The Nevada Public Library was recently awarded a $3,000 grant to be utilized for a “diversity audit” of the children’s and young adult collections.
Awarded by two groups – the American Library Association and the Association for Rural and Small Libraries, the “Libraries Transforming Communities Grant” has the general purpose of facilitating community conversations.
“I feel like our young adult and children’s collections, in general, have had a push for diversity over the past few years. There’s been a whole hashtag ‘#weneeddiversebooks’ push,” said Shanna Speer, Nevada Public Library Director.
The grant’s purpose is to promote conversations on local, regional, or national topics within a community. “While racial diversity is an important topic in the country,” Speer said, “there are many types of diversity, such as socioeconomic, religious, body acceptance, etc., … types of diversity people don’t always think about.”
Nevada’s demographics show it not to be a very racially diverse community, but that doesn’t reduce its importance. “We do have diverse members of our community, and those members want to be seen in the books they read,” Speer said.
“Most of Nevada’s young people,” she continued, will be going to college or to work where they will encounter people who are not like them. “I think [the work of diversifying library collections] is going to help the world, as our teens go out into the world,” Speer said.
The catalyst for the Nevada Library applying for this grant was when Children’s Librarian Travis Landhuis took part in a discussion. One of the Story County groups Landhuis meets with was talking about diversity. “He came to me… and said, ‘Let’s talk about diversity in our collections. How do we do this?'”
Even without the grant, Speer predicts Nevada would have audited its collection for diversity.
What is a “diversity audit?”
It will entail going through every book in these collections and determining if any characters or issues in the book refer to diversity.
“We’ll have a set of vocabulary we’ll be looking for, and then we’ll be looking through the books – the covers, the backs, the catalog descriptions,” to be sure to reference any diversity represented.
Grant funds will pay for the workforce to get the audit done. Speer said local teenagers interested in diversity might be among the staff hired with the grant funds to help with the audit.
“We’d already contacted the Cub’s Colors group at the high school to see if they’d be interested in helping,” she said. Teens interested in helping with the audit are encouraged to call the library.
Speer taking new opportunity
After Feb. 5, Speer will no longer be the Nevada Library Director, as she is moving on to a new opportunity.
Speer has accepted a position as Circulation Manager with the Ankeny Public Library, which brings her six years of service in Nevada – three as assistant library director and three as director – to an end.
“I’m ready for a new challenge,” said Speer. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had a career goal. I see things that interest me, and I work toward achieving them.”
The Ankeny position presents a new challenge in a much larger library. Speer is excited about the opportunity. She and her husband, who works for Iowa State University, will continue to live in Nevada for now, she said.
Speer is grateful for the management team of the City of Nevada. “I’ve been thankful every day about how this City staff works together.”
She’s also confident in the abilities of the library staff. “Our staff is amazing. I think they’re going to do amazing things. They don’t need me… They do all the work; I just answer the questions, guide them, and attempt to solve the problems.”
Speer said the grant funds awarded to the Nevada Public Library must be spent by February of 2022. She envisions a timeline of staff going through the collections over the summer months and finishing up the audit in the fall.
Another result of the diversity audit will be adding more books that include diversity to the overall collection.
“I think [the audit] is awesome. I wish we could do the whole collection, and maybe someday, Nevada will be able to do that,” Speer said. “The benefit is to be able to best serve our community. It’s important to have diverse books in our collection and to have young people be able to find them if they want them.”
Speer said one requirement of the grant is to have a staff member complete a course about community conversations. She started the course, but because of her upcoming departure, Assistant Library Director Amanda Bellis has taken over the course work.
–Written by Marlys Barker, City of Nevada