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.

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!

Community

If you’ve been to my website recently, you might have noticed the shiny new Goodreads logo on the right (—->). This means two things:

  1. I finally joined Goodreads. Friend me?
  2. My book did, too! You can mark TNWSY as “to read” if you’d like. Or, “to not read.” Or, “that book some chick wrote.” You know, whatever suits you.

In other news, I run two monthly programs at the library, and am at the cusp of adding two more. (I also run other programs, but they’re usually one-time events, such as the My Little Pony program coming up. Let’s not be surprised that i’m dressing up as the librarian pony, Twilight Sparkle.)

My first monthly program is the book club. Mostly full of ladies my mom’s age and older, we meet once a month to loosely discuss a book. I say loosely because usually about 30 minutes are spent on the book, while 30 on personal lives, gossip, normal chatter, etc. The ladies are lovely, and while we sometimes have disagreements (was I the only one who enjoyed A Discovery of Witches?), we always meet back up happily. And the older ladies are hilarious. (We just had our one-year anniversary!)

My next monthly program is my prized possession, my nerdfighter meetup. Once a month, teens and older meet to simply hang out. We make crafts, we play board games, we chat. They usually stay from the beginning of the program until the library closes (four hours!) and in the process talk about everything, from books they like to serious moral debates (seriously!). I love this program so much because it’s given an outlet to those looking to find fellow neat people, and simply hang out. Those wanting a safe, fun, judgement free zone. My ultimate goal as a librarian was creating something like this, and i’m so glad it’s come to be. These nerdfighters are my favorites. (Sept marks the one-year anniversary of the first meet up!)

I recently received a grant to bring technology to the library for teens, so I invested in filmmaking equipment. We’ve had a few programs since, and eventually, come fall, i’ll make it a monthly lesson/activity. I’m excited about this.

Last, two nights ago, a co-worker and I hosted a Tea and Talk program, in which ladies in their 20s and up came to drink tea, eat scones, participate in Downton Abbey themed games, and create British-style fascinators. Though we weren’t sure if it would be a success, it was an absolute blast with more than 20 people showing up. All of the women asked for a follow-up, a monthly event for them to have a ladies night out.

Upon creating the next Ladies Night Out event, I realized something very cool – people just want to hang out. Young and old, they just want excuses to meet new people, try new things, and be involved. And I’m so thrilled that the library can be a place for that.

There’s the continuous debate about the importance (or, to some, the lack of importance) of libraries. They’re just holding grounds for books! We have the Internet, who needs them? The thing is, they’re so much more than that. Yes, they have books and movies and such, but they also have community. They’re an open place to simply hang out and meet new people. They put you in the middle of a group, or an organization. They’re a fun zone. They’re a safe haven.

One of the teens messaged me a while ago, and told me that since joining our meetups, she’s made real friends. And that, thanks to these meetups, she’s not as embarrassed by herself, and feels part of something.

I’m so amazed that something I created can cause that much of a reaction. And i’m so happy that libraries are around to make this girl feel that accepted.

Pirating Books

Fun fact: libraries provide free books! I know, right? It’s a bit crazy. You can walk in, grab books, check them out, and leave. And it’s free! No one will stop you! You just have to return them after 3ish weeks (depending on the library). Libraries even have free eBooks! And movies! And CDs!

I know the above is a well-known fact, but sometimes I think people forget. They forget that libraries are there to simply provide free information (such as, you know, books). I bring this up because I keep hearing about the pirating of books, and it makes me a bit angry. Apparently people are ripping eBooks (or even scanning paper books – what!) and putting them online for people to download for free. This isn’t a new thing, it’s been around for a while, but It’s a bit disheartening to say the least. And I don’t say this from an author’s perspective (an author who’s afraid her books will be pirated, too), but from a librarian’s perspective. Because, hello, we’re here to give you free books!

So here are reasons people are pirating:

I want the book, but can’t afford it. Understood. It’s pricey buying every book you want. Does a friend have it that you can borrow? If not, go to the library!

But it’s checked out at the library. Put it on hold, it’ll come back soon! Or, does your school library have it? See if they do. (And if it’s checked out – put it on hold! Twice the chance of getting it quickly.)

But I want it NOW!! Does the library have an eBook of it? An audio book? See! Perhaps that can hold you over until your copy is in. (Also, browse the shelves. There are hundreds of other titles that may keep you busy until the book is in.)

But my library doesn’t carry it. Talk to a librarian, and ask them to order it. We love hearing recommendations. We can’t read everything, so perhaps we might miss a title. Let us know.

But it’s only released as an eBook. A lot of libraries have eBooks now. I know mine does. Check.

But how is getting it from the library different than pirating it? The author still doesn’t make any money. Wrong. First off, authors don’t like when you pirate their books. Period. Second, in libraries, check out statistics are very important. If a book has a lot of holds, there’s a strong chance we’ll purchase more copies. (We just put in a large order for Cuckoo’s Calling, obviously. And even though it’s an older book, my library just received a new batch of Looking for Alaskas because the hold list was just that long.) Also, if we see a book by a specific author is getting checked out often, we’ll definitely order their future books because we know readers want them. Supporting us supports the authors.

A main goal of a library is to give the patron what they want. If you come in and want a book, we’ll do everything we can to get it to you. You may have to wait a few days, but you’ll get it. You’ll see.