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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access July 24, 2023

Assessing Diversity in Academic Library Book Collections: Diversity Audit Principles and Methods

  • William H. Walters EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Information Science


Diversity audits reveal the extent to which library collections incorporate the topics, perspectives, authors, characters, and narratives associated with underrepresented or marginalized groups. They can help us evaluate whether the collection is aligned with the user community, pinpoint the specific areas where improvement is needed, establish goals and timelines, measure progress toward those goals, demonstrate that deficiencies in the collection are being addressed, and highlight the need for additional resources. This guide reviews the scholarly and professional literature on diversity audits of academic library book collections. It discusses how concepts such as diverse groups and diverse books can be operationalized; describes three methods of conducting the diversity audit – the catalog search method, the checklist method, and the book inspection method; considers various benchmarks or targets that may be adopted; and explains how the results of the analysis can be used to build more diverse library collections. The review concludes by presenting three fundamental questions that explore the limits of the audit methods currently in use, highlight underlying issues that librarians may want to consider, and suggest avenues for further research and discussion.

1 Introduction

Early efforts to promote diversity in academic libraries tended to focus on two goals: the recruitment and retention of personnel and the introduction or reconfiguration of library services to meet the needs of diverse populations (Anaya & Maxey-Harris, 2017; Frederick & Wolff-Eisenberg, 2021; Maxey-Harris & Anaya, 2010; Winston & Li, 2000). More recently, the development of diverse library collections has emerged as an important topic.

Diverse library collections are defined here as collections that provide good representation of the topics, perspectives, authors, characters, and narratives associated with underrepresented or marginalized groups. This definition has been adopted, explicitly or implicitly, by most of the authors who discuss diversity in academic library collections. As several have pointed out, the focus on adequacy of representation is really more about equity than diversity, and the literature of library and information science does not always distinguish among the three components of DEI – diversity, equity, and inclusion (Lawrence, 2020, 2021; O’Neal, Curé, & Peick, 2020; Winston, 2014).

Diverse library collections are important for at least two reasons. First, they can facilitate the kind of discussion and understanding that informs and promotes social change (Lawrence, 2020, 2021; Winston, 2010). This first benefit, which is broadly socioeconomic or cultural rather than strictly educational, is not unique to academic libraries. Public libraries perform much the same role, as do many other institutions. Second, diverse library collections can promote educational success. For instance, diverse collections can help students “see themselves” in the library collection by presenting narratives and perspectives that are already familiar to them. This may lead students to feel more comfortable with the library, to gain a greater awareness of what it can offer, and to use it more effectively to achieve their educational goals. Diverse collections can also bring students into contact with topics and perspectives that are unfamiliar to them – ideas and ways of life they may not have encountered otherwise. (The dual aims of representing the student community and expanding students’ horizons are discussed in more detail in Section 6.1).

While many public and school libraries have taken steps to ensure the diversity of their collections (e.g., Kletter, 2021; Vercelletto, 2019), there is limited information on the status of these efforts at American college and university libraries. For instance, two recent reports on DEI initiatives in academic libraries covered multiple topics but made little or no mention of collections (Dozier, Fabiku, & Enimil, 2022; Ely, 2021). The most comprehensive study, a survey of 639 library directors, revealed that only a third of academic libraries have well-developed selection criteria with regard to diversity and that less than one-fifth have “well-developed strategies to decenter white authors and/or racist content and center the works of authors of color and/or anti-racist content” (Frederick & Wolff-Eisenberg, 2021, p. 14). However, other surveys suggest that these percentages are higher at doctoral/research libraries and in areas with large non-white populations (Buttlar, 1994; Koury, Semenza, & Shropshire, 2019; Proffitt, 2018).

1.1 Diversity Audits in Academic Libraries

As Johnson (2018) and others have noted, the foremost criterion for the evaluation of library collections is not necessarily quality, but utility: the extent to which they serve the purposes for which they are intended. In the university environment, utility is best represented by academic outcomes such as students’ course performance, graduation rates, and postgraduate success (e.g., Stemmer & Mahan, 2016). The impact of the library on academic performance is difficult to isolate and measure, however, so most libraries evaluate their collections through a range of indirect indicators that focus on content, use (including citation impact), and perceptions of utility (Clayton & Gorman, 2006; Johnson, 2018; Kelly, 2021; Saponaro & Evans, 2019). Collection analyses of this type can be used to:

  • evaluate whether the library collection provides adequate support for particular academic departments, degree programs, faculty, and student groups; demonstrate to accreditors, donors, and others stakeholders that their needs are being addressed;

  • facilitate the effective allocation of resources by identifying areas in which the collection is weaker (or stronger) than required;

  • identify candidates for possible cancellation or weeding – information resources that are no longer needed, no longer cost-effective, less suitable than competitors’ products, or unsustainable with regard to cost, maintenance, or technological requirements;

  • provide useful information for space planning, collaborative collection development, and other areas of library operations;

  • help build greater knowledge of the collection among librarians and faculty in order to improve their effectiveness as selectors or to facilitate the refinement of collection policies and selection criteria;

  • understand patrons’ perceptions of the collection and gauge whether those perceptions are consistent with reality; identify the areas in which outreach and marketing are needed.

Unlike other collection evaluations, diversity audits are seldom used to identify resources for potential cancellation. They tend to focus on the first two goals (which deal with support for particular programs and groups) and the last two (which deal with selection methods and public perceptions).

Most diversity audits of book collections reveal the percentage of titles that are associated with particular underrepresented or marginalized groups, allowing librarians to pinpoint the areas in which greater effort is needed. These investigations therefore provide valuable information even when the need to build more diverse collections is fully acknowledged by all stakeholders. Specifically, diversity audits can help us to understand the library collection more fully; evaluate whether the collection is aligned with the demographic characteristics of the student community; determine the extent to which improvement is required as well as the specific areas (topics, groups, etc.) that need to be addressed; establish diversity goals and timelines; measure progress toward those goals; demonstrate to outside audiences that deficiencies in the collection are being addressed; highlight the need for improvement when seeking outside funding, cooperation, or assistance; and help show how improvements in the collection can influence academic outcomes.

While many recent studies have documented academic libraries’ DEI initiatives, the most recent information on diversity-related collection assessment efforts was compiled more than two decades ago. A 2000 survey of 115 liberal art colleges revealed that 76% had undertaken some kind of collection assessment related to diversity (Winston & Li, 2000). However, the survey data do not indicate whether these assessments were formal or informal, whether current data would reveal the same level of commitment, or whether a similar emphasis on collection assessment can be seen at other types of colleges and universities.

1.2 Scope of the Review

This guide reviews the scholarly and professional literature on diversity audits of academic library book collections. (Journal collections are not considered here). It begins with a description of the literature search procedure (Section 1.3), then:

  • discusses what is meant by diverse groups and diverse books, and how those concepts can be operationalized for use in a diversity audit (Section 2);

  • describes three methods of conducting the diversity audit, their advantages and disadvantages, and their implications (Section 3);

  • explains the importance of setting collection diversity targets and of following up on the initial investigation with repeated or complementary analyses (Section 4);

  • discusses how the results can be used to build more diverse collections (Section 5);

  • presents three fundamental questions that explore the limits of the methods currently in use, highlight underlying issues that librarians may want to consider when planning a diversity audit, and suggest avenues for further research and discussion (Section 6).

1.3 The Literature Search

The primary database searches for this review were conducted in March 2022. Table 1 shows the databases and the search terms that were used. The searches were intentionally broad, favoring recall over precision, on the assumption that it was better to examine and discard non-relevant results than to miss relevant items. The searches were not limited by date. Altogether, the nine database searches yielded 274 results. The combined list of results had just 211 items, however, because some works were found through more than one database.

Table 1

Databases and search strategies of March 2022 and March 2023, with March 2022 results
 diversity library [and department = books]
 >4,000 results; 2 potentially relevant results
 diversity AND collection* AND librar*
 4.85 billion results; I examined the first 200; 52 potentially relevant results
Google Scholar
 diversity AND collection* AND librar*
 About 34,000 results; I examined the first 300; 30 potentially relevant results
Library & Information Science Abstracts (ProQuest)
 (ab(diversity) OR MAINSUBJECT.EXACT(“multiculturalism & pluralism”)) AND
 (MAINSUBJECT.EXACT(“collection development”) OR MAINSUBJECT.EXACT(“collection analysis”) OR
 MAINSUBJECT.EXACT(“book selection”))
 107 results; 35 potentially relevant results
Library & Information Science Source (EBSCOhost)
 AB diversity AND (DE “collection development in libraries” OR DE “academic library collection development” OR DE “book selection”)
 57 results; 30 potentially relevant results
Library Science Database (ProQuest)
 (ab(diversity) OR MAINSUBJECT.EXACT(“multiculturalism & pluralism”)) AND
 (MAINSUBJECT.EXACT(“collection development”) OR MAINSUBJECT.EXACT(“collection analysis”) OR
 MAINSUBJECT.EXACT(“book selection”))
 92 results; 27 potentially relevant results
Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts (EBSCOhost)
 AB diversity AND (DE “collection development in libraries” OR DE “academic library collection development” OR DE “book selection”)
 41 results; 20 potentially relevant results
OCLC WorldCat
 ((su: library AND su: resources) OR (su: library AND su: materials)) AND (kw: diversity OR su: diversity) AND dt = “bks”
 108 results; 11 potentially relevant results
 (TITLE-ABS-KEY (diversity) AND TITLE-ABS-KEY (librar*) AND TITLE-ABS-KEY (collection*)) AND (LIMIT-TO (SUBJAREA, “SOCI”))
 297 results; 67 potentially relevant results

Each of the 211 items was read and evaluated. The evaluations resulted in a list of 143 relevant items – items intended for inclusion in the literature review. More than 143 bibliographic entries are included here, however, since additional works were identified during the evaluation process (e.g., from the bibliographies of relevant papers) and in a second round of searches (March 2023) that focused on works published in 2022 and 2023. Further additions and exclusions were made during the writing process.

