School Libraries Need More Diverse Collections

With March being national reading month, the importance of books and libraries for children should not be understated.  Literature can leave lasting impressions on young people, making school libraries important hubs for young students to explore a variety of books. Books are a valuable tool for exposing young people to different walks of life outside of where they personally live. By diversifying the selection of books at the library, students can develop an understanding of cultures and traditions previously unbeknownst to them. 

“You want to expose kids to books that are windows, where they are kind of peeking into a world that’s different from theirs,” Kristin Moses said, media STEM teacher from Boyden Elementary School. 

The concept that books can be mirrors, windows, or doors was coined by Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor and significant figure in multicultural children’s literature. At Boyden, students are exposed to Black History Month, Lunar New Year, MLK day and much more through read-alouds and lessons. Despite a preexisting variety of books available, not all the books in Walpole’s selection are as up to date as they should be. 

“There have been a few instances where parents reported back that books appear dated through their portrayal of other cultures,” Moses said.

 By giving feedback about the books their children take home, parents can play an important role in keeping the library’s selection up-to-date. In other school districts, there are formal policies where parents can challenge books and argue for their removal. Elementary schools in Walpole lack true librarians, with the position being replaced by STEM media teachers. The absence of librarians in elementary schools results in less dedicated time for students to check out books and read.  Without an official librarian, there is no official policy for parents to advocate for the removal of certain books. Parents can, however, suggest that books be added to the library. In the past, parents have suggested the purchase of books to increase representation for certain minority groups. 

Three years ago, Walpole parents Shantae Holmes and Kristen Kohlmeyer formed the Multicultural Book Initiative (MBI), partnering with Walpole Public Schools (WPS) with the mission of diversifying the schools’ libraries. The MBI has donated over 400 books to WPS thus far, with plans to expand and increase the outreach of their mission. The MBI picks a theme every month and five to seven books are donated relating to that theme. The MBI is a part of a larger program called Be Inclusive, a  nonprofit based out of Walpole that is committed to helping marginalized communities. 

“There are so many amazing people in the world that are not highlighted in our bubble of Walpole,” said Holmes, “books are a real easy way to teach and to show people what is really out there”

By contributing diverse books to Walpole’s libraries, the MBI aims to help break down stereotypes and create a more inclusive community. For all students, exposure to different lifestyles and cultures is highly beneficial. 

“For kids of color, it shows that they are important and part of the community if they’re being represented in the books they have access to,” said Kohlmeyer. 

The MBI runs off of donations from community members, and their mission comes with no extra cost to the schools. More information on their mission can be found on their website,