Interview with the Author: Auditing Diversity in Library Collections

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

November 15, 2022

Sarah Voels recently wrote Auditing Diversity in Library Collections which was published by ABC-CLIO. While the book has a focus on public and school libraries, the stories she shares are applicable to all libraries because of the importance of diversity work.

My interview with her is below.  

Lauren: Please summarize Auditing Diversity in Library Collections for our readers.

Sarah: Auditing Diversity in Library Collections is a collection of stories and methods for creating your own successful diversity audit compiled from great library professionals and what has worked for them in their library communities. There’s no one way to perform this important work so the book offers several methods to try as well as historic background to support why this effort is so necessary.

Lauren: Why did you decide to write this book?

Sarah: To be honest, I didn’t know it was a possibility. There was nothing like it on the market and at the time I was conducting my first audit with my colleague, Molly Garrett, we had only encountered two articles on the subject. Which, in retrospect, is why my editor, Jessica Gribble, approached me to write it after presenting at PLA2020—there wasn’t anything like it.

Lauren: How is your own experience reflected in this work?

Sarah: My own experiences are fully ingrained in the book. In fact, a full chapter is dedicated to my personal experiences with diversity audits and how I used the information gained to really shape the future of those collections. I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish and the positive effect it has had for the community I live in.

Lauren: The book has a focus on public and school libraries. How do you see this book as applicable to librarians in other types of libraries (i.e. academic or special)?

Sarah: When I began writing, I had reached out to academic libraries while I was reaching out to public and school ones. I had hoped to be able to gather those stories as well but at the time, it was still so new that those I reached out to didn’t yet have experiences to share. If I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write a second edition, I hope to be able to share more stories from the academic and special library world as audits have only become more popular in the few years that have passed since I started writing it.

But there are definitely academic libraries doing really great work with this. It would be easy to take the lessons learned and apply them to casual reading collections that some academic libraries have to make sure there are a wealth of voices represented. But there is also the opportunity to apply it to non-fiction collections the way some other libraries have been able to. For example, examining who is represented in biography collections would be a good start or looking at the 200s section and reframing the collection away from a very Christian-focused collection. When looking at global events and histories, who is represented there and who are the ones actually telling those stories?

The team at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library System in Charlotte, North Carolina also took the audit process and used it to examine the ephemeral materials donated to the library including naming rights. Their hard work could serve as a lesson for how to apply auditing to archives as well.

Lauren: What are two takeaways you hope all readers implement?

Sarah: The first is that it is very hard, but entirely adaptable work. You can audit an entire library or a small collection and you can look for any amount of information. It can be adapted to whatever you need, for whatever resources you have available.

The second is that we’re playing the long game with collection development. Library collections and publishing itself are a very white, heteronormative experience and they didn’t become that way over night. We’re unmaking a fairly homogenous history of publishing and it’s going to take time and it’s going to take all of us.

Lauren: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Sarah: As a predominantly white profession, it is really important that we as white professionals work to make sure that the burden of confronting our collective past and changing our future should not fall to our BIPOC colleagues just as it is not the responsibility of our queer colleagues to educate our cisgender, heteronormative ones, etc. Our first responsibility of privilege is to listen, quickly followed by action especially in a field where people rely on us for access to information. Audits and the information gained from them hold us accountable. 

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her expertise includes information literacy, educational technology, and library and information science education.  Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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