This review is meant to include all important works on diversity audits of academic library book collections. Works that frame diversity in terms of equity or inclusion are included. General discussions of diversity in academic library collections are included to the extent that they provide useful ideas or information about assessment. No restrictions are made with regard to geographic scope, although nearly all the research in this area has focused on US institutions. This review does not discuss diversity with regard to other aspects of librarianship (hiring and retention, staff development, outreach to patrons, bias in subject headings, etc.), other kinds of libraries, or resources other than (non-archival) books and book collections.

It is notable that most of the literature on this topic has appeared in journals, and only a few recent books include useful information. Of the edited volumes that discuss diversity in academic libraries (Dali & Caidi, 2021; Epstein, Smallwood, & Gubnitskaia, 2019; Jones & Murphy, 2019; Lee, Lym, Bryant, Cain, & Schlesinger, 2022), none cover collection development outside the context of special collections and archives. Of the four books that focus on diversity in library collections (Hibner & Kelly, 2023; Hughes-Hassell, 2020; Pattee, 2020; Voels, 2022), all are devoted mainly to public and school libraries. The diversity audit strategies presented by Pattee (2020) are also relevant to academic libraries, however, and one general guide to collection assessment in academic libraries (Kelly, 2021) describes many tools and methods that can be readily applied to diversity audits.

2 Diverse Groups and Diverse Books

Nearly all the authors who have written about diversity audits treat diversity as a characteristic of the individual book. Within this framework, diverse books is the term used for books that represent (or incorporate) the perspectives, topics, authors, characters, or narratives associated with underrepresented or marginalized group(s). In turn, diverse collections are those that include a relatively high number of diverse books. The overall emphasis is therefore less on breadth of content within the collection – diversity or variation, in a quasi-statistical sense – than on adequacy of representation. (The implications of this are discussed in Section 6.3).

2.1 Defining Diversity

As shown in Table 2, diversity is commonly expressed in terms of demographic or socioeconomic characteristics, cultural traits, self-identification, group membership, physical or mental attributes, and the ways in which individuals are perceived by others. Some individual attributes – in particular, introversion/extraversion, learning styles, and other psychological traits unrelated to disability – are only now beginning to be recognized as aspects of diversity. Others, such as dialect or accent, are generally subsumed under ethnic or country-of-origin categories even though they vary considerably within each group.

Table 2

Aspects of diversity mentioned in the literaturea

Age, race, and ethnicity
 Indigenous or First Nations identity
 BIPOC identity (includes multiple racial/ethnicity categories)
Gender, sex, and sexuality
 Genotypic sex
 Phenotypic sex
 Gender expression
 LGBTQ+ identity
 Other aspects or expressions of sexuality
Socioeconomic status and occupation
 Class or socioeconomic status
 Educational attainment
 Income (distinct from wealth)
 Wealth (distinct from income)
 Source of income or wealth
 Occupational prestige
 Veteran status
 Other occupational characteristics
Ability, disability, and physical and psychological characteristics
 Presence/absence, type, severity, and visibility of physical disability
 Presence/absence, type, severity, and visibility of psychological disability or neurodivergence
 Psychological attributes unrelated to disability (introversion/extraversion, learning styles, etc.)
 Skin color
 Physical appearance (includes body, body modifications, and clothing)
Place of origin and immigrant status
 Country of origin
 Immigrant status (immigrant/non-immigrant)
 Immigration or citizenship status (citizen, lawful permanent resident, etc.)
 Internal region of origin (within the United States, for instance)
 Native or non-native speaker of English
 English-language fluency
 Dialect or accent
 Other language(s) spoken or understood
Religion and spirituality
 Religious identification or non-identification
 Extent of adherence to recognized religious beliefs or practices

a. This list is based largely on Bird and McPherson-Joseph (2020), Ciszek and Young (2010), Fort (2021), Mehra and Davis (2015), and Mortensen (2019).

All three methods of conducting a diversity audit (Section 3) require that we define the types or aspects of diversity we’re interested in – the groups for which the audit will generate results. These will not be the same for every library. In defining them and deciding which to focus on, we make choices about the aspects of diversity that are important to our institutions and our communities.

Six guidelines may be helpful. First, be specific when identifying or defining groups. Friebel (2019) and Voels (2022), among others, have stressed that labels such as BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) hide important distinctions among groups, and that even widely used designations such as Hispanic encompass a wide range of cultural identities and traditions. Likewise, Alexander (2013) and Matteson (2017) emphasize the need to recognize the diversity of Native American tribes. “The view of Indians as a group is an exogenous perspective that developed with the colonization of the Americas. American Indians tend to identify themselves at the tribal level or at the extended family level” (Alexander, 2013, p. 63).

Second, use terms that are acceptable and meaningful to group members. This can be important when presenting the results to external audiences, especially with regard to terms such as Latinx. Although many scholars have adopted the term as a gender-neutral alternative to Hispanic or Latino, several recent surveys show that it is preferred by fewer than 3% of Hispanic Americans. In fact, 40% find it offensive, generally because it is not a Spanish word and did not originate within the Hispanic community (Torregrosa, 2021). In 2021, a major Latino civil rights organization decided to stop using Latinx due to lack of support for the term outside the academic community (Gamboa, 2021), and even some gender studies scholars have expressed the view that academics “should never impose social identities onto groups that do not self-identify that way” (Ochoa, 2022). (Although it is not strictly synonymous with Latino or Latina, Hispanic is the preferred term among those of Spanish or Spanish-indigenous ancestry in the United States; see Noe-Bustamante, Mora, & Lopez, 2020; Torregrosa, 2021). Likewise, the people first language adopted by many scholars in the field of disability studies has been challenged on the grounds that it reinforces negative perceptions and that it diverts attention from more important issues (Gomes, 2018; Wilder, 2006, pp. 9–11).

Third, consider the cultural and institutional contexts of the diversity audit, since the categories that are meaningful in one setting may be inappropriate in another (Kessler, 2020). For instance, the racial/ethnic designations used in the 2021 Census of England and Wales are very different from those used in the United States. The UK framework has no Hispanic or Latino/Latina category, it provides for multiple mixed-race designations, and it allows for the separate identification of Arab, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Gypsy/Irish Traveller, Indian, Irish, Pakistani, and Roma groups. Within the Black category, the Census also makes a clear distinction between African and Caribbean ancestry (Jensen et al., 2021; U.K. Race Disparity Unit, 2023). Context is also important in an institutional sense. For example, academic libraries might emphasize aspects of diversity that have special relevance to instruction, such as learning styles. They might also focus on groups with distinctive worldviews or on those that students are unlikely to be familiar with through their experiences outside the university.

Fourth, account for intersectionality, the interaction of multiple characteristics or group identities. For instance, the perceptions and experiences of black women are distinctive in ways that cannot be attributed simply to race or gender, but to the interaction of the two. As discussed in Section 3, the methods used to account for intersectionality will vary with the type of diversity audit undertaken. An audit based on library catalog searches might identify the subject headings or keywords that represent African Americans, those that represent women, and count not just the number of books in each category, but the number that can be found in both categories. Likewise, an audit based on the inspection of individual titles might include separate tallies for black men, black women, Hispanic men, Hispanic women, and so on. The need to account for intersectionality in diversity audits was recognized nearly 30 years ago and is perhaps even more important today (Bostic, 1995; Friebel, 2019).

Fifth, be aware that any categorization tends to channel our thinking along culturally approved paths. That is, we tend to think of diversity in terms of the groups that are well established, such as those that correspond to legally protected classes. Other aspects of diversity, such as height, weight, accent, voice pitch and timbre, urban/rural origin, introversion/extraversion, and preferred reasoning style (e.g., deductive or inductive) are thereby de-emphasized regardless of their actual impact. For example, facial dominance – a set of attributes including an angular face, a low forehead, small eyes, and a large chin – is not normally regarded as an aspect of diversity, yet it has a major impact on the career success of men in occupations such as law enforcement and the military (Adams, Mourtgos, Simon, & Lovrich, 2023; Mazur, Mazur, & Keating, 1984; Mueller & Mazur, 1996, 1997). Although we may not be able to incorporate the full range of relevant characteristics into a diversity audit, we should nonetheless acknowledge that there are important aspects of diversity not captured by the categories in general use.

Finally, determine in advance whether the investigation will identify diverse books in terms of characters, authors, topics, perspectives, or a combination of these. Diversity audits of fiction collections often focus on the characters’ or authors’ identities, and biographies are generally not difficult to classify. For other nonfiction works, it may be helpful to distinguish between diverse topics (i.e., books about diversity or about particular groups) and diverse perspectives (i.e., books that are not about diversity but that reflect the distinctive views or perceptions of marginalized groups with regard to topics other than diversity itself). While diverse topics often correspond to particular Library of Congress (LC) subject headings, diverse perspectives generally do not.

The natural sciences are sometimes difficult to evaluate, especially since bibliographies and checklists of diverse books tend to provide better coverage of the social sciences and humanities (Gonzalez, 2023; Kristick, 2020). Moreover, natural science specialists are sometimes excluded from the teams that conduct diversity audits (e.g., McKinzie, 1994), perhaps because the perspectives of underrepresented groups are difficult to discern in the sciences or because scientific findings are felt to be independent of the investigators’ personal characteristics. Kristick (2020) suggests undertaking separate diversity audits in the sciences, perhaps using methods different from those used elsewhere. For example, it may be useful to evaluate diversity of authorship in science, technology, engineering, and math fields even if the library’s more general focus is on topic and perspective rather than authorship.

