In the midst of the towering stacks of book in Nueva’s Writing and Research Center (WRC), the new collection team has been hard at work evaluating the diversity of the collection. The team, comprised of WRC Director Jen Paull and summer interns Grace Holmes ’21 and Anya C. ’23, have spent the last few months combing through the few thousand books in the WRC collection to look for patterns in which voices and perspectives are amplified, and which are seeking space for more representation.
Jen, Grace, and Anya hope to not only build an understanding of the collection, but also to help create a more comprehensive collection through this process.
“What we are hoping to do by better understanding our collection is to make sure we have a really strong representation of many kinds of voices, perspectives, and points of view,” Jen said. “The library has been developed hand-in-hand with the curricula, and we want to know where there are gaps [in the collection]. Where are the things where we think, ‘Oh we could use better representation in this area’?”
By analyzing the content and the context for each book—using online summaries and other resources—the team has identified a number of gaps in the collection, including representation in Latinx, Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and transgender authors, characters, and plot. Once they have completed the entire collection, the team will use the data they gathered to research books that could be valuable additions to the collection to increase the diversity of voices and perspectives represented in the collection. These findings will be shared with the Nueva community through a spreadsheet.
So far, Jen, Grace, and Anya are working through the U.S. history, nonfiction, and fiction sections. Though still in the preliminary stages of this project, certain areas lacking in representation in the collection have already been identified. Of the 385 books that have been reviewed as of this story, 76.7 percent were written by white authors, while 59.5 percent of the 145 nonfiction books were written by men, and 55.3 percent of the 240 fiction books were written by women.
The books have been sorted into 13 categories based on characters, topics, and settings. These categories would help identify what representation the actual story contained along with the voice telling the story.
In addition to this, certain ambiguities have led there to be “significantly debated” and “questioned in text” subsections for criteria in the spreadsheet, Grace shared. For example, if there had been ambiguity or debate within the fanbase about a character’s identity—like the sexuality of a protagonist in The Great Gatsby—it would be put as “significantly debated” instead of being forced into another that may not fully encapsulate the nuance of the situation.
“Building our own list of terms to use was deceptively difficult,” Grace said. “At first it sounds simple, like ‘you have a non-straight protagonist or you don’t.’ But we’re making an effort to tailor the categories of books we’re seeing instead of trying to squish books into certain categories they may not exactly fit.”
By investigating the nuance and complexity of the texts and voices, this project not only creates a more comprehensive collection, but supports teachers and students through both expanding curricula and improving individual skills.
“One of the great things about Nueva is that our classes are always developing and changing, and we are working with teachers to understand assignments and what students need,” Jen said. “One of the key things is making sure that students can really develop their research skills so that in the future they can have the skills to get what they want, what they need, what excites them, and what keeps expanding their knowledge.”
The team hopes that the spreadsheet can soon become a readily available resource for students to self-advocate and find the representation they seek, and Jen anticipates the project to be completed during the summer of 2022.