Color My Shelf

Recently, there was a hastag on Twitter (#colormyshelf) discussing multicultural books, and, more so, the lack of representation of multicultural characters in novels. Leading characters. Leading characters on covers. People mentioned their favorite books with ethnic characters, and asked for more – many, many more – to be published.

As someone who’s about to have a multi-ethnic child, of course I’m in support of more people represented in literature (specifically YA, as that’s what I write and read). Working at a library, I see how few there are in comparison to those with, as my co-worker and I call them – pretty blonde white girl covers. (And I’m in no way dissing those pretty blonde white girl covers – I really like quite a bit of those books!)

Though we don’t control what books we get at the library (a person at the main branch handles collection development), my co-worker and I do control, in a way, what stays and what leaves. Our shelves are only so large, so once a year we have to weed out titles that don’t circulate. (These books that are weeded are then usually sold, with the money going towards library development, such as programming.) Weeding is not easy. We have very strict guidelines, and don’t take the task lightly. But, because we get so many new books as they’re released, it has to be done, otherwise we’d have no place for patrons to walk.

Since I’ve weeded these books (for the purpose of this post, “these books” refers just to YA, though I do weed all sections), I see what goes and what doesn’t. Sometimes it’s not surprising in the least (Hunger Games has a HUGE circulation; Twilight is only weeded when it’s too beat up to circulate anymore). Sometimes it is (those Lauren Conrad books are incredibly popular; mermaids are still adored). But here’s a sad fact – a lot of the books people are pushing to be published are not being checked out. There’s clearly a demand, and I KNOW we put them on display and promote them, but they’re not checked out nearly as much. Which is sad!

So therein lies a problem – yes, readers want these books, but are they buying them? Are they, in the library’s case, checking them out?

Obviously I can’t know sales details, and my library is only one small branch within the entire country, but I was curious about those questions. Really curious. So I decided to do a very low-key, very basic and unscientific, study.

I made a display of books featuring leading protagonists of color and saw how long it took for them to be check out.

Was it interesting? Yes. Were the results surprising. Yes! Interested in how it turned out? Stay tuned – I’ll post the results tomorrow!

5 thoughts on “Color My Shelf

  1. Molly | wrapped up in books says:

    I’m eagerly awaiting the results!

    I haven’t done a “scientific” study of this either, but overall, the same pattern happens here. And this is the case even though a lot of the kids who hang out in my library are non-white. One problem is that a lot of them are historical, and those don’t do as well.

    Displays have been hit or miss for me. We rotate ours about every two weeks, and sometimes books fly off them, other times, they just sit. We have a smaller case that holds 10 face out books, and I put 10 fairy tale/classic story retellings on it — newer ones that have appealing covers — and 11 days later, zero have gone out. But our big display full of “award winners” has been restocked constantly. I can’t figure it out.

    • Lauren says:

      I’m so glad you commented on this, because your patterns are incredibly similar to mine. I’ll go into more detail in the second part of this, but we have the same issue with historical books, and we have a very diverse population, too. I’m always surprised with what goes and what doesn’t on displays. I put out books that get rave reviews on Goodreads and people won’t touch them. And sometimes i’ll just put a bunch of blue covers or something, and BOOM GONE. There really is no rhyme or reason.

  2. hannahkarena says:

    Re: Main characters of color. You MUST read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry! It’s about a cranky bookstore owner and makes so many literature jokes and references. You will love it and so will your most bookish patrons! (I just finished reading it and loved it and can’t stop recommending it to everyone, haha. Sorry!)

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