2.2 Diversity of Authorship

Librarians have long recognized the importance of endogenous perspectives – of the need to represent marginalized groups from the perspectives of the group members themselves. This is especially true in fields such as Native American studies, where many historical accounts have adopted a strongly Eurocentric perspective (Alexander, 2013). The #OwnVoices movement, which emphasizes the contributions of authors and illustrators from marginalized and underrepresented groups, began in 2015 with a Twitter hashtag used to identify books by fiction authors “who openly shared the diverse identity of their main characters” (Lavoie, 2021). The term was later applied to nonfiction as well, and publishers began to include it in their marketing materials. Unfortunately, the designations used to describe #OwnVoices authors have not always been consistent with the authors’ own descriptions of their identities. For that reason, We Need Diverse Books, an organization that promotes diversity in children’s literature, stopped using the term in June 2021, and other organizations have followed suit (Lapointe, 2022; Lavoie, 2021).

Several researchers have described the challenges of evaluating authors’ characteristics on a title-by-title basis (Bird & McPherson-Joseph, 2020; Emerson & Lehman, 2022; Gibney et al., 2021; Wells, Gibney, Paris, & Pfitzer, 2023). Even when the assessment is limited to a few key indicators such as race, gender, and LGBTQ+ identity, a reliance on authors’ self-disclosures – the most reliable source of information – results in missing or incomplete data for many individuals. Other sources of evidence, such as photos, can provide more complete information, but with a higher error rate. Accounting for authors’ characteristics is simpler where children’s picture books are concerned, since scholars can rely on databases such as Diverse BookFinder for that purpose (Bates College, 2023; Fort, 2021).

Although diversity audits do not generally incorporate information on publishers, it may be worthwhile to consider who publishes books as well as who writes or illustrates them. The characteristics of mainstream publishing industry personnel, who are disproportionately white, may result in biases against certain kinds of diverse books (Jiménez & Beckert, 2020). At the same time, independent publishers who focus on diversity are especially likely to produce books that counteract any such biases (Edinger, 2023; Morales, Knowles, & Bourg, 2014; O’Neal, Curé, & Peick, 2020; Phelps, 2021; Ryan, 2022).

3 Conducting the Diversity Audit: Three Methods

There are three methods of conducting a diversity audit: the catalog search method, the checklist method, and the book inspection method. All three methods are in general use, but each is known by a variety of names (Table 3). Because each method has unique advantages and disadvantages, several authors have recommended the use of multiple methods, and at least three papers have incorporated multiple analyses of different types (Gonzalez, 2023; Phelps, 2021; Proctor, 2020).

Table 3

Three methods of conducting a diversity audit of the book collectiona

Catalog search method, also known as
 Inventory (Kelly, 2021, pp. 69–74)
 Union catalog comparison (Phelps, 2021, pp. 43–45)
 WorldCat collection analysis (Ciszek & Young, 2010, p. 156)
Checklist method, also known as
 Brief tests of collection strength (Phelps, 2021, pp. 38–40)
 Comparison to standard bibliographies (Ciszek & Young, 2010, pp. 156–157)
 List checking (Pattee, 2020, pp. 259–263; Phelps, 2021, pp. 38–40)
 Modified brief test (Kelly, 2021, pp. 75–85)
 Reputable bibliographies (Kelly, 2021, pp. 75–85)
 Reverse diversity audit (Bradley-Ridout, Mahetaji, & Mitchell, 2023)
Book inspection method, also known as
 Direct analysis (Pattee, 2020, pp. 263–264)
 Diversity audit (Bradley-Ridout et al., 2023)b
 Diversity codes (Ciszek & Young, 2010, p. 157)
 Shelf scanning (Pattee, 2020, pp. 263–264)

a. This list is based on a recent guide to library collection assessment (Kelly, 2021), a guide to the evaluation of library collections for young adults (Pattee, 2020), and three articles that describe multiple methods of conducting a diversity audit (Bradley-Ridout et al., 2023; Ciszek & Young, 2010; Phelps 2021). b. Bradley-Ridout et al. (2023) use the term diversity audit to refer only to audits that use the book inspection method.

Although several authors have described comparison with peer institutions as a distinct method of analysis (Ciszek & Young, 2010; Kelly, 2021; Phelps, 2021), it is not presented separately here. The comparative method – comparing an institution with its peers – is not conceptually distinct, since it simply refers to the use of a standard method for two or more institutions or collections. Every comparative analysis relies on another diversity audit method – usually the catalog search method (Gonzalez, 2023; Phelps, 2021, Proctor, 2020) or the checklist method (Kristick, 2020). Likewise, three of the sources listed in Table 3 mention use-based assessment, which considers the extent to which diverse books have been borrowed, renewed, downloaded, or used in interlibrary loan (ILL) transactions. Use-based assessment is not a distinct audit method, however, since it simply involves the compilation and analysis of use statistics for diverse books that have been identified through one of the three standard methods.

3.1 The Catalog Search Method

The catalog search method is straightforward. In its simplest form, it has just four steps:

  1. Identify subject headings, call numbers, and/or keyword phrases that correspond to the topics and groups of interest.

  2. Using those subject headings, call numbers, and keywords, construct a search string for each topic or group.

  3. Search the library’s book catalog using those search strings – one search for each relevant topic or group – with appropriate limits/filters for date, language, item type, and location.

  4. Count the number of titles held by the library in each area – the number retrieved by each search.

The catalog search method is often used to generate comparative statistics. That is, the same method can be used with several different libraries (several different catalogs) to see how each library compares with the others.

Instead of simply counting the number of search results, we can also download each set of results to a spreadsheet (i.e., download relevant fields from the set of retrieved records). This allows for several options that would not be feasible otherwise. First, we can clean the data by manually removing titles that should not count toward the library’s holdings of diverse books; we can remove earlier editions of later works, scan for books with titles that don’t seem related to any aspect of diversity, or identify and exclude books that include false or misleading information. (Ideally, the rules for any oversight procedures will be established before the searches are conducted). Second, we can evaluate the degree of overlap among the various sets of search results in order to explore intersectionality and to identify the diversity-related topics that are most often associated with particular groups; we can count the number of books that focus on black women or the number that cover educational discrimination among individuals with disabilities, for instance. Third, we can compile and evaluate descriptive data (author, publisher, price, etc.) and use statistics for the items retrieved by each search.

Although the catalog search method is the most straightforward of the three diversity audit methods, it relies heavily on the subject headings, call number ranges, and keywords used to construct the searches. Users of this method must have confidence in the available search mechanisms. Unfortunately, LC subject headings represent only those concepts that are well established in the literature, and they do not encompass all relevant aspects of diversity. For instance, although the field of disability studies was first recognized by scholars in the 1980s, no corresponding LC subject heading existed until 2001 (Jahnke, Tanaka, & Palazzolo, 2022). Scholars have long recognized the deficiencies of subject headings for the identification of interdisciplinary topics, and a similar problem limits the effectiveness of LC call numbers (Ciszek & Young, 2010; Clarke & Schoonmaker, 2020; Gonzalez, 2023; McKinzie, 1994; Mosby, 1994; Phelps, 2021). Because of these limitations, diversity audits based on catalog searching often require multiple rounds of search strategy refinement. The best approach may be to conduct relatively broad (inclusive) searches, then to manually remove any titles that are not actually related to diversity.

3.1.1 Diversity Audits That Have Used the Catalog Search Method

Over the past few years, at least seven studies have shown how the catalog search method can be used to evaluate the diversity of research library book collections (Table 4).

Table 4

Diversity audits of academic library book collections based on the catalog search method

Study Institutions Databases Search fields Groups
Harrington (2021) NLA Multiplea 1,260 keywords from Australian Census Multiple
Pedersen (2022) Univ. of Toronto Staff version of LMS All MARC 651 geographic name designators Countries, regions
Proctor (2020) 9 acad. libraries OCLC WorldCat 7 LC subject headings LGBTQ+
Ibacache (2021) 87 acad. libraries OCLC WorldCat 7 MARC language codesb 7 language groups
Gonzalez (2023) 17 acad. libraries OCLC GreenGlass 11 diversity-related call number ranges Multiple
Phelps (2021) 6 library consortia 6 Union catalogs 20 LC subject headingsc Black
Brillant et al. (2022) 16 hospitals 16 OPACs 71 MeSH & non-MeSH subject headingsd Multiple

a. NLA public catalog (OPAC), staff version of the NLA library management system (LMS), and Australian National Bibliographic Database (union catalog of Australian libraries). b. Materials in several indigenous languages of Latin America: Aymara, Guaraní, Mayan languages, Mapudungun, Nahuatl, Quechua, and Zapotec. c. 20 subject headings that correspond to 73 search terms derived from Adams (2013) and from interviews with 4 subject experts at the University of Washington Vancouver. d. 71 subject headings combined in 26 searches.

Harrington (2021) and Pedersen (2022) each evaluated just a single institution. Harrington (2021) assessed the degree of cultural and linguistic diversity within the book collection of the National Library of Australia (NLA) by counting the number of works retrieved by searches for 1,260 diversity-related terms derived from the Australian Census of Population and Housing. Specifically, he identified 320 terms/categories related to birthplace, 290 related to ancestry, 500 related to religion, and 150 related to languages other than English, then searched the NLA catalog, and counted the number of works associated with the various terms. The results were less useful than anticipated, however, for several reasons:

  1. The terms used in the Census do not correspond well to those used in the library catalog, and many important concepts from the Census have no corresponding subject headings.

  2. Keyword searches, and even some subject heading searches, are likely to return non-relevant results. “A search for ‘Scottish’ turned up books about terriers, and searches for Victoria turned up results relating not just to the Australian state, but also the historical period, and women with the name” (Harrington, 2021, p. 32).

  3. Subject headings represent topics but do not normally account for diverse perspectives. A book that presents the perspectives of a particular group without being about that group will probably not be retrieved through a subject heading search.

  4. Because most of the Census terms correspond to population groups, they may fail to retrieve works on diversity that do not have a clear focus on any one group.

  5. Both Census terms and subject headings “are reductive of culture and identity…. Simply counting the number of items in the catalogue related to a particular group – ‘Greek,’ for example – does not account for the complexity of identity within the group of Australians who might lay claim to Greek identity” (Harrington, 2021, p. 32).

