I often run through a spectrum of feelings when I assemble a new display in the library’s youth section. Many displays I create involve rainbows, hearts or cute animals (sometimes all of the above). Each of these displays brings me joy through creativity, excitement at showcasing our books, and hope that ultimately our displays will get books in the hands of library patrons. Occasionally, a display will cause me to pause and reflect on the importance of the display within our community, the complexity and nuance of the topic, and my own position of privilege in presenting books that represent voices and experiences that are often not my own. Youth Services’ new Own Voices display has caused me to pause and reflect on these ideas and more.
What do we mean when we say Own Voices books or authors? The term Own Voices started as a hashtag by author Corinne Duyvis to identify diverse books that are written by members of that same group. By reading and promoting Own Voices books we are trying to ensure that rich stories about diverse characters written by authors who share the same identity become the norm. There’s a lot of nuance within this term because identities themselves are complex so it’s important to listen to those within a community to determine whether a story is culturally representative.
Now more than ever, Own Voices books have a vital place on our library shelves. In her work titled “Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors” (1990), Rudine Sime Bishop wrote: “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined. … These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through … to become part of whatever world has been created. … When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it …, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.” Own Voices books can be all this and more. Our youth deserve to see themselves represented authentically in the library and Own Voices authors help to ensure that the people telling our youth stories are coming from a culturally representative place.