Questions for libraries

When I left school, approximately two hundred years ago, one of the career paths suggested to me was librarianship. Little did they know.  Into the context of cuts comes news from The Bookseller of a new  report from the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals (CILIP), which has found that, in libraries:

The workforce (…) has lower ethnic diversity than the national UK Labour Force Survey average statistic, with 96.7% of workers identifying as “white”, almost 10% above the national workforce average.

These numbers immediately raise some questions in my mind. Librarians are gatekeepers of children’s literature. Among many other important duties, they guide and advise parents and children in selecting books and resources, they arrange events and author visits, they order children’s and YA fiction and non-fiction books and resources and make them available to readers. Parents and children are important library users in every sense.

If the gatekeepers for children’s fiction are so much less ethnically diverse than the children and parents they serve, what are the results for the quality of library service? Will the librarians have the same priorities as the library users?

Are they best placed to help the 100% of children in their communities who need the right books at the right time?

Members of CILIP also vote for the most prestigious children’s literature prizes in Britain: the Carnegie and Greenaway awards. Winning or being shortlisted for these awards makes a significant positive difference to a writer’s career, at least in the short to medium term. It raises their profile, not least with schools and libraries, and though it may not necessarily result in sales out of bookshops, it is likely to lead to more events such as school visits and festival appearances, which can be a large part of a writer’s small income.

Does the statistic above mean that only 3.3% of the people who are eligible to nominate and vote for the most prestigious awards for children’s literature in Britain are Black, Asian or other non-white group, including mixed heritage?

If so, might this have an influence on the books and authors that are nominated, shortlisted and win?

Would a more ethnically diverse workforce in libraries lead to different nominations, shortlists and winners of the Carnegie and Greenaway – and perhaps as a result to some reassessment of what constitutes ‘outstanding’ literature for children today?

I should stress that I don’t mean to disparage the achievements of past Carnegie and Greenaway winners. But I believe we should be asking these questions. They are not purely academic (although they are very interesting questions in that sense – cultural values are not absolute, and changing the gatekeepers is very likely to change what gets through the gates). They are also practical questions that impact on the careers, livelihoods, ability to survive financially and keep writing, of BAME children’s authors in Britain.

I’m delighted that CILIP have undertaken this essential research. The link to their executive summary is here:
I look forward to reading the full report when it is available. In particular I would like to see
1) how far children’s librarians as a sub-group conform to the statistics above, and
2) a break-down by library authority. In Birmingham, for example,  with 53.1% defining themselves as White British, 13.5% Pakistani, 6% Indian and 4.4% Black Caribbean, do we still have a library and information workforce that are 93.7% white?

It is however encouraging to read  here that Nick Poole, CILIP Chief Executive Officer, said:

“Of greater concern are the significant gaps in pay equality and diversity which the results have highlighted…CILIP is calling for a National Library and Information Skills Strategy which will enable us to attract high-quality talent from diverse backgrounds into the profession (…)”

Maybe my careers adviser wasn’t so far off the mark after all.

Published by Leila from Megaphone

Writer and runs Megaphone: a writer development scheme for people of colour who want to write for children. Tweets @MegaphoneWrite and @LeilaR

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: