Want to Diversity Audit, But No Time?

This post is a branch off of my Diversity Audit work. You can read more about that in depth on this post:

  1. Diversity Audit: A Practical Guide

One common question I get from librarians who would like to do a diversity audit is that they just don’t have the time or resources for a true, comprehensive, manual audit of the collection. And that’s certainly fair, since we know libraries are criminally under-funded and under-staffed. So while you may see the value in diversity audits and have the desire to embark on one, sometimes its simply not practical or within the realm of reality given your staffing and timing availability.

In this post I’m going to offer some suggestions of ways you can still benefit from the value of diversity audits, even if you can’t manage a full-scale comprehensive manual audit. I hope some of these smaller scale suggestions will be helpful!

Its important to remember that it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing” all of the time, especially when it comes to your work as a librarian. Reality intrudes and we often have to make concessions or compromises on what we can reasonably and realistically take on and accomplish. Don’t beat yourself up about the things you “can’t” do, and instead look for work-arounds, and problem-solve to find what you can do. Some of the suggestions I list below are absolutely the kind of things ANYONE can find the time for.

Before we dig in to what you can do instead, when you can’t manage a “true” diversity audit, let’s first define what I mean when I say a “true” or a “full” audit. A full diversity audit, in my mind, is one where a librarian manually researches and records the data for each individual title within the scope of the defined audit. So that means that a computer, algorithm, or digital tool is not used, rather a librarian actually literally thoroughly researches each book to gather the data in as comprehensive a way as possible. The reason this is the ideal or “full” audit, in my opinion, is because its the most likely method for gathering the most available data on a book’s characters or author. Some things can’t be done as well by a computer as they can by a human, especially a research expert such as a Librarian. It can take some digging and some creative searching and seeking to find some of the info one might want recorded in an audit, and at this point there is no tool or algorithm that is able to match a researcher in that level of comprehensive data collection on books. HOWEVER, this kind of audit is incredibly labor-intensive, and not a very fast process. Many librarians just don’t have the time and resources within the scope of their role to take on this kind of audit. And that’s ok! If you can, that’s great. But if not, there are other options that can help provide at least SOME of the data you’d like to collect. And some is still better than none. We can’t push our collections and programs towards greater inclusivity and representation in data-driven decision making, if we aren’t collecting and using at least SOME data. So some is definitely better than none.

Audit A Random Sample & Extrapolate

One suggestion for how to still benefit from an audit when a full audit isn’t possible, is to audit a randomized sample of your collection, and then extrapolate your data across the collection. Not a full-proof method, certainly, but it absolutely will give you a snapshot of the state of your collection. You could choose to start with just one genre, or even just a random 10% of the entire collection. This is definitely one strategy that most librarians could reasonably undertake, especially if you allow yourself a realistic time frame to try to accomplish it!

Audit New Purchases Going Forward

Ok so you might not be able to commit to auditing the backlog of every book currently on your library’s shelves. That’s fair! But perhaps you could commit to auditing every purchase list you submit from now onwards. If you commit to that, make room and time for that small action, over the course of several years of purchasing you’ll find that you actually will have collected audit data on a considerable percentage of your collection! Maybe you can’t audit the current collection all at once, but by auditing what you’re adding to it each year you’ll be able to better see if you are at least satisfactorily working towards better inclusion and representation. You’ll also have a clearer, and more honest picture of how diversely you are actually purchasing, especially if you collect the data across genres as you purchase. Doing this may help you spot your implicit biases/preferences and help you start to fill the gaps you may not have noticed are happening in your selection. For example, I didn’t realize, until I started auditing my purchase lists, that while I was purchasing diverse fantasy, I was almost exclusively purchasing Black and/or East Asian representation in Fantasy. I didn’t realize, until the audit, that I was almost always failing to purchase Latinx and other representations in my Fantasy purchases. Auditing my purchase lists helped me to see that gap in my own purchasing habits and helped me learn to correct that failure going forward.

Audit What You Weed

Similarly to the last suggestion, you could also get into the habit of auditing what you weed out of the collection each year. This can help give you a sense of what’s leaving the collection, which can be as helpful as getting a sense of what’s entering the collection!

