Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What To Look For In Data About Diversity In Publishing?

Today, Reading While White is pleased to welcome guest blogger Amy Koester for a discussion of the 2017 CCBC statistics. This post is part of our end-of-year retrospective series.

The beginning of a new calendar year is rife with end-of-year summaries, top ten lists, and other pieces meant to help us put the work and output of the previous year into context. This holds true for diversity in publishing, too, with the anticipated release of CCBC data on children’s books written by and about BIPOC in 2018. As we prepare to consider these newest statistics, we can take some time to consider changes we’ve seen over the course of previous years’ CCBC numbers as well some other pieces of data that can help us to see whether the publishing ecosystem is diversifying.

What do the CCBC stats tell us?

Before anything else, it’s important to recognize that the CCBC does not receive every single book published for children in a given year--so the stats they share represent data about a significant sampling of children’s books, not the full roster of what's published. People looking at this data should keep this in mind throughout any perusal and analysis of the data. One must understand what sampling the data sets represent in order to truly learn anything from them. (For some additional context, the CCBC gives this further clarification about what materials they receive and are counted in their data: most of the trade books published in the United States, some series and formula non-fiction books, and some books from Canadian publishers who distribute in the U.S.) That said, the CCBC data is the most comprehensive data set available about books published for children in a given year, and so this data is our closest proxy to all of publishing for children.

When I’m looking at CCBC stats, I usually use 2015 as my starting place--that’s the first full year for which We Need Diverse Books was in existence, and it’s also the year we got the first set of data about diversity in the publishing field (more on that below). If 2015 could be considered a year in which diversity across the children’s publishing ecosystem became a high profile priority, how do current practices compare? Until the 2018 CCBC data is available, we’ve got the 2017 numbers for comparison.

Books Created by BIPOC

Comparing BIPOC-created books in 2015 and 2017, we see (in order of greatest to least gross increase in titles):
  • There were 98 more Asian American-created books in 2017 than in 2015; Asian American-created books for youth increased 56% from 2015 to 2017, from 176 titles to 274
  • There were 56 more Latinx-created books in 2017 than in 2015; Latinx-created books for youth increased 93% from 2015 to 2017, from 60 titles to 116 titles
  • There were 19 more First Nations-created books in 2017 than in 2015; First Nations-created books for youth increased 100% from 2015 to 2017, from 19 titles to 38
  • There were 14 more Black-created books in 2017 than in 2015; Black-created books for youth increased 13% from 2015 to 2017, from 108 titles to 122
Across all BIPOC-created books, this is a net increase of 52%, or 187 more titles in 2017 than were created in 2015.
What questions do these data about BIPOC-created books raise? Questions for further consideration and research include:
  • How many individual BIPOC authors and illustrators are there in a year of publishing? That is to say, how many BIPOC authors are given opportunity to publish, and similarly how many BIPOC illustrators? How many of the books by Black creators in any given recent year are by Jason Reynolds, for example? If a small handful of BIPOC creators publish multiple books, that implies that the overall number of BIPOC creators is not as large as even these relatively dismal data suggest. (And the goal is not to simply increase the number of creators at the expense of individuals creating multiple books; rather, we should look beyond the idea of more books by BIPOC and think more of supporting more careers for BIPOC creators.)
  • What would an ideal distribution of BIPOC creators even look like? What should be our metrics for achieving greater equity in creation of books for youth? Despite the fact that there was a 100% increase in titles by First Nations creators between 2015 and 2017, there were still only 38 such titles counted in 2017--which amounts to a measly 1% of all counted books created in that year. Data can look impressive--the number of First Nations creators doubled, after all!--while still identifying systemic issues.
Books About BIPOC

