Library releases diversity audit results

A recent study has found that materials focused on underrepresented groups and subjects only make up 15% of Bartholomew County Public Library’s entire book collection, with a significantly higher concentration of these materials in the teen department.

Library director Jason Hatton presented the results of a recent diversity audit, performed by collectionHQ, at Monday’s board of trustees meeting.

“It looks at various categories or topics that Baker & Taylor and collectionHQ has considered to be part of a diversity, equity and inclusion kind of look, what kinds of topics would you be looking at if you wanted to make sure your collection was balanced across the way and keeping in mind the various minority populations that exist within a community,” he said.

The study looked at 12 specific categories: Asian, Black, Disabilities and Neurodiversity, Equity and Social Issues, Hispanic and Latino, Indigenous Peoples, LGBTQIA+ and Gender Studies, Mental and Emotional Health, Middle Eastern and North African, Multicultural, Religion, and Substance Abuse and Addictions. Hatton clarified that the “religion” category primarily refers to underrepresented religions.

According to Hatton, collectionHQ found that, out of the 229,156 items it analyzed, 34,580 counted as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) items that would fall into the categories listed above. These numbers include both print and e-books, and audio books, with multiple copies of the same title counted as separate items, he said.

The company said the average DEI percentage for large libraries is 18.4%, with the percentage decreasing as the population served decreases. For a very small library, the average DEI percentage is 15.6%.

Additionally, the average DEI percentage for libraries in the Midwest is 16.7%.

For the Bartholomew County Public Library’s juvenile items, 15% were classified as DEI; for adult items, it was 12%.

On the other hand, 34% of items for teenagers — or just over one third — were classified as DEI items, including 32% of teen fiction materials and 54% of teen nonfiction materials.

Hatton noted that equity and social issues accounted for almost 30% of teen nonfiction, which he believes makes sense, given that teenagers are often interested in these subjects or have to report on them for school. Comparatively, books on these topics make up about 5% of the library’s overall collection.

Materials on LGBTQIA+ and gender studies made up almost 9% of teen fiction and 8.6% of teen nonfiction, compared to 1.5% of the library’s overall collection. Mental and emotional health accounts for 10% of teen fiction and 12% of teen nonfiction, but only 3.3% of the library’s overall collection.

Overall, Hatton said that collectionHQ’s diversity audit provided a “fascinating look” at the data behind library books.

“I think we’ve heard a lot of emotional reactions and a lot of emotional responses to how much is in our collection and what percentages it encompasses,” he said. “And I think this really kind of breaks it down into those, kind of releases that emotion and leads it back to more of a data point, right? Because really, truly, at the end of the day, 15.1% total overall, really says to me we have quite a ways to go.”

Board member Laura Hack added that it’s important to find materials that present underrepresented groups in a positive light.

“We want our families and our stakeholders and our community members to see themselves in a mirror, but we want that mirror to be one that is positive,” she said. “So there could be a book on a group that’s not as positive but it could still be numbered, correct?”

Hatton confirmed that this is the case. He added that the library’s ongoing title-by-title diversity audit of the teen collection, which is a separate project, looks to be more specific.

“That’s some of what, again, what we want to be looking at, is can we tweak any more data out of that besides just these general, broad categories, because you’re exactly right,” he said. “Take LGBTQIA+, anything that fits into that would necessarily be pro and con. Both would be equal. Both would be covered in that category.”