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CITATION: Rawson, C. H. (2013). Are all lists created equal? Diversity in
award-winning and bestselling yound adult fiction. Journal of Research on
Libraries and Young Adults, 1(3). Retrieved from
Are All Lists Created Equal? Diversity in Award-Winning and
Bestselling Young Adult Fiction
Posted on June 14, 2011
by Casey H. Rawson
With increasingly diverse service populations, especially among younger patrons, libraries are in
need of more titles featuring individuals from varied backgrounds. Librarians often rely upon
preassembled title lists, such as YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA) list or the
Publishers Weekly bestsellers list, to make collection development decisions. This study
examined three such lists for the prevalence of diverse protagonists, with the goal of
determining which list most closely aligns with actual demographic data for U.S. teens. Award-
winning, Teens’ Top Ten, and bestselling titles were included in the study. Overall, the award-
winning title list included the highest percentage of protagonists belonging to most marginalized
demographic groups, while the bestselling title list included the lowest percentages in these
categories. However, all three lists underrepresented protagonists from certain demographic
categories. Based on these results, it is recommended that librarians supplement list-based
collection development with purposive collection of titles featuring minority protagonists and/or
written by minority authors.1
Librarians who serve young adults are already seeing increasingly diverse service populations,
and this diversity extends beyond race and ethnicity to include adolescents representing a wide
range of religions, family backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and sexual orientations. Making
collection development decisions that will meet the needs of such varied populations is a
challenge compounded by the current economic climate, which has seen library budgets and
staff positions slashed across the nation.
Numerous studies have emphasized the importance of giving young adults access to titles in
which they can see a reflection of themselves–a character or author who shares their race,
religion, living conditions, or sexual orientation. Yet in libraries with limited budgets and
limited staff, determining which titles will accurately represent the diverse service population of
that library might be considered too time-consuming. While popular review sources such as
MultiCultural Review and VOYA provide author and character information for many young
adult titles, perusing each issue of these sources is a lengthy process. Thus, many libraries rely
heavily on preassembled title lists, such as YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA) list or
the Publishers Weekly Children’s Bestsellers list, to determine their acquisitions. In some cases,
such lists are actually written into libraries’ collection development policies. But does either of
these lists accurately reflect the diversity of the nation’s young adult population?
Selecting for a Diverse Population: Why Spend the Time?
Several studies report that, despite fears to the contrary, the majority of U.S. adolescents still
read outside of school.2 However, national reading statistics, especially for minority students,
paint a grim picture of literacy: while 41% of white students scored at or above proficiency on
eighth-grade reading tests (a low number itself), only 14% of black students and 17% of Hispanic
students reached proficiency.3 Similar results are obtained when family income is examined:
only 16% of those eligible for the National School Lunch Program scored at or above proficiency,
compared to 42% of students who are ineligible for the lunch assistance program.4
Given the poor literacy rates and growing numbers of minority students, strategies for
improving variables relating to reading and literacy among these groups abound in educational
and library science literature. One strategy which has received significant attention involves
connecting young adults with literature in which they can find themselves accurately reflected.5
And while much has been written about literature for various races and ethnicities, it is
important to note that diversity has many dimensions, including gender, nationality, religion,
family status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and disability.6 As stated in one study
examining multiple dimensions of diversity, “Constricting the discussion of multiculturalism to
groups identifiable by racial identity alone excludes other marginalized groups from the debate
and perpetuates their marginalization.”•7 A brief summary of the findings of studies that have
looked at each of these variables is provided below.
