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Libraries Working To Bridge The Cultural Divide

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Unfortunately too often children in the United States are not exposed to print or digital materials that reflect themselves or their culture. This can have harmful effects on a child, as such an absence impacts self-esteem. Similarly damaging is a child's lack of exposure to other cultures, which fuels intolerance and cultural invisibility.

Although we know the diversity of our country continues to grow, the percentage of children's books released each year either by a person of color or with a multicultural theme has been virtually unchanged over the past 18 years. Every year since 1994, statistics gathered by the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that just over 8 percent of children's books published in the United States represented Nonwhites. The most current data from CCBC shows that out of the more than 5,000 titles published in 2013 only 253 were about Nonwhites.

Since there is a lack of diversity in children's books, as a parent how do you find high quality materials that highlight your culture and a host of others? How do you find print and digital resources, programs and events that will introduce your child to new cultures? The answer is simple - at your local public library.

One way that libraries are working to bring more culturally diverse programs to their communities is through El día de los niños/El día de los libros (children's day/book day), commonly referred to as Día! Diversity in action. This national initiative emphasizes the importance of literacy for children of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Librarians across the country use Día resources to celebrate our nation's rich tapestry of cultures. On April 30 and throughout the year, library staff connect children and their families to a world of learning through multicultural books, programs and events.

For example, in Wisconsin children explore their own cultural heritage while learning the importance of the oral storytelling tradition at the Baraboo Public Library. In Florida families read and play together during bilingual storytimes at the Orlando Public Library. In public libraries across the country, children and their caregivers are exploring new cultures and connecting to their own, together.

From bilingual family story times to reading lists and recommended book displays, libraries are conducting culturally relevant programs and putting diverse books in the hands of youth.

Recently, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), the world's largest organization dedicated to the support and enhancement of library service to children, released a white paper titled The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children. Author Jamie Campbell Naidoo, PhD, explores the critical role libraries play in helping children make cross-cultural connections and develop skills necessary to function in a culturally varied society. It states:

By including diversity in its programs and collections, the library has the potential for helping children make cross-cultural connections and develop the skills necessary to function in a culturally pluralistic society.

The paper is a call to action for libraries to continue efforts to include more diversity in programming and materials for children, so that they can continue to meet the informational and recreational needs of the communities that they serve.

Libraries and their staff play such a vital role in closing our nation's cultural gap. As librarians we need to continue efforts to ensure that we are exposing members of our community to the diverse world that surrounds them.

My hope is that parents and caregivers will join us on our journey to close the cultural gap and take advantage of free multicultural resources and the expert guidance of librarians.

You don't need a ticket to travel to distant lands. One only needs a library card and a willingness to learn.