At BEA on Friday morning, May 13, librarian Betsy Bird moderated a discussion with bookseller Erica Luttrell, librarian Shanutee Burns, and bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle about ways to successfully get racially and ethnically diverse books into the hands of customers and patrons. Between reluctant customers and a slow-to-change publishing industry, booksellers and librarians face a challenge, but these panelists – who are at the forefront of sharing diverse titles with their customers and patrons – urged that what is needed are more “mirrors and windows,” said Burns, “not just reflecting [the patron’s] world, but the whole world.” Some of the participants’ suggestions on selling and circulating more diverse books are highlighted below:
“[Customers] will pick up whatever’s faced out. They’re inclusive in their choices,” said Luttrell.
“If it’s sitting on a display,” Burns said, “[Patrons] think, ‘Oh, this is special.’ ”
“No matter what, the kids will want the book by the end,” Burns asserted.
Make it effortless
“Hand them a stack of books, and ensure that stack is diverse,” Bluemle said.
Your enthusiasm will work wonders
Luttrell urged, “Sell [customers] on the book before the cover. Your enthusiasm will help.”
On meeting customers using “coded language,” (i.e., “I’m looking for something a little less ‘urban’ ”) or resistance to diverse books, “just plow through with innocence and enthusiasm” in your book talk, Bluemle suggests.
Stock strong backlist
Bluemle observed that books with award seals usually draw in reluctant grandparents. She has created an “awards” section in her store, and features award-winning titles including titles that have won awards that honor authors and illustrators of color, including the Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré awards. For more suggestions on diverse backlist titles in which race is not the driving plot line of the book, Bluemle has created a diversity database.