Gender: While a number of studies have examined issues related to gender in children’s
literature, less has been done concerning young adult literature. Among children’s literature
studies, the focus has been on analyzing not only the numbers of male vs. female characters, but
also the portrayals of those characters in comparison to stereotypical gender-specific behaviors
or characteristics.8 While in general these studies have found that female characters are both
underrepresented and stereotyped within the studied samples, at least one study found that
portrayals of males and females in nontraditional gender roles are on the rise.9
Race and Nationality: According to demographers, 2010 marked a turning point for the United
States: last year, for the first time in American history, more minority babies were born in the
U.S. than white babies.10 By the middle of this century, minorities are expected to comprise a
majority of the U.S. population; among the under-eighteen population, that landmark is
expected to be reached in the next decade. Many studies have looked at the role of race in
children’s and young adult literature and/or the prevalence of minority characters in titles for
this age group. The seminal study was conducted by Nancy Larrick in 1965; this study looked at
5,000 children’s books published in the early 1960s and found that only 6.7% included at least
one African American character.11 Since Larrick’s work, additional research has been done into
children’s and young adult literature for or about African Americans,12 Hispanics,13 Asians,14 and
Native Americans,15 among other minority groups. These and other studies have consistently
found that minority-race characters are underrepresented in fiction for children and young
adults, and that existing portrayals of minority characters are often riddled with stereotypes or
otherwise negative images. Studies addressing nationality of authors or characters are less
common. One study that dealt with the issue of nationality in fiction novels found that titles by
American authors included a higher number of minority-race characters than titles by foreign
authors; however, minority characters in books by U.S. authors were more likely to be one-
dimensional and stereotypical in their portrayal than minority characters in books by foreign
Religion: “Sex, politics, and religion are the three traditionally taboo subjects in polite American
society,”• wrote Patty Campbell, “and in young-adult literature the greatest of these taboos is
religion.”•17 While little if any quantitative research has been done in this area, several
researchers have completed limited content analysis studies on young adult titles which do have
religious themes and characters.18 These authors conclude that given the prevalence of religion
among adolescents and the U.S. population as a whole, there is a significant scarcity of titles
dealing with religious themes being written for this age group.
Family Status: Despite the fact that adolescence is marked by increasing independence and
separation from one’s parents or guardians, family structure is still an important element of
diversity; the impact that a teen’s family setting has on the teen’s outside life cannot be ignored.
Most studies in this area have focused on portrayal of families in television media; however,
some authors have written about the role of family structure in the young adult novel, focusing
on how teen fiction can be used to teach about the diversity of family types and other family
Sexual Orientation: Several content analysis studies have been published relating to the
portrayal of LGBT characters in fiction for young adults.20 These studies have found that
portrayal of LGBT characters varies from novels which present homosexuality as a problem to
be overcome to novels which are sympathetic to the character or view homosexuality as simply
one relatively unremarkable facet to the character’s personality and lifestyle. In general, most
research on this topic agrees that while some instances of problematic portrayals of LGBT
characters persist, the trend is toward a more complex, sympathetic representation of these
Socioeconomic Status: The 2009 American Community Survey found that 20% of children
under the age of eighteen are living below the poverty line.21 One study found that texts offered
to children in poverty often present poverty as a temporary problem, a construct which is far
removed from the systemic poverty actually experienced by these children.22 On the other end of
the class spectrum, YA books about the fabulously wealthy (i.e. the Gossip Girl, A-List, and
Privileged series) are enjoying robust sales despite what many see as negative or even damaging
portrayals of teenage sex, drugs, and the “mean-girl”• lifestyle. In a 2006 article, Naomi Wolf
harshly criticized these books for their depictions of class issues: “In the world of the “A-List” or
“Clique” girl, inverting Austen (and Alcott), the rich are right and good simply by virtue of their
wealth…Success and failure are entirely signaled by material possessions.”•23
Disability: Numerous studies have attempted to quantify and/or evaluate fiction for children
and teens that includes characters with physical or mental disabilities.24 These studies stress the
importance of such literature, especially in educational settings where disabled students are
integrated into mainstream classrooms. As one researcher states, “Reading good literature can
do much more than teach literary skills. Promotion of positive attitudes toward inclusion and
students with disabilities must take place.”•25
Thus, literature that includes diverse characters gives adolescents “an opportunity to see their
own faces reflected in the pages of good books.”•26 Yet it is not only their own reflections which
are of value for young adults; encountering characters unlike themselves can be of equal value.