Audit Your Lists & Displays

This is the one thing I’d love for every librarian to commit to! In my opinion it is the most important thing you can do, and its something I believe every librarian CAN reasonably be expected to do as the bare minimum. And that is to AT LEAST get in the habit of consistently auditing your book lists, recommendations, displays, etc. All the little groupings of books we interact with every day. Even if its a quick visual audit (it does not need to always be a formal & recorded audit) this is something that will dramatically impact your practice and quickly help you to ensure a greater commitment to consistently prioritizing inclusion and representation in the library. Some examples include:

  • An ELA dept asks you to develop a 10 book long “Summer Reading” list
    • You should do a quick audit on the 10 books you choose before you finalize the list. Ask yourself if you’re including a diverse and wide amount of representation, perspectives, experiences, etc in the books you chose. Or are they quite homogenous?
      • To ensure your list is well developed and diverse, ask yourself: are 8 of the 10 books written by straight white male authors and featuring straight white male protagonists? Why? Are all 10 featuring middle class protagonists with strong family support systems? Why? Are any of the protagonists disabled? Why not? Are any fat? Why not? Are any Queer? Why not? Are any main characters Muslim? Are any hijabi? Why not? And if you do have diverse protagonists on your list, are they always dealing with trauma and oppression? Or are they having fun, fighting dragons, solving mysteries, dress shopping for prom, etc?
  • A student asks you for some good mystery recommendations
    • If you pull 3 books off the shelf to do a quick booktalk to the student, be sure you are internally auditing your choices and choosing a diverse array of representation to recommend.
  • You’re choosing about 20 books for a Valentines Display
    • Do a quick audit on the 20 books you’re choosing. Are they all featuring the same kind of characters and the same kind of idea of what love and romance looks like? Have you ensured that you’ve chosen a truly diverse and representative collection of 20 books to include on the display?
  • You’re posting a digital book display (like a BookTok or a picture of book recs for instagram)
    • Even our digital displays should be continuously audited to ensure we’re consistently highlighting and promoting diversely and including a variety of representation there too. Remember that your online presence is an extension of your library’s physical space and it should be representative as well!
    • If you want to post a “Great Memoirs To Check Out” picture on Instagram do a quick audit first to ensure you’ve chosen 4 memoirs that represent a diversity of experiences and identities!
  • You’re putting 2 front facing books on every bookshelf
    • The books you choose to “front-face” are just another kind of display, so its important to be auditing your choices as you go. Get in the habit of taking a quick glance at your shelves with an eye towards informally auditing which books are getting highlighted as “front-facers.” Check to see if you’re tending to spotlight only certain types of books or representation and challenge yourself to do better!

A Note About Intersectionality

Don’t forget about intersectionality when choosing books for displays and lists. For example, if you’re setting up a Queer Stories display its really important to choose books that represent the diverse spectrum of Queer-ness. Its common to find far more MLM (male-love-male) stories (especially white MLM) featured on these kinds of displays and lists, than it is to find rep with characters of color, ace rep, WLW (woman-love-woman), trans and non-binary rep, or even poly rep. Another example of how important intersectionality is comes when one considers something like a Black History book display. On such displays its common to find biographies and books written by or about Black men, usually Black men who lived during a different time in history. Its much less common to find books on these displays featuring CURRENTLY LIVING Black activists, innovators, artists, etc. Its also less common to see Black Trans, Black women, and Black Queer rep on such displays. But there is no such thing as a monolith experience, so intersectionality is key when choosing books for displays, recommendations, lists, etc. Diverse representation WITHIN diverse representation = important!

Use Analysis Tools

You may have heard of MackinVia and Follet’s “diversity tag analysis tools.” These are often conflated with “diversity audits” but they are not actual audits. Even the companies offering them are clear about that. However, they do provide a way for librarians to get a quick and easy “snapshot” look at the diversity and representation that may be present in their collections. Even though these are not actually an “audit,” they can still be EXTREMELY helpful and they are the kind of thing that literally everyone has time to use. All you do is upload your MARC records into the tool, and then within a day or so you’ll get the data, which you can then review and use for things like:

  • Informing your purchasing
  • Informing your weeding
  • Advocating to your admin (basically you can show admin and your community how bad your stats are and use that to try to leverage more funding to fix it. Alternatively this data can be used when writing grants for the same reason!)

The biggest downside to these tools, and the reason they won’t provide the same level of thoroughness and accuracy that a true manual audit would, is that they can only pull from info available in the MARC record, and MARC records are not known for being especially comprehensive about the diversity and representation found in a book (or about their authors.) They also don’t account for inter-sectionality. So if you want to pull data to see how many of your fantasy books have main characters who are characters of color, these tools won’t allow for that the way your own audit would. You may be able to find some of the fantasy books that have boy main characters, and you may be able to find some that have main characters of color, but you won’t be able to find that intersection. Thats just one example to demonstrate the limits of these tools.

But I still think these analysis tools are freaking awesome, and they are a real life-saver for librarians who want to get some data on their collection’s diversity and rep, but who don’t have time to literally research every book individually. That is simply not a realistic goal for a lot of us, and these kinds of tools really step in for the assist in this case.

Reach out to your Follett of Mackin reps for info on these analysis tools. They’re super easy to use (especially Mackin’s, which IMO is superior in terms of aesthetics, navigatability, and function to Folletts. No offense, Follett :))

Ok there it is, 5 suggestions to help you when you want to audit, but don’t have the time! I hope this helps!

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