A second single-institution study, at the University of Toronto (Pedersen, 2022), evaluated the number of items classified under various country and region designators in the MARC 651 field (subject added entry – geographic name). Pederson compiled information for nearly 3 million records, and her report provides detailed information on data processing methods and requirements. Her study accounts for diversity solely in terms of country and region, however.

The catalog search method seems especially appropriate for comparative analyses, and three studies have compared the holdings of individual universities. Proctor (2020) assessed the coverage of LGBTQ+ content in the book collections of 10 top research libraries. Specifically, she searched OCLC and counted the number of titles that had been assigned one or more of seven subject headings. Using much the same methods, Ibacache (2021) examined the extent to which materials in seven Latin American indigenous languages were held by each of 87 major university libraries in the United States. She searched OCLC using language as a filter, then counted the number of works held by each of the 87 libraries. Finally, Gonzalez (2023) used GreenGlass (OCLC, 2023a) to evaluate the book collections of 17 academic libraries. She identified 11 call number ranges associated with diversity-related topics or groups, then counted the number of print monographs held within those call number ranges. (GreenGlass, which requires a subscription, can be used to compare the holdings of multiple institutions. Although it draws primarily on OCLC WorldCat data, linked data from sources such as Choice and HathiTrust can also be incorporated into GreenGlass analyses. GreenGlass does not have predefined lists of diverse subject headings or call number ranges, so users must specify the search criteria that are important for their purposes).

Two published diversity audits have used the catalog search method to evaluate the combined collections of library consortia or groups. Phelps (2021) searched the union catalogs of the Orbis Cascade Alliance and five other library consortia using 20 LC subject headings related to black studies. (Each consortium’s holdings were treated as a single collection). She also attempted a similar analysis, not shown in Table 4, that relied on searches of OCLC WorldCat and the Global Online Bibliographic Information (GOBI) vendor catalog. However, that second analysis did not generate usable results due to problems with the underlying databases. Phelps discovered, for instance, that a high proportion of the WorldCat records are duplicates and that GOBI does not provide good coverage of the publishers that specialize in black studies. In another multi-institutional study, Brillant et al. (2022) compiled data for a set of 16 US hospital libraries, evaluating the number of items returned by each of 45 catalog searches related to age, race, ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ+ identity, disability status, and religion. The staff of each library were asked to undertake simple searches that incorporated both MeSH (National Library of Medicine) and non-MeSH subject headings.

3.2 The Checklist Method

The checklist method has five basic steps:

  1. Identify bibliographies or other lists of books that correspond to each topic or group of interest.

  2. Evaluate those lists to determine which of them best represent the works that ought to be included in the library collection.

  3. For each topic or group of interest, compile a checklist of books from the source(s) identified in step 2.

  4. Search the library’s book catalog by title (and by author, etc., if necessary) to determine which of the books on each checklist can be found within the collection. This can be done manually, title by title, or through automated means such as matching the ISBNs on the checklist to those in the library catalog.

  5. For each topic or group, count how many of the checklist titles that are held by the library – how many were retrieved by the title searches.

Like the catalog search method, the checklist method can be used to generate comparative data for multiple institutions. The lists of diverse books held by the library can also be used in the compilation of descriptive data and use statistics. In a notable example, Monroe-Gulick and Morris (2023) downloaded acquisition information for each of the checklist titles held by their library, then examined the mechanisms by which the books had been acquired.

The checklists used in diversity audits can be compiled from a range of sources:

  • lists of the books that have won, or been nominated for, diversity-related awards;

  • selective bibliographies or book lists compiled by subject experts, professional organizations, interest groups, or library book vendors (e.g., EBSCO, 2022);

  • review sources such as Booklist and Choice magazines;

  • searches for diverse books in vendor’s databases, databases of recommended books (e.g., Resources for College Libraries), or large-scale book databases such as;

  • searches of databases that are devoted entirely to diversity-related books, such as Diverse Bookfinder (Bates College, 2023);

  • in-house sources such as course syllabi and reading lists;

  • consultations with faculty at the home institution or elsewhere.

Just as the catalog search method requires the use of professional judgment in the development of search strategies, the checklist method requires judgment in the identification of diverse topics or groups, the selection of information sources (particular awards, bibliographies, databases, etc.), and the decision to include all or just some of the works listed in each source. The audit team must therefore have confidence in their information sources and in their ability to use those sources effectively.

Although diversity-related book awards and specialized bibliographies are the most commonly used sources for checklists, vendors’ databases such as GOBI may also be helpful. GOBI’s search capabilities provide for the generation of book lists based on subject headings, call numbers, and more than 100 interdisciplinary descriptors assigned by the GOBI subject specialists. About 30 of the descriptors represent diversity-related topics or groups, including both widely recognized areas of interest (black studies, women’s studies, etc.) and aspects of diversity that are less often considered, such as Appalachian studies. Alerts, notification plans, and approval plans can also be constructed using these same fields.

As discussed later (Section 5.1), a major disadvantage of vendors’ databases is that they do not include the full range of publishers. Many books related to diversity are published by smaller or specialized presses that vendors such as GOBI simply don’t cover (Bostic, 1995; Edinger, 2023; O’Neal et al., 2020; Phelps, 2021; Ryan, 2022; Stone, 2020). However, an advantage of these databases is that they include many good books that have not received national awards or critical acclaim. An overreliance on award winners and other “best books” may limit the range of topics and perspectives represented in the collection. It may also result in higher selection standards for diverse books than for non-diverse books.

Several tools allow for the comparison of library holdings against the checklists compiled by vendors and other organizations. For instance, the DEI Analysis Tool of collectionHQ can be used to identify holdings that fall into any of 12 categories representing various facets of race, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ identity, disability, health status, religion, and other attributes (Baker & Taylor, 2023; Bridgeall Libraries, 2023). Although intended mainly for public libraries, collectionHQ may be useful for academic libraries as well (Fuller-Gregory, 2022).

Librarians seeking to evaluate the diversity of their children’s and young adult (YA) collections have at least three products to choose from: Diverse BookFinder (Bates College, 2023), the Titlewave Diversity Analysis Tool (Follett School Solutions, 2023), and the TeachingBooks (2023) Collection Analysis Toolkit. Diverse BookFinder covers only picture books but is probably the most widely used tool of this type, perhaps because it can be used with either the checklist method or the book inspection method (See Section 3.3.3).

3.2.1 Diversity Audits That Have Used the Checklist Method

At least 14 studies have demonstrated how the checklist method can be used to conduct diversity audits of academic library book collections. The 14 studies incorporate 20 separate checklist analyses (Tables 5 and 6), which have drawn on a wide range of information sources including lists of award-winning books, bibliographies, book reviews, and bibliographic databases such as GOBI and Resources for College Libraries. Most of the final checklists have included all the books that appeared in any of the selected information sources. In at least five cases, however, the audit teams compiled their checklists by perusing the information sources and subjectively determining which particular books would be included (Delaney-Lehman, 1996; Lear & Pritt, 2021; Mosby, 1994; Pettingill & Morgan, 1996; Williams & Deyoe, 2014).

As Tables 5 and 6 reveal, the 20 checklist analyses differ considerably in the groups or aspects of diversity that were considered. Twelve analyses involve just a single group while seven each involve five or more groups. Perhaps most notably, the sizes of the final checklists have ranged from just 55 items to approximately 26,000, with an average of 2,428 items, a median of 465, and a standard deviation of 6,101. The appropriate number of items cannot be determined statistically, although we should keep in mind that the size of the checklist will vary with the number of groups included in the analysis. An audit that covers multiple aspects of diversity will require a larger checklist than one that evaluates the library’s holdings in just one area. Among the analyses shown in Tables 5 and 6, the average number of checklist items per group is 410, the median is 253, and the standard deviation is 542. Overall, a target of 250 or 300 items per group seems reasonable. More important than the size of the checklist, however, is whether it adequately represents the various kinds of diverse books that the library would like to make available.

As Phelps (2021) has shown, diversity audits that use the checklist method can be undertaken not just for individual libraries, but for entire library consortia (Table 5). Likewise, Williams and Deyoe (2014, 2015) examined data for more than 1,600 academic libraries in order to identify the institutional factors most closely associated with collection diversity (Table 6). In an especially innovative study, Lear and Pritt (2021) focused not on libraries but on e-book suppliers, evaluating whether 930 award-winning children’s and YA books were accessible through the platforms of six major vendors. The Overdrive, Follett, and Mackin platforms each provided access to at least 80% of the diverse books on the checklist, while the EBSCO, ProQuest, and Hoopla collections were far less comprehensive.

Appendix 1 lists the information sources used to compile the checklists for the studies shown in Tables 5 and 6.

Table 5

Diversity audits of academic library book collections based on the checklist method: adult fiction and nonfiction

Study Institution Booksa Information sources Groups
McKinzie (1994) Dickinson College n.a. Suggestions of 1 librarian, 6 faculty Black
Mosby (1994) Georgia State Univ. n.a. 25 bibliographies Black
Delaney-Lehman (1996) Lake Superior State Univ. 490 Bibliographies, book reviews 6 groups
Pettingill & Morgan (1996) Old Dominion Univ. 3,045 25 bibliographies 6 groups
Warner (2001) York Univ. 300 Clarke (1996) Black
Kristick (2020) Oregon State Univ. 2,408 23 awards, 3 bibliographies 8 groups
Proctor (2020) Penn State Univ. 651 Lambda Literary Awards LGBTQ+
Proctor (2020) Penn State Univ. 253 Stonewall Book Awards LGBTQ+
Phelps (2021) Orbis Cascade Alliance 550 3 bibliographies Black
Phelps (2021) Orbis Cascade Alliance 155 GOBIb Black
Phelps (2021)c Orbis Cascade Alliance 100 Rodriguez, Rasbury, Taylor, and Johnson (1999) Black
Gonzalez (2023) Univ. of West Florida 26,000 Resources for College Librariesd 11 groups
Gonzalez (2023) Univ. of West Florida 440 138 awards 9 groups
Monroe-Gulick & Morris (2023) Univ. of Kansas 6,671 57 awards 10 groups
Bradley-Ridout et al. (2023) Univ. of Toronto 55 Multiple sourcese Skin tonef

a. Number of books on the final checklist(s). b. Searches were conducted for one GOBI interdisciplinary topic, African American Studies, and the results were limited to essential and recommended books. c. This analysis is based on White’s Brief Tests of Collection Strength, a variant of the standard checklist method; see Lesniaski (2004) and White (1995, 2008). d. Searches were conducted for 11 RCL categories and 23 LC call number ranges. e. The authors searched Google Scholar, PubMed, Scopus, and other databases, consulted with faculty and other stakeholders, and checked the library research guides of selected universities. f. Dermatology resources.

