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!