As Hazel Rochman states in her book Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural
World, “Books can make a difference in dispelling prejudice and building community; not with
role models and literal recipes, not with noble messages about the human family, but with
enthralling stories that make us imagine the lives of others.”•27 Providing a diverse collection of
young adult literature is not merely about increasing test scores or leisure reading; some
researchers maintain that such literature is vital for overall success in life. One such researcher
argues that adolescents who never see themselves reflected in literature may develop a
decreased sense of self-worth and may come to believe that they have little value within either
the school or social community.28
So if diverse texts are championed by research, why aren’t they more visible in libraries that
serve young adults? Studies have identified several barriers to the use and collection of such
titles. One barrier is a lack of education and training among educators and librarians regarding
diverse texts.29 Another, perhaps more critical, obstacle is the scarcity of titles written by authors
from diverse backgrounds.30
Despite these barriers, building a diverse library collection for young adult patrons is possible.
Given time constraints experienced by all professionals, including librarians, identifying
categories of items which fulfill a demonstrated need is an important goal of professional
research. The study described below compares three categories of young adult literature in
terms of character diversity; the goal is to assist librarians by providing guidelines which will
help them identify booklists that more accurately reflect the diversity of their young adult
Three categories of young adult fiction were analyzed to determine their relative levels of
diversity in terms of protagonists. The three categories of literature included in the study are:
1. Award-Winning Young Adult Fiction: This category included fiction novels which won
either the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, the Printz
Honor, or the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Top Ten Best Books for
Young Adults (BBYA) award between 2000 and 2009. Fiction titles appearing on both the
Printz and BBYA Top Ten lists were only counted once. ‘
2. Teen-Selected Top Ten Fiction Titles: Each year, fifteen teen book groups at libraries across
the country nominate a list of current young adult titles to be included in YALSA’s “Teens’
Top Ten”• contest. In August and September, teens are allowed to vote for their three
favorite titles through the YALSA website. The ten titles that receive the most votes are
announced each year during Teen Read Week. Fiction titles appearing on this list between
2003 (the first year this list was published) and 2009 were included in the study. This group
represents a middle ground between the award-winning books (which are determined by
adults and are generally considered to emphasize literary quality over popularity) and the
bestselling books discussed below. ‘
3. Bestselling Young Adult Fiction: The ten top-selling young adult fiction titles for each year
between 2000 and 2009 as determined by Publishers Weekly made up the third group of
titles in this study. The Publishers Weekly bestsellers list includes both children’s and YA
titles; children’s titles were discarded from the list and only items published for ages twelve
and up (as determined by book review sources) were included in the study. Only “frontlist”•
books published in each calendar year were included to eliminate duplications. ‘
Books appearing in more than one of the above categories were counted once in each applicable
category. The data collected were compared across subgroups and with the actual demographics
of the United States teen population, as determined by U.S. census data and other demographic
resources such as the National Center for Education Statistics. ‘
‘ Coding Categories
As discussed above, diversity has more than one dimension. This study examined dimensions of
gender, race, nationality, religion, family status, socioeconomic status (SES), sexuality, and
disability (presence or absence) for protagonists of each title. Most books had only one
protagonist, but some titles had multiple main characters; in those cases, all protagonists were
analyzed. For each dimension of diversity, the following categories were used:
Gender: Male and Female were the only categories included in this study; no transgendered
or third-gendered protagonists were found.
Race/ethnicity: U.S. Census categories for race were used in this study: White, Black/African
American, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian. An additional category of “Other”• was
included for protagonists who did not belong to any of these groups.
Nationality: Birth country was recorded for protagonists.
Religion: The category for this dimension included three major religions: Christianity,
Judaism, or Islam. Two additional categories were included: “Not Mentioned,”• for titles
which do not specify a religious background for their protagonists, and “Other”• for titles in
which the protagonist practices a religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.
Family structure: Categories for family structure were adapted from Nisse (2008).31
Protagonists were coded as having Dual Parents if they lived in a home with two biological
parents or one biological parent and a stepparent. Protagonists were coded as having a
Single Parent if they lived with only their biological mother or father. Two categories were
used for protagonists being raised by non-parents: Guardianship by a Relative or
Guardianship by a Non-Relative. If the protagonist lived on their own, they were placed into
the Orphan/No Guardian category.
