Color My Shelf – Part 2

Here are the results of my highly unscientific study hinted at in my previous post.

I decided to test out two things in my study: how fast multicultural books go that have said ethnic characters on the cover (face covers), and how fast multicultural books go that have no hinting at all about their ethnicity on the cover (non-face covers). The books pulled were random, I just wanted books that weren’t extremely popular at my library (such as Clockwork Prince). I had no preference to titles nor nationalities, though I did want a range of genres (fantasy, contemporary, etc.) and nationalities. Unfortunately, nationalities were hard to find. (Note: I KNOW there are a lot more than these titles, these were the ones that were in stock. As mentioned, this was not very scientific.)

First, the face books:

  • Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (Japanese)
  • Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick (Cambodian)
  • My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (Jewish/Indian)
  • Liar by Justine Larbalestier (Black)
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick (Nepali)
  • Spirit’s Princess (Princesses of Myth) by Esther Friesner (Japanese)
  • Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald (Mixed race, black/white)
  • Transcendence by C.J. Omololu (Black)
  • Joseph by Shelia P. Moses (Black)
  • Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst (Honestly, I’m not sure, but the cover is beautiful.)

Now the non-face books:

  • The Vow by Jessica Martinez (Jordonian)
  • Death Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez (Hispanic)
  • Good Enough by Paula Yoo (Korean)
  • The Living by Matt De La Peña (Hispanic)
  • He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander (Black)

Before I discuss what happened, here’s some information about my branch library. It’s located by a university, and also surrounded by both richer and poorer developments. According to SimplyMap, and the 2010 census, the area is 39.25% Hispanic, 6.49% Asian, .53% American Indian, 12.43% Black, 69.77% White, and 6.79% other. I realize this does not add up to 100% – a large portion of our population marked two or more races on the census. Also, the general population does not reflect the library’s population, but you get it.

Anyway. The face books (of which there were more) were placed on the top of the display, with the non-face books placed below them. This was due to my theory: non-face books would check out first, so I gave priority to the others. This is what I’ve seen in the past, at least, when placing these books out on display. Once they were out, I patiently waited.

To my surprise (and delight) in the first day, the following titles were checked out: Never Fall Down and Sold. Two face books taken by two different patrons! As books were checked out, they were not replaced, I just waited for the display to empty.

The following day, the first of the non-face covers was checked out: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia. That same day, Liar and My Basmati Bat Mitzvah also went. Again, more face covers!

By the end of the three days, there were three titles remaining in each category: Battle Royale, Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood, and Spirity Chosen from the face books, and The Vow, The Living, and Good Enough from the non-face covers. Yes, three and three, but still, the face covers were going faster.

I had the display up for a week, and by the last day the only titles remaining were Battle Royale and The Living. By the end of that day, The Living found a home. This surprised me quite a bit, because I thought both books would have gone much sooner. Sadly, I shelved Battle Royale and analyzed what happened.

Books were checked out. Books were wanted, and liked. My initial thoughts, due to previous experiences, that these face books wouldn’t go was disproved. Whatever the reason, they were wanted, and I was really pleased about that. And the fact that they went faster than the non-face covers was extremely interesting.

Clearly there is a demand for these books, if even in the smallest sense. They are checked out, they are looked at (and, as it seems, patrons seem to prefer people on their covers)!

As a follow-up, I looked back at some of the titles we weeded and found something incredibly telling – the majority of the multicultural ones were historical. Sure those books are great, too, but it seems like the majority of the popular books are contemporary or fantasy or dystopian or science fiction. Readers want multicultural characters of today. They want them in books they can relate to, not older tales. Again, not a scientific observation, but still one that’s worth mentioning.

So what does this mean for my library? The other books are still more popular, as our checkouts show, but clearly there’s a demand for these. I’ll definitely be displaying more of them each week. I’d like to do this experiment again in the future and see if the findings change. I’d like to get more titles similar to these, too, because clearly they’re appreciated. And I’d like to thank the authors for writing these characters that my patrons  want to read.

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