Table 6

Diversity audits of academic library book collections based on the checklist method: children’s and YA books

Study Institution Booksa Information sources Group
Williams & Deyoe (2014)b 1,652 acad. libraries 964 5 awards, Multicultural Review Asian, Black, Hisp., Indig.
Williams & Deyoe (2014)b 1,652 acad. libraries 334 Schneider Award, Crosetto, Garcha, and Horan (2009) Disabled
Williams & Deyoe (2014)b 1,652 acad. libraries 116 Rainbow Book List LGBTQ+
Williams & Deyoe (2015)b 542 acad. libraries 237 Rainbow Book List, Naidoo (2012) LGBTQ+
Lear & Pritt (2021) 7 e-book platforms 930 7 awards, 3 book lists, LC catalogc Multiple

a. Number of books on the final checklist(s). b. Examines the correlates of diversity rather than the holdings of any particular library, although much the same methods can be used for a conventional diversity audit. c. Searches of the LC catalog were conducted using both subject headings and call number ranges.

3.3 The Book Inspection Method

With the checklist method, the audit team compiles a list of diverse books, then determines how many of them are held by the library. In contrast, the book inspection method starts with a list of the library’s holdings. The team must then subjectively determine whether each title qualifies as a diverse book – whether it falls into any of the diversity-related categories that have been established in advance (Pattee, 2020; Powe, 2021). In nearly all cases, this method involves the inspection of the books themselves, although it can also be conducted using substitutes such as Choice cards or publishers’ descriptions. Like the catalog search method, the book inspection method lends itself to the subsequent compilation of descriptive data and use statistics. It is not well suited to comparative analyses, however, since those would require the large-scale inspection of the individual titles held by each institution.

The book inspection method relies on professional judgment in at least two respects – first in the delineation and description of the various categories of diversity-related books, then in the assignment of each individual book to any relevant categories. The process does not require the use of subject headings, call numbers, search strategies, or checklists, but it does require knowledge, expertise, and a common understanding of standards and procedures on the part of the audit team members (Jahnke et al., 2022).

The diversity categories used in book inspection audits often correspond to the aspects of diversity shown in Table 2. However, the categories need to represent specific groups (e.g., black, Hispanic, indigenous) rather than general concepts such as race or ethnicity. The six guidelines presented in Section 2.1 may be helpful when delineating diversity categories. Each category should be clearly defined in terms that everyone on the audit team understands, and the team should establish (in advance) a systematic method for working out any ambiguities or concerns that come to light as the evaluation process continues.

3.3.1 Stereotypes and Negative Portrayals

One advantage of the book inspection method is that it allows for the exclusion of books that do not meet locally determined standards of diversity. For instance, several diversity audits have excluded books that present underrepresented groups in stereotypical ways. Bostic (1995) recognized the problem nearly three decades ago, and more recent authors such as Gonzalez (2023) and O’Neal et al. (2020) have warned about one-dimensional portrayals that reinforce only certain roles or characteristics. Books on Jewish history should focus on more than the Holocaust, for instance, just as books on black history should cover topics other than slavery. Powe (2021) makes the case especially well: “It’s important to make sure that all our books about a marginalized group don’t tell the same overall story.” She asks, “Do most of the books in your collection about African American or black characters take place in urban spaces? …. When you look at books in your collection featuring characters from the LGBT community, are they always fighting to come out?”

Likewise, some authors have asserted that negative portrayals of marginalized groups should be avoided (e.g., Fort, 2021). The diversity audit guide prepared by Alley and Castillo (2022) specifically instructs the audit team not to assign a diversity code – not to count a book as diverse – if the characteristics of a particular group are shown in a negative light. This positive portrayals only approach has not been widely adopted, however, and at least four authors have stressed the importance of accurate, authentic portrayals, whether positive or negative (Cavanaugh, 1995; Friebel, 2019; Matteson, 2017; Naidoo, 2014). An emphasis on accuracy has at least three advantages. First, it does not require the subjective assessment of whether a particular portrayal is favorable or not. Second, it conforms to the principles accepted by most social scientists and historians, who understand that social change must be grounded in an understanding of actual conditions and who recognize the value of books (including those with unfavorable or even factually incorrect views) as primary sources. Third, and perhaps most importantly, accurate portrayals are less likely to minimize the importance of real problems that ought to be addressed. For instance, research has shown that both childhood and old age are associated with negative circumstances – a limited sense of agency, for instance – and that many of these circumstances are grounded in specific aspects of the social and economic environments (Kumpulainen, Lipponen, Hilppö, & Mikkola, 2014; Moore, 2016; Nunes, Mota, Ferreira, Schoon, & Matos, 2022). Collection development strategies that favor positive portrayals of childhood and old age may inhibit public awareness of these issues and, in turn, make it harder to address the problems experienced by children and older adults.

3.3.2 Populations and Sampling

Because the book inspection method requires considerable effort, it cannot normally be undertaken for every book in an academic library collection. There are at least four ways to make the scope of the project more manageable, however. One strategy is to limit the analysis to only certain subjects within the collection – certain call number ranges, for instance. This is especially appropriate when the audit focuses on just one or two underrepresented groups. A second strategy is to limit the analysis to the books published or acquired over just a few years, or to evaluate incoming books as they are added to the collection. Although Ciszek and Young (2010) suggest assigning diversity codes when each new book is ordered, a more reliable procedure is to evaluate each book as it is received. Either way, the process should account for approval plan titles, gifts, and e-book packages as well as firm orders. A third strategy is to define the scope of the audit not by subject or date, but by some factor of local importance. For instance, Mortensen’s (2019) evaluation of a public library collection focused on just 283 high-profile books and movies: those used in book discussion groups, public film screenings, and children’s story times. O’Neal et al. (2020) has adopted a similar approach.

A fourth strategy, which can be used in combination with the other three, is to identify and evaluate a random sample of books. This strategy has one major advantage: a relatively small sample can be used to represent a much larger population. Although a discussion of sampling methods is beyond the scope of this review, several good guides are readily available. (See, for example, the works cited in Table 1 of Walters, 2021). Appendix 2 highlights four points that are especially important to keep in mind when estimating sample size, drawing a sample, and conducting tests of statistical significance.

3.3.3 Diversity Audits That Have Used the Book Inspection Method

At least six analyses have used the book inspection method to evaluate academic libraries’ general collections. (See the first six rows of Table 7). The most comprehensive investigation was undertaken by Alley and Castillo (2022) at Emory & Henry College in Virginia. Their audit team evaluated each recently acquired title to determine whether it should be assigned one or more of the 8 diversity codes and 86 subcodes representing various facets of age, race, ethnicity, culture, sex, gender, LGBTQ+ identity, socioeconomic status, and disability status. For instance, their cultural diversity category has 12 subcodes for language, 12 for religion, 7 for refugee/immigrant status, 1 for Appalachian identity, and 1 for other aspects of culture. (Their helpful 18-page glossary specifies exactly what is meant by each category). Each book was evaluated with regard to its content (What is the book about?), purpose (What is the author trying to accomplish?), author (Who is the author?), and visual representations (What images exist? Do they represent a particular group? In what ways?).

Table 7

Diversity audits of academic library book collections based on the book inspection methoda

Study Institution Booksb Scope of analysis C or Ac Codesd
Alley & Castillo (2022) Emory & Henry College n.a. 3 years’ acquisitions Both 86
Gonzalez (2023) Univ. of West Florida 2,444 1 year’s acquisitions Content 13
Gonzalez (2023) Univ. of West Florida 676 1 year’s ILL requests Content 13
Gibney et al. (2021); Wells et al. (2023) Univ. of the Pacific 4,344 Entire collection (sample) Authors 4
Emerson & Lehman (2022) Augustana College 6,465 See notee Authors 10
Stone (2020) Univ. of California at Irvine 831 Playscriptsf Authors 7
Fort (2021) Univ. of South Carolina 3,181 Children’s picture booksg Content 16
Kester (2022) University of Florida n.a. Children’s picture booksg Content 16
Salem (2022) San Diego State University 2,218 Children’s picture booksg Content 16

a. Each of these analyses evaluated multiple aspects of diversity. The least comprehensive study (Stone, 2020) considered BIPOC status, gender, and LGBTQ+ identity. b. Number of books evaluated. c. What is evaluated? Content, authorship, or both? d. Number of codes or subcodes (i.e., categories) assignable to books that represent various aspects of diversity, not accounting for intersectionality. e. Single-authored print books published since 1999, with some exceptions (e.g., reference books). The authors do not mention sampling, but the number of books suggests that a sample was taken or that a subset of the collection was evaluated. f. Playscripts published by nine major publishers and/or acquired by the University in 2010–2011 and 2018–2019. g. Each of these studies used a variant of the book inspection method to evaluate academic libraries’ holdings of children’s picture books, based on data for the relevant portion of the collection (without sampling). See Section 3.3.3 for details.

