All of us working on Reading While White are active believers in and promoters of intellectual freedom. And none of us find it contradictory to suggest that librarians think about stereotyping and bias when they are doing the hard, essential work of collection management.
Because here’s the thing: for too long, selection decisions have been made with too little regard, and sometimes no regard, for stereotyping and bias. How do we begin to respond to that? How do we take responsibility for educating ourselves as a profession and as individuals to think critically about that aspect of the work we do in regard to book evaluation and collection management decisions?
There are a lot of things we can do, but one thing we must do is include statements in our professional guidelines that encourage and even demand we consider stereotyping and bias as part of what we look at when evaluating materials and making collection decisions. This is part of the broader framework of challenging racism across all aspects of our profession.
Will we eradicate stereotyping and bias in our collections if we do this? Of course not. Will we be snatching books out of young reader’s hands? Please. Every librarian knows that collection development and weeding decisions are made taking multiple factors into account. Every librarian knows the collection they are managing is going to have things they and/or others find objectionable.
But every librarian charged with collection management also has a responsibility to evaluate and select materials and assess the collection thoughtfully, usually according to specific criteria outlined in their library (or school) policies and procedures. When we as a profession incorporate language that encourages us to consider stereotyping and bias as part of our decision-making, it does not suggest specific kinds of books be excluded. It simply codifies a criteria that will make us more responsible and responsive to everyone in the communities that we serve.
Acting on that responsibility demands more of us, as individuals and as a profession. Where are we turning to for professional recommendations? Are those resources culturally competent? If they aren’t where else can we turn to find out more?
None of this is necessarily easy; not for the individual librarian making collection management decisions; not for reviewers and review journals, not for many award- and best-of-the-year list committees and others. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do. More important, it’s the necessary thing to do.