Spotlight

[Interview] Caribbean Children's Literature: A Library Perspective With Lindsey Dunn





As promised, here is the first interview in a special series of interviews with librarians that Anansesem will be publishing in the upcoming days. Join our editor-in-chief, Summer Edward, as she investigates forward-thinking children's library projects across the Caribbean and the crucial role librarians everywhere play in broadening awareness of Caribbean children's and young adult literature.


Lindsey Dunn, an American librarian based in Durham, North Carolina, served as a youth services librarian with a specialty in teen services for 13 years. She is currently a Readers' Advisory Librarian and Content Editor at NoveList. She recently completed a readers' advisory project to help librarians use NoveList to find culturally authentic books by Caribbean children's authors and illustrators. Lindsey combs through the children's litosphere to discover what real-time questions librarians are being asked by their young patrons. She then creates solutions for those questions in the form of lists and articles. She regularly updates the popular Books to Movies lists for all ages, is a member of the NoveList Book Squad, and regularly serves as a judge for the Christy Awards.

Lindsey’s favorite childhood characters are Owl from Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, Ramona from the Beverly Cleary novels, and the main character from Roald Dahl's The Enormous Crocodile. She reads in any genre, but enjoys atmospheric suspense, heartwarming chick lit, or romantic science fiction the best. Her favorite type of story has a redemptive quality and a character with a haunting past. When she's not working, she's catching up on her Netflix queue, taking walks (as long as it's above 40 degrees), and perfecting her popcorn recipe.


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Summer Edward: For those who may not know, please tell us about EBSCOhost NoveList. What’s it used for, how can we access it, and why is it a good tool for librarians? Also, is it available outside of the US?

Lindsey Dunn: NoveList is dedicated to helping librarians help readers. Our suite of products allows readers and reading advocates to find and select books and audiobooks by genre, reading appeal, theme, subject heading, author characteristics, and more. Our innovative staff continuously brainstorms to identify the different things people look for in their stories and then creates a "language of books" made up of searchable terms readers and librarians can combine to find the perfect book.

For instance, NoveList can help you fill requests like these:
  • I’m looking for historical fiction that deals with immigrant experiences in the 20th century. 
  • I love mysteries where the setting sticks with you, where it really feels like you’re there. Even better if the storyline sticks with me for days. Can you help me find some? 
  • Can you help me find romances about friends who turn into lovers?
NoveList is an EBSCO product. Most of our customers are libraries that purchase our products and then makes them available to their library patrons. Individuals access NoveList through their local public library. NoveList is available worldwide, though we do focus on books published in the United States, Canada, and Australia/New Zealand.

To see if your local library has NoveList, try searching in your library's website under keywords such as "research" or "databases." Even better, contact your local library and ask if they have access to NoveList.



SE: As part of your work at NoveList, you recently completed a readers' advisory project to help librarians use NoveList to find culturally authentic books by Caribbean children's authors and illustrators. What inspired your project and what did it entail?

LD: I came across your article, "Foreign Correspondence beyond the Four Fs" in the November 2017 issue of The Horn Book. This article spoke to me because it was bringing attention to a group that is underrepresented, and like all librarians, we at NoveList are interested in diversity and making sure all children can find themselves represented in books. I was curious to know what, if anything, our product had already done or could do to make these books easily findable in our database.

In the article, you said that the books about Caribbean communities that get attention are often written by cultural outsiders, lack authenticity and aren't empowering for Caribbean people. Of course the solution would be to find authors who are themselves Caribbean – what we call #ownvoices – and see what books they had created. Since NoveList staff include cultural identity in our author records, I used a NoveList power search to create a list of juvenile titles by Caribbean authors and illustrators, featuring Caribbean kids, double checking our metadata against official author/illustrator websites.

The book list is now available in the NoveList database under the title "Caribbean and Proud", bringing attention to these titles for being #ownvoices. The list features books by authors and illustrators from Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, The Dominican Republic, Cuba, Saint Lucia, Antigua, Barbados, Haiti, and Guyana.



SE: From your blog post about the project, I learned about LibraryAware, which looks like it could be really useful. I’m curious; is LibraryAware something librarians in the Caribbean can use? What are some of the things it can be used for?

