With New Youth Media Awards Initiative, ALA Seeks to ‘Walk the Walk’ on Diverse Books

At the recently concluded WI13, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz praised the attention being paid by the publishing industry to diverse books. But he also urged booksellers and librarians to act, to “stop talking about diversity, and start decolonizing our shelves.” When Diaz speaks to librarians at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Denver next week, he’ll see that librarians are certainly trying to follow that advice.

This week, ALA officials announced that the organization will seek to highlight “the best in multicultural literature for youth” by adding additional announcements to its 2019 ALA Youth Media Awards. The prestigious ALA Youth Media Awards (which include the Caldecott, Newbery, Coretta Scott King, and Printz Awards, among others) are the gold standard for children’s books.

Specifically, the ALA will highlight titles selected by the American Indian Library Association (AILA), Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), and the Association of Jewish Libraries during the upcoming 2019 ALA Youth Media Awards.

In its release, ALA cited statistics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center, which has been collecting annual data on diversity in the children’s book market since 1985, and has found that books by or about people of color remain stubbornly underrepresented.

“Often children in the United States are not exposed to print or digital materials that reflect themselves or their culture,” said ALA President Jim Neal in a statement. “A child’s lack of exposure to other cultures paves the way to bigotry and cultural invisibility. The addition of professional affiliate awards can only assist with our efforts to encourage understanding and abolish cultural invisibility.”

Neal’s words speak to the exact message Junot Diaz delivered to booksellers and publishers at the WI13 conference in Memphis.

“Kids like me did not exist in the literature,” Diaz told his audience. “What kid doesn’t want to see themselves represented in the literature they’re reading?” Diaz said he wrote his first children’s book, Islandborn, (due out in March from Penguin Young Readers) because he wanted to “give a kid like me something I never had.”

Indeed, diversity and diverse books will be be a focal point of this year’s ALA Midwinter Meeting program, which will officially kick off on Friday, February 9, with a conversation between Marley Dias and Patrisse Cullors. In 2013, Cullors co-founded a global movement around the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, and her memoir, When They Call You A Terrorist (Macmillan) is out this month. The 13 year-old Dias, meanwhile, first made headlines when, as a sixth grader, she started the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign to collect and donate 1,000 books that featured black girls as the main characters. Her new book, Marley Dias Gets It Done (Scholastic), came out in January.

As Diaz suggests, the literary community has a ways to go when it comes to seeing all Americans represented on our bookshelves, especially in young people’s literature. But in Denver, Diaz will greet a library community that recognizes, and is working on the task at hand.

After State of the Union Address, Budget Battle Set to Resume

President Trump called for unity in his first State of the Union address this week. Yet, 2018 is shaping up to be an epic year of political challenges on issues that matter to libraries. Not the least of which will be the budget battle, especially in the wake of the recent changes to the tax code.

As the library community braces for the Trump Administration’s 2019 budget proposal, which is expected soon, Reuters reported this week that The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a fiscal watchdog group, predicted that the FY2019 deficit could hit $1.12 trillion. And “if current policies continue,” the group says, “the deficit could top a record-setting $2 trillion by 2027.”

That could have a devastating effect on libraries, not only in terms of federal support, but at the state and local levels as well (where libraries draw the vast majority of their support) as many states and municipalities will be left to wrestle with their own budget shortfalls.

Last year, the Trump Administration proposed the permanent elimination of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and with it pretty much all federal library support. Although the House ultimately rejected that proposal in its 2018 budget, a final FY2018 budget deal still not done, and with FY2019 now bearing down, it’s unlikely the administration has changed its tune, and ballooning deficits under the new tax laws could force cuts at some point.

As ALA president Jim Neal told PW late last year, “those tax cuts will have to be paid for in some way.”

Which is a good time reminder for librarians to get involved and stay involved with their local legislators. And if you can, attend this year’s ALA National Library Legislative Day, and get some face time with your representatives on the Hill.

Citing Budget, Governor Seeks to Kill Support for University Press of Kentucky

Kentucky’s Republican governor Matt Bevin, citing a tight state budget, has proposed eliminating state support for the 75 year-old University Press of Kentucky. According to a report at Inside HigherEd, Bevin has proposed slashing the $672,000 in state support, which covers all employee salaries, and UKP officials say the press, which brings in about $1.8 million in annual sales, can’t function without the funding.

“At first blush the governor’s proposal seems both shortsighted in its policy and conspicuous in its granularity,” Peter Berkery, executive director of the Association of University Presses, told Inside HigherEd. “The University Press of Kentucky is such a prominent and prestigious member not only of our community, but also of the communities it serves throughout the commonwealth; why anyone would want to eliminate an award-winning curator of their own culture and history is baffling.”

UPK director Leila Salisbury told the Lexington Herald Ledger that the proposed cut comes as the press is “doing great” and its output is back to “pre-recession levels,” publishing about 60 titles per year.

Defying FCC, States Move Ahead with Legislative Efforts to Protect Net Neutrality

Ars Technica reports that the California State Senate this week approved a bill to impose net neutrality restrictions on Internet service providers, in defiance of the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal order.

In addition, the report notes, the governors of Montana and New York have signed executive orders regarding net neutrality and other states are considering measures, this despite the FCC’s attempt to stop states from crafting such measures.

The state legislative measures come as 50 U.S. Senators last week announced their support for a bill that would block the FCC repeal, and as more than 20 states have begun a legal battle to preserve net neutrality rules.

Can Libraries Help Save Local News?

In The Atlantic, David Beard has a look at how libraries have been pitching in to fill the void left by destruction of local news outfits. It’s not a perfect role for librarians, but in an age of growing local “news deserts” there is certainly an opportunity for libraries to play a greater role in disseminating local information in their communities.

“Librarians understand the value of accuracy. They are familiar with databases. Americans by and large trust librarians, actually much more than they trust journalists,” Beard writes. “And in a nation where traditional local news outlets are cutting back, their advertising coffers drained by Google and Facebook, their ownership increasingly by hedge funds or other out-of-town enterprises, where else can a citizen go? In some communities, the questions are basic: Who will sift through and list the best events so residents could decide whether to participate? Who would understand what makes an area distinctive and would get its history right?”

Boston Public Library Launches Antislavery Manuscripts Transcription Project

Earlier this week the Boston Public Library partnered with the web platform Zooniverse to launch a crowdsourcing initiative that seeks the public’s help in transcribing their impressive collection of 12,000 antislavery manuscripts. Scans of the handwritten documents are available online from the Massachusetts’ library database, and the transcriptions will help develop the search and discovery functions of the online collection.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, the antislavery collection is one of the library’s most popularly searched collections. It includes letters, newspapers, pamphlets, and more from abolitionists in the mid-19th century. BPL Content Discovery Manager Tom Blake spoke to the larger significance of the initiative: “It’s one thing to read these letters,” he told the Globe, “but to actually sit down and meticulously transcribe them, it’s to commune with them.”

New Prize to Honor Thrillers that Do Not Feature Violence Against Women

From The Bookseller in the U.K. comes a report on an idea whose time has surely come: a screenwriter has launched a book award for novels “in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.”

Bridget Lawless told The Bookseller late last week that she founded the Staunch Book Prize, worth £2,000, because she had grown “fed up with the endless depictions of violence against women” in the thriller genre, and wanted to highlight the “great stack of brilliant material” available not only to readers, but to producers, directors, and actors “who might then have a wider choice of parts in which they’re neither cast as victims or sexual predators.”

The Staunch Prize is open to female and male authors of any nationality over the age of 18 and may include traditionally or self-published print or e-books. Entries for the prize open February 22nd, and close July 15.