The best way to hook someone on reading is to pair with them that one book that speaks to them. Bri, a high school student at Tilton, recently had this experience when she read Teenage Love Affair by Ni-Ni Simone. She said, “I was shocked because I don’t like reading, but that book got me. I liked it because the main character overcame challenges and because she was sassy, I mean, really SASSY! Now, I want to read all these books!”

Any library hopes to develop a collection that will hook all of its students to read. But it is challenging as each person is a unique individual, and what draws them to read a book varies considerably. Some students want to read about a main character that is like them and with whom they identify, while others want to experience a life different from what they have known. For this reason, a library collection needs to be filled with a variety of books that contain diverse, authentic main characters, plots, and themes.

As the 2019-2020 school year began, Ms. Matott, Tilton School’s librarian, took up the challenge to diversify the current fiction collection. She started by attending a diversity audit training. Next, she conducted an in-depth examination of cultural characters, plots, and themes of the books in our collection to determine if it accurately reflects the cultural heritage and experiences of our students. She examined each book and recorded notes on ethnicity and gender identity of its cover art, characters, plots, and theme. When she finished, she analyzed the results and found that the collection did not reflect the diversity of Tilton’s students. It was more like an instance of Through the Looking Glass: on the surface, it might seem to reflect accurately, but look closer, and the lack of diverse, authentic characters, themes, and plots is visible.

One area that needed improvement was the inclusion of LGBTQ titles in the collection, as the diversity audit indicated that the library had very few. After a discussion with School Principal Shannon Perri, and our Development Office, Tilton School Library was able to purchase over $1,000 of LGBTQ titles.

Ms. Matott also examined how African-Americans were represented in the library book collection. She found that 33% have main characters that are African-American. On the surface, this may seem acceptable, but when you look closer at the themes of these titles, 45% of them revolve around stereotypical plots (slavery, civil war, and gangs). In addition, 15% of these books had a token representation of an African-American on the book cover. While these titles have a place in the library, a genuinely diverse, authentic collection should include fewer titles that promote stereotypes and token representation.

The world is made up of a kaleidoscope of different people, and the library collection needs to reflect our collective experiences accurately. Our students should be able to find stories that echo their own experiences as well as expose them to new and different ones. Only by providing this variety will each student at the Tilton School be able to find that one book that hooks them into reading – just like Bri did!

To provide students with this collection, we need your help. Click to see a list of titles that would help to diversify the Tilton School Library’s current collection. Please consider donating one of them to our library today!