Gonzalez (2023) conducted two separate book inspection audits when evaluating the library collection of the University of West Florida. The first analysis, based on recent acquisitions, examined the titles, tables of contents, summaries, and subject headings of the 2,444 books acquired in 2020–2021, identifying those that were “something other than white, male, nondisabled, and heteronormative.” Thirteen diversity categories were defined and assigned subjectively by the audit team on the basis of the books’ main topics, locations, and characters. Although the exercise was successful, Gonzalez noted that the members of her team did not always agree about the diversity categories/codes or about the assignment of those codes to particular titles. Her second analysis, based on the 676 books requested through ILL by West Florida patrons in 2020–2021, was not an evaluation of the University’s own holdings, but an attempt to identify areas where the collection needed to be strengthened. Using the same 13 categories and the same general methods, Gonzalez achieved useful results but also noted a number of difficulties. For instance, some of the books requested through ILL were titles held by the library but checked out to other patrons, and the results of the analysis were disproportionately influenced by the activity of just a few patrons with very strong interests and a proclivity for placing ILL requests. We should also consider the possibility that the titles requested through ILL are not what the library ought to acquire, but books so specific in topic or approach that ILL is an adequate means of access (Walters, 2006).

Researchers at the University of the Pacific used the book inspection method to evaluate not the content of each book, but the authors’ characteristics – race, ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ+ identity, and disability status (Gibney et al., 2021; Wells et al., 2023). Their analysis focused on a specific question – How do the demographic characteristics of the authors represented in the library’s book collection compare to those of the University’s student population? – and their report describes how a book inspection audit can be an educationally meaningful experience for student workers. A similar study by Emerson and Lehman (2022) considered the authors of nearly 6,500 books in the Augustana College library. Their narrative includes a good discussion of the difficulties associated with the classification of gender and sexuality.

In another investigation of authors’ characteristics, Stone (2020) used a variant of the book inspection method to evaluate the playscripts published in 2010–2011 and 2018–2019 by nine major publishers, along with the scripts acquired in those same two years by the University of California (UC) at Irvine. From 2010–2011 to 2018–2019, the number of plays written by women increased dramatically, as did the number written by people of color. In both years, the playscripts acquired by UC Irvine had relatively more female and non-white authors than those available through GOBI. The number of plays written by verifiably LGBTQ+ playwrights increased by only a modest extent over the 8-year period, however, and the playscripts acquired by UC Irvine had a relatively low percentage of LGBTQ+ authors.

The last three studies shown in Table 7 each used a variant of the book inspection method to evaluate academic libraries’ holdings of diverse picture books for children (Fort, 2021; Kester, 2022; Salem, 2022). In each case, the library’s holding information was submitted to the Collection Analysis Tool of Diverse BookFinder (Bates College, 2023), which generated a report showing how many of the titles held by the library were included in each of several diversity categories (Fort, 2021). (These three investigations have been counted as book inspection studies because they evaluate the books held by each library rather than relying on search terms/call numbers or checklists. Each Diverse BookFinder database record can be regarded as a surrogate for the book itself, although the database does not allow for the locally tailored assessments of diversity that are normally associated with the book inspection method).

Although the book inspection method is not often used by academic libraries, it appears to be favored by public libraries seeking to evaluate their fiction collections. See, for example, Bird and McPherson-Joseph (2020), Jensen (2018), Lawton and Frank (2022), Mortensen (2019), and O’Neal et al. (2020).

4 Completing the Diversity Audit

4.1 Setting Collection Diversity Targets

As explained in Section 1.1, diversity audits can help us determine the extent to which change is required, identify specific areas for improvement, set goals, and measure progress toward our goals. Ideally, efforts to diversify our collections would be pursued with specific targets in mind (e.g., “X% of the books in the HM–HX range should discuss topics or perspectives related to Hispanics in North America”). However, no recent study presents a strong, coherent basis for the establishment of specific benchmarks or targets. Instead, most authors seem to implicitly adopt one or more of three goals:

  1. Improve the representation of diverse groups over time.

  2. Ensure that the book collection covers underrepresented or marginalized groups in accordance with their representation within the student population or the broader community. (See Section 6.1).

  3. Ensure that the library’s coverage of diverse groups is at least as good as that of its peer institutions. Products such as GreenGlass (OCLC, 2023a) and WorldShare Collection Evaluation (OCLC, 2023b), which compare the holdings of multiple libraries, may be useful for this purpose.

The second of these goals provides the clearest basis for setting targets and for knowing when the goal has been met (e.g., when the percentage of books representing group A matches the percentage of group-A individuals within the community). Even then, however, the implications of the diversity audit results are not always straightforward. For instance, Salem (2022) found that blacks were substantially overrepresented (by this measure) within the library’s picture book collection at San Diego State University. One-third of the characters in the picture books were black, compared to just 8% of the student population and 6% of the San Diego County public school population. (In contrast, Hispanic characters were seriously underrepresented). The full implications of the discrepancy in representation are not clear – obviously, the library will not stop collecting picture books with black characters – but this example does show the importance of setting targets and, more broadly, of understanding the goals of the library’s DEI efforts with regard to collection development.

4.2 Additional Analyses

Because the goal of collection-building efforts is usually to show improvement over time, the diversity audit cannot be a one-time exercise. Fort (2021) recommends an annual or biennial audit, while other authors recommend an audit of the current collection followed by ongoing audits of newly acquired books as they are ordered or received (Bird & McPherson-Joseph, 2020; Jahnke et al., 2022; Jensen, 2018).

Investigations into the use of diverse books may also be helpful. These studies can potentially account for print circulation, e-book downloads, the use of books in ILL transactions, or even citation impact. The simplest approach is to gather use data when completing the main part of the diversity audit – to download circulation statistics when compiling lists of search results (catalog search method), determining which checklist titles are held by the library (checklist method), or creating a shelflist of library holdings (book inspection method). So far, only two diversity audit studies have incorporated data on book use. Mosby’s (1994) checklist study includes a brief analyses of circulation data for 350 books related to African American studies. Her analysis is limited in scope, however, as it was intended mainly to identify print volumes in need of replacement due to heavy use. More recently, Gonzalez (2023) supplemented her catalog search study with information on the percentage of books in each of 11 diversity-related call number ranges that had circulated at least once. However, neither study indicates whether diverse books are checked out more or less frequently than other books in the same subject areas.

Qualitative analyses can be useful as complements to conventional diversity audits. Ciszek and Young (2010) discuss the use of interviews and focus groups to elicit patrons’ opinions regarding the representation of underrepresented and marginalized groups. Kester (2022) found faculty input especially helpful in her evaluation of the children’s and YA collections at the University of Florida; she identified the courses that made use of diverse books, examined the course syllabi, and interviewed the faculty. One advantage of qualitative methods is that they can be readily tailored to specific groups of patrons such as students and faculty from countries other than the United States. One disadvantage, however, is that nearly all qualitative methods focus on individuals’ perceptions, which are often biased in both systematic and non-systematic ways (Applegate, 1993; Bergen & Labonté, 2020; Cyr, 2016; Walters, 2003).

5 Using the Results

The diversity audit is normally not just an investigative exercise, but part of a broader effort to improve the representation of marginalized and underrepresented groups within the library collection. As Kelly (2021, p. 10) has pointed out, “Assessment is meant to bolster data-informed decision-making, not decision-driven data-making.” Even libraries with limited resources can take action to improve their collections, and concerted efforts can produce substantial change in just a year or two (Bird & McPherson-Joseph, 2020; Delaney-Lehman, 1996; Kester, 2022).

5.1 Book Vendors and Selection Tools

As mentioned in Section 3.2, most academic book vendors’ databases allow for the identification of diverse books based on their subject headings, call numbers, and vendor-supplied descriptors. For instance, the GOBI bibliographers assign nearly 30 descriptors or tags that correspond to various aspects of diversity. Selectors can therefore identify and evaluate diverse books as part of their routine activities – as a task undertaken within GOBI on a monthly basis, for instance.

Moreover, the same identification mechanisms used to search vendors’ databases can be incorporated into notification or approval plans. Many plans allow libraries to specify broader coverage in diversity-related areas than elsewhere. For instance, an approval plan might be limited to basic essential and research essential books, overall, but provide for the delivery of basic recommended and research recommended books in cases where one or more diversity-related descriptors have been assigned. Notification and approval plans may also include award-winning books that do not otherwise meet the library’s selection criteria. GOBI tracks nearly 1,000 book awards, and many of them are related to diversity (EBSCO, 2021). Librarians may also want to ensure that their approval plans include all the relevant publishers of diverse books, to the extent that their vendors cover them.

Unfortunately, a reliance on mainstream publishers, vendors, and selection tools is unlikely to provide comprehensive coverage of diversity-related books. The problem begins with the publishers themselves. As Jiménez and Beckert (2020) have pointed out, US publishing industry personnel are disproportionately white. Just 5% are black, and just 6% are Hispanic. It is not clear whether the demographic composition of the industry has a strong impact on the books that are published, however. If that were the case, we might expect to see more books that present female and queer perspectives, since 74% of publishing industry personnel are female and nearly 20% identify as LGBTQ+. Morales et al. (2014, p. 446) offer a more convincing explanation for the underrepresentation of authors from marginalized groups – that systemic economic and cultural biases, which influence mainstream publishers but are not specific to the publishing industry, “affect access to the resources necessary for a scholar to publish her work and to have that work marketed and recognized as authoritative.” Although these biases appear to be widespread, independent publishers that focus on diversity are working to change the situation. In fact, one of the most effective ways to build a diverse collection is to expand the range of publishers from which books are acquired (Bostic, 1995; Edinger, 2023; Morales et al., 2014; O’Neal et al., 2020; Phelps, 2021; Ryan, 2022).

