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Student Intern Adds 200 New Titles on Diversity, Featuring Publishers and Authors of Color

By Allyson Mower

In Spring 2021, Marriott Library offered an internship designed to approach collection development from an additional perspective: instead of going by subject or title or author to order books, we wanted to go first by publisher. This allowed us to locate new and diverse publishers of color to order from for both the internship and in the future and allowed us to get a glimpse at the diversity of the collection based on the library’s existing holdings of books created by publishers of color. The funding to buy the books came from the Chicago Ventures fund.

Mykie Valenzuela served as the intern; Allyson Mower and Adriana Parker served as supervisors and Lorelei Rutledge helped build the libguide.

We ordered nearly 200 titles from 25 publishers, several of which Marriott Library had not ordered from before. To see the list of titles and publishers, check out the libguide (its completion is ongoing)

April 19, 2021: Allyson Mower (left) and Mykie Valenzuela (right) displaying the first shipment of books ordered with Chicago Ventures funds for the MUSE internship. Photo credit: Greg Midgley (Marriott Library)
April 19, 2021: Allyson Mower (left) and Mykie Valenzuela (right) displaying the first shipment of books ordered with Chicago Ventures funds for the MUSE internship. Photo credit: Greg Midgley (Marriott Library)

A brief interview with Mykie conducted by Allyson shows how the process worked:

How did you go about doing the work? 

A lot of the work has been internet searches, following amazing groups like LatinXPublishing (@latinxpublishing) and People of Color in Publishing (@pocpub). Following hashtags! Reading endless book previews. Going down rabbit holes. There’s a network of community, authors, and publishers who are working to lift each other up, and you follow those threads as far as they go.

I got a hold of a few directories, historical lists, etc.-that contain lists of publishers and distributors of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Mind you the newest one was printed in 2003, so there was a lot of sleuthing going on, but that’s one of my favorite parts, the sleuthing. A majority of the publishers from these lists didn’t even still exist, they’d either shut down or been bought out by white companies. But finding what you’re looking for is like jumping into water on a hot day and you just keep swimming. It’s unfortunate that it needs to be done, but I’m pushing for a world where that no longer has to be the case.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned?

  1. That we need more activism in this area. And it isn’t enough just to put these books on our shelves, we need them in our syllabi, suggested reading lists, our recommendations. It’s not enough to stock them, they need to be thrust to the front and it should be as common to suggest them as it is to suggest something from a white publisher or author.
  2. The importance of authorship. If you’re sourcing books about the Diné peoples and none of the ones you pick are actually written by someone who identifies as part of that community, you’re missing a vital voice in the discussion. Even if the books quote a member of the Diné you’re still missing authentic authorship. If we’re discussing an overview of metaphysics and not including any Black philosophers in our discussion we’re missing out on crucial perspectives. There are a lot of crucial voices that are often missed and we can’t afford to keep putting them aside just because they aren’t often taught. It’s important to practice a fuller viewpoint in all fields.
  3. There’s a lot to librarianship! I naively had imagined librarianship mostly involved things like shelving books, suggesting titles, and shelving more books. What I didn’t realize was how much more there is to it. How many different directions you can go as a librarian and how complex and full of research it can be. How it can be a foundation for societal and systemic change.

How do you plan to share what you’ve discovered?

We’re putting a lib guide together that will bring the titles and publishers together in one location

I’m also be continuing this research after the internship and working on an updated directory of BIPOC publishers, distributors, and resources so that this information is more easily accessible in the future.

What did you like about librarianship?

I love books. And I love the idea of getting books and information into people’s hands. Libraries have a dark past of racial segregation and systemic inequality, but there’s this wide breadth of change and research happening, of opening the nets wider and bringing forth the voices that need to be heard, and I really like the idea of being a part of that. Of finding something great and being able to share it with other people.

It surprised me at first, that a rabbit hole on the internet could be part of my job? I enjoy the search, the deep dive for information! I get excited just thinking about it!

What do you want people to know?

These authors publish more than books about race, immigration, pain…I think often we equate someone’s race with what they write about, and while that can be true authors and publishers of color shouldn’t be sought out only for these reasons. We should be regularly reading and looking for books from these communities and it’s an injustice not to. There’s a rich spread of books on other subjects that are valuable and should be valued and read more than they are.

Change starts with the readers and researchers, just as much as it does the libraries and institutions. If you’re looking for information or doing a research project, ask yourself if you’ve included any sources from authors and/or publishers of color. If not maybe ask yourself why?

Oh! And just because there’s BIPOC on the cover or between the pages, doesn’t mean it’s a diverse voice. Don’t forget to vet your sources.

  • Amy Brunvand
    Posted at 21:47h, 24 May Reply

    It’s beyond great that the library is doing this kind of project. Five years ago when I suggested hiring a library intern to create a diverse collection like this the idea was shot down with arguments that 1) librarians are already buying diverse books 2) the library doesn’t do that kind of curated collection development any more and 3) students no longer like to read print books. It seem that the organization has come a long way since then! Glad to see Kaya Press on the list. I’d like to see another similar project focused more intensively on collections related to Pacific Islanders who are a uniquely prominent minority community in Utah and who are facing a cultural diaspora due to climate change. Since the U has a Pacific Island Studies certificate nowadays, it would be strongly related to the curriculum.

    • Allyson Mower
      Posted at 16:43h, 11 October Reply

      Thanks, Amy! And I’m just seeing this comment so apologies for such a delayed reply. I love your idea to focus on Pacific Island studies and I will certainly mention this to future interns. Rachel Blume, the previous collection development librarian, did a focused curation in early 2020 before she left the position and before the pandemic started.

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