Socioeconomic status: Protagonists were coded as belonging to either the Low, Middle, or
High socioeconomic class. “Low”• was defined for this study as lacking some basic needs
such as food or shelter, “Middle”• was defined as having sufficient resources to meet all
basic needs, and “High”• was defined as having an abundance of resources.
Sexuality: Protagonists in this study fell into four sexual identity categories: Straight, Gay,
Bisexual, and Questioning. In cases where the protagonist had no demonstrated romantic
interest within the novel, the character was coded as being straight.
Disability: Characters were coded as either having a disability or not based on the criteria
defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: “An individual is
considered to have a ‘disability’ if s/he has a physical or mental impairment that
substantially limits one or more major life activities.”•32
Two additional pieces of information–genre and setting–were recorded for each title. Genre
determinations were made with the assistance of the NoveList database and tag clouds from
LibraryThing. Even with the assistance of these resources, many titles did not clearly fit into a
single genre, and in such cases the ultimate decision was made by the researcher. Four setting
categories–Rural, Suburban, Urban, and Other–were used to describe the predominant location
of each title. The “Other”• category was used when a variety of settings appeared in the same
book with no single setting achieving clear prominence, as in several of the action and adventure
or fantasy books.
Literature databases were used as the primary data source for this study, with the actual titles
being used when necessary to confirm ambiguous data or to determine missing data. The
primary review sources consulted were NoveList and the Children’s Comprehensive Literature
Database (CCLD), both of which contain basic bibliographic information and reviews for a range
of titles. Reviews incorporated into each database record come from Voice of Youth Advocates
(VOYA), Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and a variety of other sources. Tag
clouds on LibraryThing (http://www.librarything.com) were also consulted for some titles and
were of particular help when determining genre. Characters were coded as belonging to one of
the above categories where explicitly stated in the review sources or where clearly inferable from
the original text. For some titles, even when the title itself was consulted, some characteristics of
the protagonist remained ambiguous. In those cases, no further effort was made to acquire the
A total of 248 unique titles were included in this analysis–114 award-winning novels, 74 Teens’
Top Ten novels, and 92 bestselling novels. Some books appeared on more than one of these lists.
Over 90% of titles were successfully coded for all variables; of the remaining, no book had more
than three uncoded variables. The key findings from this study are reported below.
Underrepresented Protagonist Categories
Several categories of protagonists were underrepresented in the data set across all three study
groups when compared to actual U.S. demographic information. Urban-dwelling protagonists,
who comprised roughly one-fourth of the overall sample, are one such underrepresented group.
In reality, over half (58.2%) of United States residents live in urban areas (cities which have a
population greater than two hundred thousand), with the remainder of U.S. residents evenly
divided among suburban and rural settings.33 The award-winning category had the highest
percentage of urban settings, at 31.8%; only 20.7% of bestsellers took place in urban settings.
For a full breakdown of novel settings, see Figure 1.
a full breakdown of novel settings
Minority-race (non-white) protagonists are also underrepresented across all three categories of
titles. Overall, 81.1% of protagonists in the sample were white; this compares to a national
percentage of 56.7% white among children and teens ages nineteen and under.34
The award-winning titles category exhibited the most racial diversity; in this category, 65.6% of
protagonists were white, 10.4% were black, and 4.8% were Hispanic. The bestsellers category
exhibited the least racial diversity among protagonists; in this category 92.6% of protagonists
were white. Hispanic protagonists were particularly underrepresented among these books:
Hispanic protagonists comprised 3.7% of this sample, but nationally, 21.3% of children and
teens are Hispanic.35
Table 1 includes complete data for protagonist race.
Table 1 includes complete data for protagonist race.
