Curating a Diversified Collection – One Book at a Time
Libraries are an integral part of our communities and education. They provide resources for learning, study, entertainment and culture. It is important for libraries to house collections that are as diverse as the communities they serve.
“You should see yourself in the collection,” said Sean Kennedy, assistant professor in Kent State University’s University Libraries. “The authors you like, the authors that look like you and who have ideas like you should be in the collection. For many years now, libraries have become increasingly aware of a lack of diversity and representation within our collections.”
But how does a library know what books represent its community? At Kent State, the library asks.
Hack the Stacks is a resource recommendation program in which students, faculty and staff can submit different resource suggestions to add to the library’s collection. The program was created to ensure the library’s collection is representative of the university’s population.
“Hack the Stacks is a way to use the people we serve to tell us what they need and what they should be seeing in the collection,” Kennedy said. “As we’ve progressed as people and a society, we’re more introspective about these kinds of things, and we realized that we could do a better job at representation in our collections.”
Recommendations have a wide range of topics. Some that Kennedy recalled were books on African fashion, the Holocaust, gender norms and poetry written by underrepresented authors.
“We have received recommendations for books that are banned elsewhere in the country,” Kennedy said. “‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison would be a book that is heavily challenged and heavily banned, but we own it and probably have multiple copies.”
Banned books are prohibited or restricted because they are challenged by society. Sexual or drug-related content is the most common reason for book challenges, Kennedy said.
“Book challenges are essentially when someone complains about a book on some ground of inappropriateness of content,” Kennedy said. "In response to those challenges, a governing body like a legislative body, a school board or a board of trustees of a public library, could decide to use their oversight to ban the book or to make a new policy about what content can be in their collection.”
Although Kent State currently has banned books in the library's collection as a public university, they are required to follow Ohio laws, Kennedy said. If the state passes a law banning a particular book, Kent State will have to remove the book from its collection.
“Our goal is to add resources to the collection, so that when someone comes to read or research, they’re getting all the scholarly debate about the topic,” Kennedy said.
Hack the Stacks allows University Libraries to create a diversified collection, so users can find all the information they need.