Friday, July 21, 2006

In Search of Multicultural Portland: The Library

Portland has an incredible library system that just kicks ass over the Oakland Public Library. These are the kind of libraries I grew up visiting, with lots of people walking and bike-riding there, rather than jams of cars vying for parking. Maxito and Jenny and I head over without even checking the hours first, because most branches are open every day and into the evening. The librarians are laid back and courteous, and never seem to jump on people about fines. The hold system is stellar--you can put movies on hold and keep them out for 3 weeks.

So I hesitate to complain. And yet. And yet--what is wrong with the collection? I was in Hollywood branch yesterday and was seeking board books for Genevieve and I to read (and, okay, for her to munch on just a little bit) and there was not a single board book in the room that was about a child of color. Okay, okay, there was one--The Snowy Day. That's it! Book after book of animals or white people--in a library, where someone is conscientiously reading reviews, consulting books lists, and ordering books. It's a travesty! As I told the librarian there, "I guess I'm just used to the collection at the North Portland branch." That's the branch near my house, and it has tons of muliticultural and multilingual books.

I guess the rationale in Portland is that, if you live in a white neighborhood, you only order books about white people. I can see how this city--which I truly have come to like and which is why I become frustrated when this issue of homogeneity rears its ugly head--has remained pretty segregated over the years.

I'm considering some ways to wage my one-woman revolution at the Hollywood library:
--Put it multiple requests for multicultural books.
--Check out multicultural books from other branches and return them to the Hollywood branch.
--Donate multicultural books to the Hollywood branch.
--Volunteer to run some type of multicultural program there.
--Every time I go, doggedly go through the search for multiculti books and be vocal about the lack of results.
--Go back to my North Portland branch and give up on the gringo branch.


Roo-Bee-Faye said...

I laughed when I read the idea about checking the books out from one library and returning them to another--brilliant! I love it! Here in southern Iowa, life is very homogenized. There are many cultures in place here but everyone, unfortunately, sticks to themselves. Our school system just went through a total reorganization when the School Board decided to redraw the lines and parents freaked out that their babies would have to go to school with the children of people they didn't socialize with. It was really sad, especially since I was in the schools at the time doing some observations and the teachers in the lounge were acting just as ridiculous! My children will be cared for this fall by my friend across the street who is in an interracial marriage and has a daughter the same age as my oldest, Mini-Roo. Mini-Roo has never once questioned her friend's color nor the color of her friend's father. She sees them as human beings which makes me so happy. I often wonder, though, in this town/state/region, how long can it last?

Good luck with your Quest!!

nonlineargirl said...

Your second tactic (check out elsewhere, return to Hollywood) is actually a good idea. The system is set up so that you can return out books to any library. Some of those books go back to their "home" library, but many (including kids' books) stay where you drop them off.

Soooo, I might be part of your problem, as I often check books out at Hollywood and return them to Belmont. Requesting books is a good idea too, but I have noticed a lot of spanish-language books at Belmont, along with some non-white faces on the pages.

Serena said...

Thanks for your comments about my quest. I have been returning multicultural books to the Hollywood Library! And I'm also trying to patronize the other, more diverse library, more. Good luck with Mini-Roo, roo-bee-faye, it sounds like you have great intentions!

Anonymous said...

A friend forwarded your posting to me. I work at Multnomah County Library, although not at the Hollywood Library. Have you talked with one of the youth librarians at the library about your concerns? If you haven't, please do! (you said you commented to a librarian about the North Portland collection, but I don't know if s/he was a youth librarian and/or actually one of the librarians--not everyone at the reference desk is a librarian). You can also complete a comment card which will be seen by Hollywood Library staff and will go to our administration. Be sure to talk with someone before donating any books. Not all donations are added to the library collection. It could be that books are checked out (Hollywood is a very popular and very busy library!). Also, as nonlineargirl commented, some books stay at the branch where they are returned. Board books stay where returned while picture books go back to their home branch. So if you're checking out from North Portland and returning them to Hollywood, only the board books will stay there. Good luck with your quest to share a variety of books with your children. Please don't give up on your neighborhood library!

Serena said...

Greetings, Anonymous!
I am honored that you would write me and share ideas. On the day in question, I did speak to the youth librarian on duty, but she was subbing, so was not an expert on the specific collection.
I want to add that, last week, I went to Hollywood branch and found a spanking new board book about an African-American baby girl that was so sweet and charming. Perhaps they are adding more multiculti titles to the collection.