Comparing books about BIPOC characters and experiences in 2015 and 2017, we see (in order of greatest to least comparative disparity to U.S. population):
  • Books about Latinx characters and experiences increased 154%, from 85 to 216 titles, from 2015 to 2017, and represented 5.84% of books for youth in 2017 (This is compared to 17.6% of the American population being Hispanic, according to 2017 data)
  • Books about Black characters and experiences increased 26% from 2015 to 2017, from 270 to 340 titles, and represented 9.19% of books for youth in 2017 (This is compared to 13.9% of the American population being Black or African American, according to 2017 data)
  • Books about First Nations characters and experiences increased 71% from 2015 to 2017, from 42 to 72 titles, and represented 1.95% of books for youth in 2017 (This is compared to 2.1% of the American population being American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander, according to 2017 data)
  • Books about Asian-American characters and experiences increased 174% from 2015 to 2017, from 113 to 310 titles, and represented 8.38% of books for youth in 2017 (This is compared to 6.3% of the American population being Asian, according to 2017 data)
In total, 25% of all books published for children and counted by the CCBC in 2017 were about BIPOC characters or experiences; this is compared to 15% of all titles in 2015. Across all books about BIPOC characters in experiences, this is a net increase of 84%, or 428 more titles in 2017 than were published in 2015.
It’s imperative to remember two other things in considering these CCBC data:
  • Comparing representation of BIPOC in children’s books to representation across United States population demographics does not imply that if and when literary representation meets population demographics, diversity will be “achieved”--rather, considering the abysmally underrepresented status of Latinx, First Nations, and Black people in children’s books now, the population benchmarks provide a framework for measuring progress, not for determining success.
  • These CCBC data tell us only the number of books by and about BIPOC in a given year--they do not speak to the accuracy or integrity of the books and the stories they tell. Dr. Debbie Reese makes this point in her expansion of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s metaphor of books as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors: that many of these mirrors may distort the appearance of BIPOC like “fun house mirrors.” We do well to keep in mind that numerical increases in representation among creators and story characters is not necessarily reflective of better representation.
What questions do these data about books about BIPOC raise? These questions are areas in need of further consideration and exploration:
  • What are we to make of the reality that while both the number of books by BIPOC and the number of books about BIPOC have increased, the number of books about has grown more significantly? This is to say, what are we to make of the reality that, in all likelihood, a significant proportion of these new books about BIPOC are by White creators who inherently do not have an #ownvoices perspective of the content about which they write? What does it say about the publishing ecosystem that this “diversity trend” seems to prioritize stories about BIPOC, for which there is ever-increasing demand, without necessarily proportionately fostering support and empowerment of BIPOC creators?
  • What does it mean that books about Asian characters and experiences are the only demographic group besides White to have a higher percentage of stories about their experiences than their percentage of the national population? To what degree do stereotypes come into play here, in particular the myth of the “model minority”? Given the trends evident in the CCBC data, it’s worth revisiting this 2015 roundtable conversation that was hosted by Zetta Elliott and featured Sarah Park Dahlen, Shveta Thakrar, Mike Jung, Katie Yamasaki, and Sona Charaipotra.
  • Conversely, what does it mean that the proportion of books about Latinx characters and experiences is particularly mismatched with population data? To what extent do stereotypes and White supremacy factor into the landscape that has resulted in this discrepancy?
If we were to break down the about data even further, what would we find in terms of the types of stories being published about BIPOC? For example, what proportion of books about Black characters and experiences are stories of slavery or the civic rights era versus contemporary stories that normalize, not historicize, Black experiences? Similarly, what proportion of books about First Nations characters and experiences take place in modern settings as opposed to historical accounts of First Nations peoples? (To be sure, there’s nothing inherently wrong with historical stories about BIPOC; it is problematic, however, when the majority of stories portray BIPOC as groups relevant only at particular moments in history and/or without presence in today’s increasingly diverse reality.)

Considering diversity in the publishing industry

The number of books published by and about BIPOC is only a piece of the larger children’s publishing ecosystem--to truly transform publishing and ensure that great books by and about BIPOC can get into libraries and the hands of kids, representation among publishing professionals is important to consider, too. In 2015, Lee & Low conducted a Diversity Baseline study to capture demographic data about those employed in the publishing industry at that time. It’s interesting data to look at, and it’ll be the basis for comparison when, later this year, they’ll issue the second survey to capture what the industry looks like four years later. Until we have that comparison data, we’re left with more anecdotal and subjective descriptors of the publishing industry. One such example is this recent article from Publishers Weekly that compiles the stories of how various publishing industry folks got into children’s books--and the folks sharing their stories are overwhelmingly White. Regardless of whether the forthcoming Lee & Low data indicate a publishing landscape dominated by White professionals, articles like this serve to reinforce a narrative of publishing as a White field. That impacts how we think about the larger publishing ecosystem as it relates to diverse books for children.

Thinking about publishing as an ecosystem also calls into question the role of librarians and those involved in youth librarianship. What does it say about youth librarianship when we look for changes in publishing--we want to see more and learn more about diversity in children’s literature--but do not necessarily look for changes in our own practice and how we contribute to this landscape? What can and should we, as library practitioners, be doing to demand and support more systemic change?

As we head into a new year of publishing, the ALA Midwinter Meeting and all the publishing promotion that happens there, and the anticipation of the second round of data on diversity in publishing from Lee & Low, we should all be intentional about considering the different data we’re seeing and what stories they can tell about whether and how we’re moving the needle toward a more diverse ecosystem of publishing books for young people.

-Amy Koester works at Skokie Public Library as the manager of the Learning Experiences Department. She is currently wrapping up her term on the board of directors of the Association for Library Service to Children. She is a member of the editorial board of In the Library with the Lead Pipe, an open access, open peer reviewed journal on librarianship.

No comments: