correlation. People write about people that are different from them all the time; this is as true of authors of color as it is of white authors. That’s kinda how it needs to be.

About the same time that I was deciding that I needed to improve my reader’s advisory, I was also reading a lot of articles by Rudine Sims Bishop, and one of the things that she talked a lot about in the articles I read (in addition to coining the concept of “mirrors and windows”) was authenticity, and how important it is that the children being written about are neither stereotypes nor disconnected from their communities and history. While reading books by authors of color isn’t a guarantee that this won’t happen, it does dramatically decrease the chances that it will.
It also has the bonus of supporting authors of color, which is important in and of itself.

So, now that the explanation is out of the way, how did I do?

Books Read by Type

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Books Read by Gender of Author

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Books Read by Race/Ethnicity of Author

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First, I think it’s clear that I did a lousy job of reading from all the different age/format categories. Which is part of why I set specific goals for myself in that regard for 2015 and 2016.

Secondly, I was a little surprised by the breakdown by gender. I read significantly fewer books by men in 2014 than I did in 2013. As I said in 2013, I’m not as concerned about that, as books by men don’t suffer overall from less promotion and my overall reading history is likely skewed more in favor of men because of the way that required reading is more likely to have been written by men. However, I might revise that assessment if this percentage persists, because that might mean that I’m not reading enough books by men of color or enough of the new, popular books.

Last but far from least, from 2013 to 2014 I increased the percentage of authors of color I read. I also read fewer books in 2014 than I did in 2013, so the number of books by authors of color that I read didn’t really increase. Which is why my goal for 2015 wasn’t to read a greater percentage of books by authors of color, but to maintain the 1:2 or better ratio of “books by authors of color : books by white authors” while also reading more books overall. We’ll see how well that worked out in a few days.

More importantly though, I now no longer find myself realizing after the fact that all the books I’m suggesting to kids have white protagonists. I don’t even always have to consciously think about it, either, when suggesting books, in order to make sure this doesn’t happen. My reading suggestions are now more “naturally” balanced and diverse. Which was the end goal.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop keeping track of this data anytime soon. And at some point I’ll likely try to increase the percentage of books I read by authors of color. Or, take a year or two to keep track of how many books by LGTBQIA authors I read, etc. But it does mean that all this number crunching did what it was supposed to. Which makes me very happy, and hopefully means I’m doing a better job as a librarian.


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