LD: LibraryAware is an extremely useful product. It is the only graphic design program out there that is created specifically for libraries. Our designers create templates customers can use to make customized attractive bookmarks, flyers, display signs, and shelf talkers. Customers can either print and post the templates exactly as created or customize to include the titles/images that speak to their patrons.

Just like NoveList, these products are available to any library that wants to purchase them. The beautiful thing is that we do the work, but no one will ever know that you aren't making these beautiful signs yourself. For more information about LibraryAware or to ask for a quote for your library, please go to the NoveList website.



SE: As a librarian in the US, you’re very aware of the diversity problem in literature for young people and the many conversations happening around it in the field. From a practical standpoint, what do American librarians need in order to be able to build responsive children's/youth library collections that meet the needs of Caribbean communities in the US?

LD: Libraries need advocates like Anansesem to speak up and let us know where we are falling short. For example, your article provoked me into action and to see how we could do better.

Libraries also need readers to speak up and let us know what they want. Libraries will purchase the books they think their customers want. If you are a customer or patron of a library, make sure to speak up and let your voice be heard.

Libraries need tools they can use to find diverse titles featuring Caribbean characters, as well as other underrepresented identities. We hope NoveList can be one of those tools. Anansesem is another tool, providing reviews and information about Caribbean authors and books.

Libraries need Caribbean authors to be bold and tell the stories they want to share about their culture.

Finally, libraries need courage, flexibility, and a desire to do better in building a truly diverse collection that meets the needs of all its customers. Libraries will have to choose to use a portion of their resources (budget, shelf space) for this work. It isn't easy to reverse the status quo, and it takes work to do it and do it correctly. Initially, the books you purchase may not fly off the shelves. It is partially the library's responsibility to promote and market these diverse titles to make sure they are being read and circulated.

SE: You’ve said that working to address library service gaps when it comes to culturally and racially diverse patrons and communities has been a learning experience for you. What are some of the things you’ve learned that might be useful for other librarians to know?

LD: This has been one of the most rewarding and challenging projects I have worked on to date. Usually we (NoveList editorial content team) can rely on reviews to tell us what books are going to be good. I have found that with diversity, it takes more steps. Those of us in the library profession have to learn, sometimes through trial and error, what good representation looks like.

In particular, the Caribbean is a challenge due to the many countries and islands that are included. Making the list has made me feel more invested in seeing the culture represented well. I feel somewhat protective even. Now, when I see that a story is set in Jamaica or Haiti or Trinidad, my ears perk up, and I start wondering if the story is going to "get it right" or not.

Your article helped me open my eyes to how problematic it was that most books I could think of set in the Caribbean featured characters that were slaves or cavorting on the beach. And the issue was driven home even more when our marketing department was looking for the right image to pair with the blog post and again found mainly palm trees and images that looked like they could be from a vacation brochure. It just really brought this issue home to me. When you talk about diversity in general, you can think, "Hey, we're doing it." It's only when you think about specific groups of people, like Caribbean people, that you see how much work there is to be done.

SE: I like to think that readers (including young readers!) have the power to shape the collections in libraries and should have a sense of ownership of the libraries in their communities. What are some things Caribbean readers (or readers in general) can do to help their local library build better Caribbean children’s/YA book collections?

LD: Librarians love to feedback from our customers. We want to build collections our readers want. If you can't find the types of stories you want, please let us know. If you don't feel brave enough to approach the desk, most libraries have a suggestion box or you can post a feedback on the website or social media page. We so often don't hear from our public and have to just assume we understand what our customers want. Trust me, your librarian will be thrilled that you spoke up, no matter what your age. At my library, if a young person asked for something we didn't have (after I offered to get it through inter-library loan), I would email the collection development librarians right away.


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Later this week, the series continues with an interview with John Robert Lee, St. Lucian veteran librarian, archivist and highly-regarded author. Links to all of the interviews in this series will be archived on our website on this page.




About the Interviewer

Summer Edward is the Editor-in-Chief here at Anansesem. Her writing and art have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.




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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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