The underrepresentation of marginalized groups can be seen not just in the titles published by mainstream publishers, but in the book reviews that selectors often rely on. For instance, the 1988 edition of Books for College Libraries (American Library Association, 1988) included just 41% of the 395 titles mentioned in four women’s studies bibliographies (Delaney-Lehman, 1994). More recent evidence shows that whites and men are overrepresented among book reviewers, and that books by white authors are especially likely to be reviewed (Gay, 2012; Franklin, 2011; Morales et al., 2014). Subjective reports support these same conclusions (Bird & McPherson-Joseph, 2020; Matteson, 2017).

Perhaps the biggest problem is that many diverse books are simply not listed in the databases of the largest academic book vendors. This limits selectors’ awareness of these titles and also makes it difficult to acquire them through standard acquisition procedures. Several authors have noted that vendors such as GOBI provide poor coverage of smaller or specialized presses (Bostic, 1995; Edinger, 2023; O’Neal et al., 2020; Ryan, 2022; Stone, 2020), and three studies make the case very clearly. Kristick (2020) found that only 9 of 22 major diversity-related book awards could be incorporated into GOBI approval plans. Likewise, Phelps (2021) discovered that GOBI offered books from only 4 of the 420 black studies publishers she identified, and that the database included relatively few of the books listed under 20 diversity-related subject headings in WorldCat. Finally, Monroe-Gulick and Morris (2023) examined the methods by which diverse books were acquired, or could have been acquired, at the University of Kansas. They found that a high proportion of the award-winning books that the library failed to acquire were from publishers not covered by GOBI’s approval and notification plans.

5.2 New Selection Strategies

Most of the methods used to improve the library collection in response to a diversity audit can be grouped into two categories: new selection strategies and new initiatives. With regard to selection strategies, we can:

  • search vendors’ databases for diverse titles on a regular basis, as part of our routine selection activities;

  • reconfigure our notification and approval plans to include more diversity-related titles, perhaps by arranging for special coverage of award-winning books and those with diversity-related descriptors;

  • identify publishers and imprints that focus on diverse books (e.g., Edinger, 2023);

  • increase the range of publishers from which we receive catalogs, e-mail announcements, and other selection tools;

  • seek out book reviews and finding aids that focus on diverse topics and perspectives (e.g., EmbraceRace, 2023; We Need Diverse Books, 2023);

  • develop mechanisms that provide for the straightforward acquisition of books from alternative publishers and vendors;

  • participate in local and regional events that focus on books and media for particular underrepresented groups.

Many of the strategies that help increase selectors’ awareness of diverse books can also lead to better relationships with underrepresented communities. Bird and McPherson-Joseph (2020) have emphasized the importance of seeking out minority-owned or minority-serving bookstores, publishers, conferences, book lists, and newsletters.

Although these activities can be undertaken quietly, there are advantages to publicly asserting the library’s commitment to diverse collections. Serebnick and Quinn (1995) present compelling evidence that among public libraries, the existence of a formal collection policy is itself associated with greater diversity of opinion on key issues such as abortion, capital punishment, disarmament, and euthanasia. A similar relationship may hold with regard to underrepresented and marginalized groups. Likewise, libraries can demonstrate their support for greater diversity by documenting the selection strategies they have adopted in pursuit of that goal. Although most academic libraries’ policy documents include no mention of collection diversity or representativeness (Anaya & Maxey-Harris, 2017; Jamison, 2021; Maxey-Harris & Anaya, 2010; Mestre, 2011; Young, 2006), there are some notable exceptions. Of the collection diversity statements currently available online, the most comprehensive are those of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2017), the University of Maryland (2019), and the University of San Francisco (2021).

5.3 New Initiatives

One-time retrospective purchasing projects, which fill gaps in the collection by supplying the most important titles published in previous years, are among the initiatives most often pursued in response to diversity audits. Even modest investments can produce significant improvements. Lake Superior State University initially held only 11% of the works on their checklist of diverse titles, but a small investment – just $1,000 – was enough to increase that proportion to 30% (Delaney-Lehman, 1996). At the University of Florida, intensive efforts to upgrade the children’s picture book collection were enough to increase the number of diverse titles from 290 to 554 over a 6-month period (Kester, 2022). While out-of-print titles have not always been easy to find (Pettingill & Morgan, 1996), web sites such as Alibris and Abebooks have done much to alleviate the problem. In fact, these books are often inexpensive, at least before transaction and processing costs are considered.

Another method of diversifying the collection is to acquire print standing orders or e-book packages designed specifically to provide greater representation of diverse groups. Several vendors and publishers offer products of this type, which can focus on diversity in general or on particular themes such as gender studies and immigrant studies (e.g., Booksource, 2023; EBSCO, 2023a,b; Gale, 2023; Junior Library Guild, 2023; ProQuest, 2023). When considering these collections, it is important to keep in mind that they may not be representative of the broader literature in terms of topics, perspectives, or authorship, and that vendors’ conceptions of diversity may not be fully aligned with those of particular libraries. In particular, some vendors’ diversity collections seem to include many titles that are not about particular groups or perspectives, but about diversity itself or the push for diversity. They may be unlikely to cover black men’s perspectives on the justice system, for instance, but more likely to focus on the ways in which companies can meet their legal obligations with regard to DEI. E-book packages pose a number of additional, format-related, challenges (Walters, 2013, 2014), including one that is specific to diversity collections: some key titles are available only in print, since the publishers that focus on diversity are sometimes smaller, based outside the United States, or less fully integrated into the scholarly communication system (Jahnke et al., 2022). Ideally, we would evaluate each standing order or e-book collection by applying the same criteria used for a diversity audit, such as the percentage of titles that fall within relevant call number ranges, the percentage that can be found on diversity checklists, or the percentage that can be classified as diverse books based on a review of their content.

Some libraries have been successful in obtaining special funding for diverse books, and donors or external agencies may be eager to fund special collections that center on particular groups or particular aspects of diversity. Even without new revenue, the establishment of special funds – i.e., the diversion of money from other library budgets – can help support diversity efforts and allow for the tracking of diversity-related acquisitions and expenditures (McKinzie, 1994; Pettingill & Morgan, 1996). Moreover, new special collections established through the regular library budget may attract external funding once they have gained public attention (Proctor, 2020).

Collection-related DEI initiatives should involve faculty outside the library, especially at institutions where those faculty have book selection responsibilities. At Dickinson College, the librarians worked with professors in a special summer program to increase the library’s holdings of black studies titles (McKinzie, 1994). The participants independently compiled checklists of diverse books, then conducted a diversity audit and attempted to acquire the checklisted books not already held by the library. McKinzie’s description of the project suggests that its success can be attributed to several factors:

  • recognition that the library’s usual selection practices, directly linked to academic departments and programs, were not enough to build a strong, multidisciplinary black studies collection;

  • a well-defined summer project, separate from the regular activities of the librarians and faculty, with stipends for participating faculty;

  • the involvement of individuals from a wide range of disciplines, and the independent compilation of checklists that reflected the unique perspectives of each field;

  • the designation of a special fund for project-related acquisitions even though the library received no additional funding.

Another collaborative project, at the University of Florida, began with the identification of the courses for which diverse children’s books were most likely to be needed. The librarians examined course syllabi, interviewed instructors, and recruited particular faculty to take the lead in the selection of new titles (Kester, 2022).

6 Fundamental Questions

This report has highlighted a number of questions, including two that seem especially important:

  1. Should diverse books be limited to those that present marginalized groups in a favorable light, or are accuracy and authenticity of paramount importance? (Section 3.3.1)

  2. How can we set appropriate goals for diversity-related collection development projects? How do we know when these goals have been met? (Section 4.1)

At least three other questions, discussed in this section, are central to the assessment of diversity in academic library collections.

  1. Should our book collections represent our communities or help expand their horizons? (Section 6.1)

  2. Should our collection-building efforts focus on broad societal goals or on specific educational objectives? (Section 6.2)

  3. Is the ultimate aim to provide adequate representation (enough books in each relevant category) or to achieve true diversity (a wide variety of topics, perspectives, and authors represented within the collection)? (Section 6.3)

These questions have not been addressed directly in the scholarly literature or in the diversity policies of the major professional organizations (American Library Association, 2017, 2019a,b; American Library Association, Association of College & Research Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, & Public Library Association, 2022; Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, 2018; Pestell et al., 2009).

6.1 Representing Our Communities or Expanding their Horizons?

One fundamental question is whether we should build collections that match the characteristics of our communities (i.e., help patrons “see themselves” in the collection) or intentionally seek out topics and perspectives that are less familiar to patrons (i.e., help students expand their horizons through exposure to ideas they might not have encountered outside the academic environment). The first approach has been adopted, explicitly or implicitly, in a wide range of diversity audit studies. (See, for example, Fort, 2021; Gibney et al., 2021; Lawton & Frank, 2022; Matteson, 2017; Morales et al., 2014; Powe, 2021; Salem, 2022; Wells et al., 2023; Williams, 2022). Advocates of this approach stress that diverse collections help students understand that their own experiences, attitudes, and perspectives are valid, and that the library is there for them. Students who see themselves in the collection may be more comfortable using the library and more likely to take advantage of the full range of collections and services available to them.

There are two problems with this approach, however. First, the goal of helping students understand that their own perspectives are valid is based on the assumption that individual students’ perspectives will match those of the groups to which they belong. The see themselves approach validates not individuals’ backgrounds or views, but the norms of particular subpopulations that have been recognized by the broader community, such as Asian Americans or older adults. It reinforces the idea that individuals need not conform to the norms of the majority, but it also suggests that individuals should conform to the norms of some recognized group. Young black men who see themselves in the music of Céline Dion may not be well served by this approach. That is, an emphasis on particular groups as surrogates for individuals may itself marginalize divergent views and reduce students’ acceptance of the more complex or subtle forms of intersectionality (“What if I don’t like hip hop? Is it o.k. to feel that way?”)

