Diverse literature in elementary school libraries: who chooses and why?
Bulatowicz, Donna Marie
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Published children's literature in the United States overrepresents some identities while underrepresenting others, such as people of color, LGBT people, people with disabilities, people who live below the poverty line (Crisp et al., 2016), and more. Thus, some children may not encounter text representative of their identities. As literature can assist with identity development and provide ways for children to learn about those who differ from self, the lack of diversity in children's books disadvantages children with minoritized and majoritized identities (Bishop, 2012; Koss, 2015; Lifshitz, 2016; Schachter & Galili-Schachter, 2012). School librarians function as gatekeepers through the purchase and promotion of various texts. The decisions made by these gatekeepers may enable greater access to representative literature or may limit access. This illustrative case study with a descriptive survey examines the frequency with which librarians promote diverse literature, their comfort level doing so, and how they describe the factors that impact their decisions regarding diverse text. The researcher created an online survey on Qualtrics with both quantitative and qualitative questions and emailed 1,137 elementary school librarians in Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming to request participation in the survey. One hundred and sixteen librarians completed the survey. Eight participants self-selected for interviews. Librarians felt most uncomfortable promoting books with LGBT characters, and were most likely to "never" promote these books than any other type of diverse identity listed in the survey. Two main themes emerged from this study: internal and external factors impact librarian decision making regarding promotion of diverse texts, and some librarians may self-censor purchase and/or promotion of diverse texts. This study offers insight into the factors that impact librarian decision making, as well as how frequently librarians promote diverse texts and their comfort level promoting diverse literature. The study concludes with an examination of the implications from this study, including lack of available texts reflective of LGBT identities, a possible need for training regarding intellectual freedom and the librarian code of ethics, and the impacts of budget issues. Finally, recommendations for future studies are explored, which may further illuminate this under-researched area.