ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom launches Our Voices

James LaRue
Director
Our voices Logo
Our Voices Pledge
jlarue@ala.org

CHICAGO – Today, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services announced Our Voices, an initiative to offer a template to interested libraries to promote the growth of diverse, quality content in library collections.

Of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2015 (a report OIF compiles from the media and from librarians defending books against attempts to remove them from school and public libraries), nine of the books were about diverse content. (OIF defines diverse books as books written by and about people of color, in the LGBTQIA community, who are differently abled, and in ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.) OIF data shows that attempts to remove books with diverse content are higher than ever before.

The number of diverse books available through mainstream publishers is also relatively low. For example, Publisher Lee & Low, using the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s statistics from 2016, found that only 14% of the 3,400 books written for children in 2015 were by and/or about people of color while 34% of the U.S. population are people of color. There has been an explosion of diverse content coming from small, independent, and self-published authors. But there has been no clear channel for such content to be discovered and acquired by school and public libraries.

“Unfortunately, smaller diverse publishing communities are often overlooked,” said  Jody Gray, director, Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services. “Given the cultural challenges we are seeing across the United States, literature must reflect all facets of society. Our Voices will assist with efforts to build library collection that mirror the needs of diverse users, as well as provide an opportunity for all patrons to explore life experiences other than their own.”

In response to these challenges, the Our Voices initiative includes steps and will document successful approaches to:

  • identify small, independent, and self-published content creators in the local region
  • connect with those content creators and other members of the reading ecosystem (especially independent booksellers and readers) for a conversation about diversity, quality, and the value of libraries
  • develop collections of reviewed, diverse, quality content
  • get these collections into the local library collection
  • allow other libraries to acquire these collections.

Our Voices is committed to:

  1. Equitable Access. All library patrons should be able to find content in their local libraries that reflect their own lives.
  2. Diversity. We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) people of color, in the LGBTQIA community, who are differently abled, and/or who are in an ethnic, cultural, and/or religious minority.
  3. Quality. We look for content that reflects intention, craft, and objective review.
  4. Sustainability. Our Voices is meant to be self-sustaining, an ongoing effort effecting a permanent change in the landscape of publishing and librarianship.
  5. Preservation. The content of Our Voices should be maintained for future readers and researchers. We will seek to find a persistent digital repository.

For additional information regarding Our Voices please visit  http://ourvoiceschicago.ala.org .

About the American Library Association
The American Library Association (ALA), the voice of America's libraries, is the oldest, largest and most influential library association in the world. Its more than 57,000 members are primarily librarians but also trustees, publishers and other library supporters. The association represents all types of libraries; its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.

About the Office for Intellectual Freedom
The Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials.

About the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services
Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services serves the membership through its initiatives and programs, resource development, active consultations and training on diversity issues that impact the profession, the workplace and information service delivery. The Office also maintains an active recruitment program for people of color to the library profession known as the Spectrum Initiative.

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