Diversity Audits of Author Visits

Has your school or library done a diversity audit of your author visits?

I was recently reading an ALA discussion thread about diversity audits of collections. (It’s been many years since I’ve worked as a librarian, but I’ve maintained my ALA membership and ran across the topic on a discussion board.)

Though not a new thing in the world of libraries, the term "diversity audit" was new to me, so I did a little reading on the topic. (The term is used in other settings as well, but my reading was just about schools and public libraries.)

What I learned is that a diversity audit of a collection is a systematic assessment of the diversity of the books (either the entire collection or a sample) to better understand what’s in the collection (content as well as authorship) and to identify gaps in the collection. There are many helpful articles about how these audits can be conducted, including Karen Jensen’s “Diversity Auditing 101” in the Oct. 22, 2018 School Library Journal, and some great blog posts, such as at Kelsey Bogan's Don't Shush Me blog.  And there's a tool called Collection Analysis Tool at the Diverse BookFinder site.

Probably also covered in the literature, though not something I ran across directly during my admittedly limited research, is the idea of a diversity audit for author visits.

A diversity audit of author visits could be conducted by a school or library to yield a better understanding of over- or under-represented demographics in the selection of authors to speak to students or patrons.

Having diverse representation in your author visits is important in order to support and reflect diverse authors and diverse literature.  Even more importantly, diverse representation in your author visits is necessary in order to support, educate, encourage, represent, and inspire your students. A lack of diversity, by contrast, is harmful to students.

An author visit diversity audit wouldn’t need to be complicated.

Modeled after diversity audits for collections, it could start with a basic understanding of present and future demographics (what are the current demographics of your immediate community? what are the current demographics of the U.S. as a whole? what are the current demographics of young people in the U.S.? what are projected future trends? what are other components of diversity/representation?).

The next step would be to look at the demographics of authors who have visited in the last three to five years, and, for school settings, noting which grade level(s) each author spoke to, how many students were reached, and what grade level those students are now at.

Schools, classrooms, PTAs, or libraries could consider doing an author diversity audit prior to inviting an author to visit with their students or patrons, to help ensure that the authors who are invited to the school are diverse.

Community members and other stakeholders can (and should) ask those who are in charge of event planning and author selection about the diversity of author visits. Community members and stakeholders can (and should) also ask to see the organization's guidelines for selection. (If there are no selection guidelines, community members should ask for guidelines to be developed.)
  • Students and parents can ask their schools and PTAs.
  • Community members can ask their schools and their libraries/library boards.
  • Authors who are invited to schools, libraries, or other events can ask the hosting body.  (As an author, over the years I've come to recognize that white voices are usually overrepresented in author visits, and so I've become more open in asking about an organization's past author visits, and I've created policies for my acceptance of event invitations.)
If your organization has done a diversity audit of your author visits, I’d love to hear about it. I hope you’ll consider commenting and sharing your experiences, suggestions, and ideas so that others who are striving to ensure diverse representation in author visits can learn from your process.

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