MyScience has reported some sad but not particularly surprising news: UK school library collections are very, very white. Researchers from the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, and Keele University surveyed schools across England about the diversity of their libraries, and 65% of the respondents said less than 15% of their school library books featured BIPOC characters. (For comparison, slightly over a third of UK students are BIPOC.) A whopping 92% of school staff surveyed said they were dissatisfied with the current diversity of their school library.
Many respondents said they felt powerless to change the diversity of their school library: some due to budget constraints, some due to a lack of children’s books with BIPOC main characters, some due simply to a lack of knowledge on where to find existing children’s books with BIPOC main characters. This isn’t solely a library curation issue: according to the researchers, only 7% of all children’s books published in the UK between 2017 and 2019 contained non-white characters, and only 5% contained non-white main characters. In 2019, nearly 90% of teachers in UK state-funded schools were white.
In the face of this data, the researchers called for several action points: for dedicated funding, either central government funds or funds sourced from fundraising events, to stock school libraries with diverse books; for schools to audit their libraries and identify gaps in their collections; and for publishers to address the racial imbalance of the books and authors they represent.
“During the project, our eyes were opened to the importance of children being able to see themselves reflected in the books that they read, not only for their academic progress, but for their self-esteem, and affirmation of their self-worth,” Nicola Lester, researcher at the University of Manchester, told MyScience. “It is mind-blowing to learn that in 2021, children of color still wonder why no one has hair like them in the books that they read. The necessity to ensure that there is readily available, diverse literature in all school libraries is about so much more than simply ticking a box to demonstrate our tolerance to other cultures.”