LGBT protagonists were underrepresented within the bestsellers category, where all one
hundred and thirty-six coded protagonists were identified as straight or as having no romantic
preference within the novel. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual protagonists were found among the
award-winning and Teens’ Top Ten titles, where their prevalence was similar to actual U.S.
demographics among teens.37 See Figure 2 for a complete breakdown of results in this category.
Protagonist Sexual Orientation
Protagonists raised outside of a dual-parent home (68.2%) were overrepresented in this sample;
nationally, 68.0% of children and teens live in dual-parent households.38 Similarly, roughly 20%
of protagonists in this study were orphans or had no guardian; this is much higher than the
actual national percentage of 0.4%.39 These percentages did not vary greatly among the three
title categories. Results for protagonist family structure are shown in Figure 3.
Results for protagonist family structure
For award-winning and bestselling titles, higher percentages of protagonists were identified as
belonging to the low socioeconomic class (33.6% and 28.0%, respectively) than the actual
percentage of children and teens in poverty in the United States (20.0%).40 Full results for
protagonist socioeconomic status are shown in Figure 4.
Full results for protagonist socioeconomic status
Cross-Category Comparisons between White and Minority Protagonists
Looking across all three categories of books, there were 241 white protagonists and 56 minority-
race protagonists. When compared to white protagonists, protagonists of color were:
more likely to be featured in realistic fiction (42.0% of minority protagonists vs. 25.7% of
white protagonists) and historical fiction (26.0% vs. 8.9%) titles;
less likely to be featured in fantasy (10.0% of minority protagonists vs. 31.9% of white
protagonists), humor (0.0% vs. 8.9%), and action and adventure (2.0% vs. 5.8%) titles;
more likely to be male (58.2% of minority protagonists vs. 46.1% of white protagonists);
more likely to be identified as religious (25.0% of minority protagonists vs. 8.0% of white
less likely to be part of a dual-parent home (25.9% of minority protagonists vs. 33.2% of
white protagonists) and less likely to be raised by a related guardian (5.6% vs. 16.4%);
more likely to be an orphan or to have no guardian (27.8% vs. 18.0%) and slightly more
likely to be part of a single-parent family (31.5% vs. 28.6%);
more likely to be in the low socioeconomic class (44.2% vs. 24.3%) and less likely to be in the
high socioeconomic class (7.7% vs. 21.7%);
more likely to be identified as gay, questioning, or bisexual (5.4% vs. 2.5%);
more likely to have been written by a male author (59.2% of books featuring a minority
protagonist were written by males vs. 48.9% of books featuring a white protagonist);
much more likely to have been written by an author of color (38.3% vs. 1.0%); and,
more likely to have been written by an author from the United States (83.3% vs. 68.4%).
Where should librarians turn to find ready-made booklists that reflect the diversity of their
service populations? The results of this study show that if YA librarians rely only or mostly on
bestseller lists for collection development, many young adults from diverse backgrounds will be
underserved. The bestsellers list was fairly balanced in terms of protagonist gender, contained a
large percentage of foreign-born characters, and included a diverse range of titles as far as
protagonist family structure and socioeconomic status. However, non-white, LGBT, and
religious protagonists are underrepresented on this list, as are protagonists identified as having
a disability and those living in urban areas.
The Teens’ Top Ten list fared a bit better than the bestsellers list in some categories and a bit
worse in others. The Teens’ Top Ten list featured slightly more urban, LGBT, disabled, and non-
white protagonists. However, this list also has deficits in comparison to the bestsellers list and to
national demographics: male protagonists are underrepresented, as are protagonists in the low
socioeconomic class, and religious protagonists are still rare.
Overall, the award-winning books most closely matched the actual demographics of the U.S.
teen population, although even this list had some shortfalls. This list was fairly balanced in
terms of its protagonist gender breakdown and included a higher percentage of urban
protagonists than the other two groups. The award-winning titles had the highest percentage of
non-white protagonists and included at least one protagonist from each racial group identified
by the U.S. Census (the only list which did so). This list also included the highest percentage of
religious protagonists and the highest percentage of protagonists from the low socioeconomic
class (who are actually overrepresented on this list compared to national data). Award-winning
titles featured LGBT protagonists at a rate that is consistent with national estimates. These titles
also featured disabled characters more commonly than titles in the other groups.
