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New collection at Marriott Library focuses on books by publishers and authors of color

It isn’t enough just to put these books on our shelves; we need them in our syllabi, suggested reading lists, our recommendations.

The Marriott Library has added nearly 200 books from minority-owned publishers thanks to student intern Mykie Valenzuela.

Valenzuela, a junior majoring in philosophy, spent spring semester as the library’s first intern focused on collection development. Their task: Find publishers- and authors-of-color with offerings to help diversify the library’s collections.

“This was the first time we had offered the internship,” said Allyson Mower, librarian. “The internship was designed to approach collection development from an additional perspective—instead of going by subject, title or author to order books, we wanted to go first by publisher. Not only did their work result in hundreds of great new titles for the U community to read, but also a much more recent list of minority-owned book publishers.”

The result is hundreds of books newly available to patrons now from 25 different publishers—some of whom the library had not ordered from before. The new connections will allow the library to continue to increase the diversity of its offerings.

As part of their internship, Valenzuela also reviewed the library’s existing holdings for books from publishers of color, giving the library a clearer understanding of its collection from a diversity perspective. The funding to buy the books came from the Chicago Ventures fund.

Mower and Adriana Parker, associate librarian, served as supervisors of the project. Associate Librarian Lorelei Rutledge is building the “libguide”—a website where you can find a listing of titles and publishers.

Here is a Q&A with Valenzuela, conducted by Mower, about the project:

How did you go about doing the work? 

A lot of the work has been internet searches, following amazing groups like LatinXPublishing (@latinxpublishing) and People of Color in Publishing (@pocpub). Following hashtags! Reading endless book previews. Going down rabbit holes. There’s a network of community, authors and publishers who are working to lift each other up and you follow those threads as far as they go.

I got a hold of a few directories, historical lists, etc. that contain lists of publishers and distributors of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Mind you the newest one was printed in 2003, so there was a lot of sleuthing going on, but that’s one of my favorite parts, the sleuthing. Most of the publishers from these lists no longer exist—they’d either shut down or been bought out by White-owned companies. But finding what you’re looking for is like jumping into water on a hot day and you just keep swimming. It’s unfortunate that it needs to be done, but I’m pushing for a world where that no longer is the case.

What's the biggest thing you've learned?

First, that we need more activism in this area. It isn’t enough just to put these books on our shelves; we need them in our syllabi, suggested reading lists, our recommendations. It’s not enough to stock them, they need to be thrust to the front and it should be as common to suggest them as it is to suggest something from a White publisher or author.

Second, the importance of authorship. If you’re sourcing books about the Diné peoples and none of the ones you pick are written by someone who identifies as part of that community, you’re missing a vital voice in the discussion. Even if the books quote a member of the Diné you’re still missing authentic authorship. If we’re discussing an overview of metaphysics and not including any Black philosophers in our discussion we’re missing out on crucial perspectives. There are a lot of crucial voices that are often missed, and we can’t afford to keep putting them aside just because they aren’t often taught. It’s important to practice a fuller viewpoint in all fields.

Third, there’s a lot to librarianship! I naively had imagined librarianship mostly involved things like shelving books, suggesting titles, and shelving more books. What I didn’t realize was how much more there is to it. How many different directions you can go as a librarian and how complex and full of research it can be. And how it can be a foundation for societal and systemic change.

How do you plan to share what you've discovered?

We’re putting a lib guide together that will bring the titles and publishers together in one location:

I also will be continuing this research after the internship and working on an updated directory of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] publishers, distributors, and resources so that this information is more easily accessible in the future.

What did you like about librarianship? 

I love books. And I love the idea of getting books and information into people’s hands. Libraries have a dark past of racial segregation and systemic inequality, but there’s this wide breadth of change and research happening, of opening the nets wider and bringing forth the voices that need to be heard, and I really like the idea of being a part of that. Of finding something great and being able to share it with other people.

It surprised me at first that a rabbit hole on the internet could be part of my job. I enjoy the search, the deep dive for information! I get excited just thinking about it!

What do you want people to know?

These authors publish more than books about race, immigration, pain. I think often we equate someone’s race with what they write about and, while that can be true, authors and publishers of color shouldn’t be sought out only for these reasons. We should be regularly reading and looking for books from these communities and it’s an injustice not to. There’s a rich spread of books on other subjects that are valuable and should be valued and read more than they are.

Change starts with the readers and researchers, just as much as it does the libraries and institutions. If you’re looking for information or doing a research project, ask yourself if you’ve included any sources from authors and/or publishers of color. If not, maybe ask yourself why.

Oh! And just because there’s BIPOC on the cover or between the pages, that doesn’t mean it’s a diverse voice. Don’t forget to vet your sources.

Celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month at the Marriott Library

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. We’re highlighting books and library resources that highlight histories, cultures, stories and more. These recommendations were selected by Librarian Allyson Mower.