When you think of your favorite book characters, who do you see? How many of those characters are a person of color or LGBTQ?
Social rights activists Black Lives Matter Rocky River hope to change that by expanding access to books by diverse authors. The group plans to install six Little Free Diversity Libraries in Rocky River.
“This project takes the concept of the Little Free Library and focuses it on inclusion,” said Co-Organizer Christine Hinckley. “This project will introduce our community to more people of color and the LGBTQ community, whether that’s authors, characters or storylines.”
Little Free Libraries are a popular trend of structures that contain free books for the community. People can take a book to read and leave one for someone else to read later. The libraries will be installed in neighborhoods across the city, beginning in the spring, Hinckley said.
The libraries will feature a wide spectrum of books like “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo and “Freedom Soup” by Tami Charles. Once the libraries are installed, they will be open to anyone and can be found on Littlefreelibrary.org.
The campaign, which began three weeks ago, has raised more than $200 to build the libraries. Donations span the Westshore, including Bay Village, North Olmsted and Fairview Park. Those interested in donating can send money via the financial app Venmo to @ChristineBeads.
“We plan on installing as many as we possibly can in Rocky River,” Hinckley said. The organization will regularly maintain and update the libraries once they’re installed, she added.
While Little Free Libraries have been a trend for a while, those focusing on diversity are a new concept. Part of the Read in Color initiative by Littlefreelibrary.org, the first of these libraries popped up in Minneapolis last October.
The publishing industry has long been struggling with representation. In 2019, a study conducted by children’s publisher Lee & Low Books found that the industry was composed of 75% white authors. The survey also found that only 5% of authors were Black, 7% were Asian and 6% Latino. The industry was made up of 81% straight authors and less than 10% LGBTQ, according to the publisher.
In 2018, less than 25% of books published depicted non-white characters, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.
“It is so important for children to see themselves in the stories they read,” Co-Organizer Julia Finley Mosca said in an email. “Black, brown, and white children alike need to see people of color in starring roles, doing wonderful things. Representation matters.”
Seeing representation in books can help boost confidence in children of color while also expanding white children’s understanding of the world around them, Hinckley said.
Black Lives Matter Rocky River formed last year after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25. The group seeks reform to several aspects of Rocky River including districtwide diversity education in schools, the establishment of safe spaces and monthly audits of the Rocky River Police Department’s top five ticket writers, according to information provided by the organization.
There are no libraries like this in the surrounding communities. Hinckley says the group aims to expand the initiative later in the year.
“We want to have these in every single neighborhood in the city. We’ll also help other communities do the same thing we are,” she said. “We want this to be as big as possible.”
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