So does this mean that librarians can fully rely on award-winning title lists? No. Aside from
considerations of readability and popularity of these texts versus bestselling titles, the award-
winning list still falls short in some aspects of diversity. Along with the other lists, the award-
lacks adequate representation of Hispanic protagonists,
underrepresents protagonists in urban settings,
underrepresents religious protagonists, and
is heavily skewed toward a small number of genres.
Hispanic protagonists are severely underrepresented on all lists in comparison with the actual
demographic data for U.S. adolescents and children. This may be because there has not yet been
a major movement among scholars, parents, teachers, and librarians to push for titles for and
about Hispanics and Latinos as there was for titles for and about African Americans in the U.S.
in the 1970s.41 As the Hispanic and Latino population in the U.S. continues to grow, a movement
for titles in this arena may be on the horizon.
All lists underrepresent urban-dwelling protagonists. However, this may be at least partially
explained by the large numbers of historical fiction and fantasy titles included in this study.
While books were coded as having urban settings if they took place in cities of the past or in
fantasy cities, large numbers of these books took place in rural settings or had other/mixed
The need for more titles featuring religious protagonists is confirmed in this study. Across all
categories, religious protagonists comprise a small minority; protagonists from non-Christian
religions are particularly rare. Most protagonists in the “other”• religion category practiced a
fictional religion rather than an existing one (for example, two of the protagonists in G. P.
Taylor’s Shadowmancer practice a religion which resembles Christianity, but is not). Religion is
a major part of life for many, if not most, children and teens in the U.S.; one recent study found
that 65.3% of children and teens ages six to seventeen participate in religious activities once a
month or more.42 The lack of young adult titles which address this aspect of teen life is puzzling;
the idea that authors view religion as somehow “taboo”• seems to be an inadequate explanation
since authors and publishers seem perfectly willing to feature other, even more sensitive, issues
such as teen sex, pregnancy, drug use, and physical abuse. More research into this question is
Each of the three lists included in this study is heavily skewed towards one to two genres. Thus,
relying on any one of these lists would result in a collection which is lacking in several key areas.
The award-winning titles are biased toward realistic fiction and historical fiction; fantasy,
science fiction, action and adventure, and sports novels (all popular genres) are comparatively
neglected. Among Teens’ Top Ten books, fantasy and realistic titles are included at a high rate at
the expense of other genres; among bestsellers, fantasy and humor novels together comprise the
majority of titles.
Agosto, Hughes-Hassell, and Gilmore-Clough wrote about the scarcity of minority protagonists
in genre fiction, particularly fantasy titles.43 This study supported their conclusions; 31.9% of
white protagonists were featured in fantasy titles, versus 10.0% of minority protagonists. Of the
five minority protagonists who were featured in fantasy titles, one was black (a protagonist in G.
P. Taylor’s Shadowmancer), and the remainder were classified in the “other”• category because
they were described as being of a fictional race. Science fiction was a bit better; of the four
minority protagonists, one was Asian, one was Hispanic, and two were other (alien). The
tendency of authors to feature minority protagonists in realistic or historical fiction is an
interesting trend and worthy of future research. This tendency may be an outgrowth of a
repeated call among researchers for “culturally conscious”•44 or “enabling”•45 texts which
challenge racial stereotypes, provide literary role models for minority teens, and connect with
teens’ cultural heritages. Authors who feature minority protagonists may be choosing to create
such texts by directly confronting historical or contemporary racial issues (a task to which
historical fiction and realistic fiction are well-suited) rather than dealing with such issues
indirectly in a different genre.
Another interesting finding was that in this sample set, non-white protagonists were more than
twice as likely to be identified as gay, bisexual, or questioning as white protagonists. The reasons
for this are unclear; perhaps it is the case that authors who feature protagonists who are
marginalized in terms of race are more willing to also feature protagonists who are marginalized
in terms of sexuality. Further research would be interesting to see if these findings would be
duplicated across a broader sample of young adult literature.
