Best Practice of the Month: Develop a Multicultural Collection

Jeannie.Standal's picture

We are right in the middle of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated this year from September 15th to October 15th.  Ever wonder why it is so important to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, National Women's Month, Black History Month, and similar commemorations?  So important that librarians purchase materials to support it, highlight the featured authors, culture and history, and display novels with appropriate characters and authors?

There are at least two very good reasons:  students must read about people that are like themselves, and students must read about people who are not like themselves.

On the one hand, it is very important for yong readers to find characters that are similar to themselves; someone to whom they can relate.  Perhaps the character is the same reace or ethnicity, perhaps from the same socio-economic situation, or maybe the character, like the reader, is part of a farm family, or a single-parent family, or a military family.  It is easier to see things throught the eyes of characters who are  like us, to understand their decisions, and share their points of view.  Sometimes we can even learn from the characters' experiences without having to live them ourselves (which is especially valuable with unpleasant experiences).  It makes sense, then, that a school library's collection should reflect the diversity of the school community.

On the other hand, the school library acts like the students' window to the world.  It is a place where students can learn about life outside their communities.  They might become aware that every person does not live in the same manner, people may have different values, opinions, points of view and priorities.  They might also discover that people who live in dissimilar circumstances can have much in common. In this way, then, by reading about the experiences of others, students can acquire skills needed to navigate a culturally diverse world.  That is most definitely a 21st Century skill.  Consequently, it makes sense that the school library's collection should reflect the diversity of the world.

The good news is most libraries are already creating culturally diverse collections to some extent.  If the library acquires just the winners from the variety of book awards, that is a great start.  Librarians can also consult the best-of lists that are published each year to coincide with various observances and holidays (like Chinese New Year or the Hindi Festival of Color (Holi)) for quality titles.  Remember that each student is different, so a single title might offer both the elements of diversity and sameness. 

The bad news is there is a lot of so-called multicultural literature on the market that stereotypes characters and are flat-out inaccurate.  For some helpful advice on spotting books that are marketed as mulicultural, but are to be avoided, along with identifying the hallmarks of a quality mulitcultural title, read the Scholastic article linked below.

To get started, check out:

SLJ's An Expanded Cultural Diversity Booklist: SLJ Readers Respond

Scholastic's How to Choose the Best Multicultural Books by Luther B. Clegg, Etta Miller, Bill Vandehoof, Gonzalo Ramirez, and Peggy K. Ford.

Reading is Fundamental's Mulicultural Books

For more ideas on nonfiction culticultural titles, visit Non-Fiction Books of the Month.


Bishop, Kay.  "Making Multicultural Literature Meaningful."  Knowledge Quest 32, No. 1 (Sept/Oct, 2003): 28.

Standal, Jeannie.  "Multiculturalism." East Carolina University Graduate Portfolio.  Fall, 2007.