Another question that this research does not address, but which would be a potentially fruitful
course of study, is why so little protagonist diversity (at least in several of the dimensions
studied here) exists in bestselling young adult novels. To some extent, the market controls what
sells and what doesn’t, and it could be the case that books with minority protagonists are truly
not as appealing to wide audiences. However, even if this is the case, we must begin to ask why
that might be so. Are white, straight, middle-class teens uninterested in reading about
characters who are different from them, and if so, could this be because the large majority of the
books that they have read and enjoyed do not feature minority characters? Are minority teens
not purchasing books, and if so is this because a) they simply don’t want to read, b) they can’t
afford the books, c) there are not enough characters like them in the books to which they have
easy access, or d) some other reason? How does the marketing of young adult titles differ
between books featuring minorities and other books, and how much might those differences
account for the dearth of minority protagonists on bestsellers lists?
The job of a youth services librarian in an era of decreasing budgets, decreasing staff, and
increasing demand for services is not easy. Collection development is only one of many duties
for a librarian, and reliance upon preassembled title lists such as those studied here is
understandable when simply keeping a library open can at times consume all of a librarian’s
work hours. However, study upon study has demonstrated the importance of building a quality
collection for young adult library users–a collection in which all users can find themselves
accurately portrayed while also experiencing rich portrayals of characters which are unlike
themselves. This study has demonstrated that while award-winning lists include more diversity
on the whole than Teens’ Top Ten lists or bestsellers lists, no single list, or even a combination of
these lists, is sufficient across all aspects of diversity studied here.
What does this mean for librarians? It doesn’t mean that relying upon lists is necessarily bad–
there are many valid reasons why both award-winning and bestselling titles deserve a place on
library shelves. However, it does mean that these lists alone are insufficient, and purchasing
plans which are based solely on such lists should be reevaluated to include more titles
individually selected by librarians to increase diversity within the collection. Despite their lack of
representation on commonly-used preassembled lists, such books do exist–the Library Booklists
website links to hundreds of them (http://librarybooklists.org/fiction/ya/yadiverse.htm) and
the journal MultiCultural Review, published four times annually, features new titles which
include characters or subjects of differing “ethnicity, race, spirituality, religion, disability, and
Whether or not libraries are ready for them, millions of children from diverse backgrounds will
soon be finding their way into young adult collections for the first time. Whether they come back
may well depend on whether the books they find there include characters whose racial, religious,
socioeconomic, family, romantic, and health backgrounds reflect the diversity they see in
themselves and in their communities. And whether they find those books depends on whether
librarians are willing to embrace a broad view of diversity–looking beyond simply protagonists’
race or ethnicity–and take the time to locate and purchase titles featuring protagonists from
marginalized groups who are portrayed accurately and compassionately. If, as a profession,
librarians can commit to doing this, then the overall diversity of our collections will increase
along with the rising diversity of the populations we are serving. And perhaps, if every library in
the country begins ordering titles that feature diverse characters and/or are written by authors
from diverse backgrounds, we might even rewrite the bestsellers list and in so doing help to
change the face of publishing in the United States. That is a lofty goal, and one that only people–
not lists–can achieve.
1. This paper is a redacted and edited version of a Masters paper. The full version may be
accessed at http://www.unc.edu/~crawson/worksamples/caseyrawson.pdf.
2. Stacy L. Creel, “Early Adolescents’ Reading Habits,”• Young Adult Library Services 5, no.
4: 46-49; Tiffany Marra and April Witteveen, “Trends in Teen Reading 2001—2003,”•
Young Adult Library Services 4, no. 1 (2005): 17-21; Krista Swenor, “A Teen Take on
Reading: Results from the 2005 Teen Read Survey,”• Young Adult Library Services 4, no.
4 (2006): 42-44.
3. National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2009
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About the Author
Casey Rawson has an MSLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is
currently a doctoral student. Her research interests include multicultural literature for young
adults and adolescents’ responses to information overload.