A second problem is that strict adherence to representation-based standards can actually work against the goals of many DEI initiatives. For example, a librarian quoted by Matteson (2017, p. 26) argues that “If I have 80% students of color, then my library should have 80% characters of color.” This standard is unreasonable in at least two respects. First, it will tend to bring in too few books whenever a particular group is poorly represented within the local population. A particular university may have no Native American students at all, but a collection without any books on indigenous groups cannot possibly be considered satisfactory. Second, the universe of published books may include relatively few books with characters representing a particular group (e.g., Pacific Islanders). In that case, the only way to match the proportion of Pacific Islander students at the University of Hawai’i is to either (a) add every available book with Pacific Islander characters, including low-quality titles that would never be considered otherwise or (b) limit the overall size of the collection (i.e., the number of books without Pacific Islander characters) so that the percentage criterion can be met.

The alternative approach to building diverse collections – helping students expand their horizons through exposure to ideas they might not have encountered otherwise – has been explicitly recognized by only a few authors (Cavanaugh, 1995; Naidoo, 2014). Nonetheless, it seems to support one of the overall aims of higher education: to build respect for opinions, outlooks, ways of reasoning, sources of evidence, and ways of life other than one’s own. Within this framework, it is especially important to collect books that cover those aspects of diversity (or those marginalized groups) that are not well represented within the student population. After all, students unfamiliar with Cuban immigrants may benefit more from reading about their experiences than students who interact with Cuban immigrants every day. Likewise, students in Pennsylvania or Ohio will probably be aware of Amish communities, have at least some knowledge of them, and know where to find more information about them, while students in Arizona may be completely unfamiliar with the Amish or their unique way of life. Arguably, the Arizona students have more to gain from exposure to books about Amish culture.

Conceptually, these two approaches – representing the community and expanding students’ horizons – are not complementary at all, since they lead to completely different conclusions about libraries’ collection development priorities. In practice, however, it is possible to adopt one approach while tempering it with elements of the other. We might choose representation-based standards, for instance, but add a caveat that books about small or unusual groups will be eligible for inclusion regardless of the groups’ representation within the student population. Likewise, we might focus on broadening students’ exposure to unfamiliar ideas while still acknowledging the need to provide a specified level of coverage of particular groups within the university community.

6.2 Societal or Educational Goals?

Another key question is whether our collection-building efforts should focus on broad societal goals or on specific educational objectives. This question addresses the potential conflict between the two commitments mentioned in Section 1: facilitating social change and promoting educational success.

Lawrence (2021) has argued that libraries have an obligation to work toward positive social change, and that the educational mission of the library can be regarded as one part of a broader effort to promote social justice. In fact, he defines diverse works of fiction based not just on their content or their authorship, but on the extent to which they aid in that effort: “Diverse books are those systematically devalorized works we must make an ameliorative effort to promote in order to advance informational justice for oppressed persons in particular” (p. 189).

In contrast, the educational approach is based on the acknowledgment that libraries, like their parent organizations, are almost always devoted to the education of particular individuals in particular ways. That is, they are democratically or privately supported to meet specific educational objectives – and held accountable for doing so. Universities succeed in this more focused role by broadening the perspectives, enhancing the capabilities, and improving the career and life prospects of their students. The institutional commitment to DEI can therefore be expressed in terms of educational outcomes such as the academic achievement of students from underrepresented and marginalized groups.

Societal and educational goals are often aligned, and the strength of a university’s commitment to social change does not always enter into the collection development decisions of librarians and faculty. Nonetheless, there may be situations in which the two perspectives are not fully compatible. For instance, consider a scenario in which the Black Student Union of a small, minority-serving college requests a substantial number of self-help books that link personal development to “the creation of the social and political conditions under which that development can take place” (McKeen, 2002, p. 409). Assume that the books are engaging and perhaps even inspirational but that they do not meet the library’s usual selection criteria. That is, they do not directly support the students’ educational achievement or the faculty’s research. A library with an overriding commitment to social justice might acquire the books anyway, to promote awareness, foster social change, demonstrate support for the black community, and provide a platform for authors who may be unfairly excluded from the mainstream media (Morales et al., 2014). In contrast, a library that prioritizes educational outcomes might evaluate the requested titles based solely on the extent to which they influence students’ academic success – i.e., the extent to which they are likely to promote engagement with the library and encourage students to take advantage of other library resources that will influence their course performance, graduation rates, and career prospects.

In a well-funded library, the distinction between these two approaches may not be important. When resources are limited, however, we may need to choose between the self-help book requested by the Black Student Union and the text that will help students learn statistical concepts through intuitive rather than formal methods. We therefore need to evaluate the relative importance of societal and educational goals within the context of our universities’ missions. Although nearly all universities have expressed a strong commitment to DEI, the form of that commitment can vary substantially based on each university’s size, student characteristics, teaching or research emphasis, academic or career focus, institutional history, and external relationships.

6.3 Representation or Diversity?

Diverse books is a misleading phrase for at least two reasons. First, we are almost always interested in the extent to which diverse topics, perspectives, opinions, and groups are represented in the collection as a whole – not within individual titles. In most cases, the objective is not to collect individual works that present multiple perspectives, such as CQ Researcher or Opposing Viewpoints, but to build a collection that reflects diverse perspectives through its components (Jahnke et al., 2022). Second, even when we accept that our real interest lies in collections rather than individual titles, a fundamental question remains: Are we concerned primarily with representation or with diversity?

The literature on diversity in library collections deals almost exclusively with representation (Lawrence, 2020, 2021; O’Neal et al., 2020). In this context, diverse books are those that present the voices, perspectives, or experiences of underrepresented or marginalized groups. This emphasis on representation within the library collection may be an outgrowth of the longstanding concern for representation within libraries more generally – among library staff, for instance. As Winston (2014, p. 85) has noted, libraries’ efforts to support diversity have been measured

largely on the basis of representation of members of various segments of the population as a percentage of those in the organization or profession…. To a large extent, the diversity goals in the profession have been related primarily to underrepresentation, and less so to diversifying collections and enhancing services.

For many purposes, this emphasis on representation is appropriate. At the same time, we should recognize that diversity can also be considered in another way, as the extent to which widely varying viewpoints or groups are included. The key concept here is variation, in a quasi-statistical sense. For instance, a collection that provides outstanding coverage of black and Hispanic groups, but only those particular groups, might score high in terms of representativeness (since diverse groups account for most of the collection) but low in terms of variation (since only two groups are represented). In contrast, a collection with high variation would include books associated with a wide range of groups, perhaps with a specified minimum number of books in each category. The goal is not just to collect a relatively high number of books that represent diverse groups, but to maximize the degree of variation within the collection.

This alternative conceptualization of diversity has not yet been applied to a diversity audit. However, a similar approach was adopted by Garland (1981, 1982), who pointed out that for any categorical variable, such as academic subfield, the diversity of a collection can be expressed in terms of (a) the number of categories represented in the collection and (b) the extent to which each category is represented. Garland’s diversity index has a high value when the categories with the fewest items have relatively many items – when the books in the collection are distributed evenly among the various categories. In contrast, it has a low value when the categories with the fewest items have relatively few items. Garland introduced her diversity measure in the context of topic or subject, but the same principle can be extended to the racial/ethnic categories used to classify authors, fictional characters, or cultural themes, or to any other aspect of diversity that can be expressed as a set of categories. The advantage of this approach is that efforts to maximize the representation of any particular category (or group) are valued to the extent that they increase the representation of the least-represented groups. Once a group is well represented, additional increases will have a less positive impact, or even a negative impact, on the diversity score. Garland’s diversity index does have two important limitations, however. First, the various categories must be mutually exclusive. This poses problems if we want to account for intersectionality – for the interaction effects associated with particular combinations of characteristics. Second, Garland’s diversity index rewards equal representation rather than some other level of representation that might be more appropriate. Nonetheless, the underlying principle remains valid, and it is possible to develop measures that account for preferred outcomes other than equal representation.

A related measure, Simpson’s index of diversity (Simpson, 1949), has been used to evaluate diversity of opinion within book collections that cover topics such as abortion, capital punishment, disarmament, and euthanasia (Serebnick & Quinn, 1995). Methods based on indicators such as these hold promise for a more nuanced approach to the assessment of diversity – one that accounts for both representation and variation.

7 Conclusion

Thirty-six diversity audits of academic library book collections have been described in the literature (Tables 47), and each has used one of the three methods identified here. The key characteristics of each method are presented in Table 8.

Table 8

Key characteristics of the three diversity audit methods

Characteristic Catalog search method Checklist method Book inspection method
Number of analyses described in the literature 7 20 9
Can be implemented with relatively little time and effort Yes Possibly No
Especially appropriate for large collections Yes Possibly No
Especially appropriate for comparative analyses Yes Yes No
Relies on externally defined subject headings, call numbers, etc. Yes No No
Relies on external information sources that may be difficult to find No Yes No
Focuses on the “best” books (e.g., award winners) No Yes No
Allows for detailed local definitions of diversity, diverse groups, etc. No Noa Yes
Requires full-text access to the works being evaluated No No Yesb

a. Unless local experts can create checklists that are especially responsive to the institution’s needs. b. Comprehensive and reliable surrogates (e.g., book reviews and Diverse BookFinder records) can be used, but they are unlikely to be available for every title within the collection.

The catalog search method, which generally requires less effort than the others, may be especially appropriate for large collections and comparative analyses. Unfortunately, it relies heavily on database search fields (e.g., LC subject headings and call numbers), and the terms/codes used in those fields are often poorly suited to the identification of diverse groups and diversity-related concepts.

The checklist method, which accounts for more than half of the diversity audits described in the literature, is grounded in a long-established practice: checking the titles that appear in reliable sources (such as scholarly bibliographies and lists of award winners) to see whether they are held by the library. This method requires confidence in those checklists, along with an acceptance of the definitions and frameworks adopted by their authors. In many fields, scholarly bibliographies are compiled less frequently now than in the past, and librarians may need to spend considerable time identifying, obtaining, and evaluating potential information sources. Moreover, many checklists highlight only the “best” books. The checklist method therefore disregards the presence or absence of diverse books that have not risen to prominence within the communities that create bibliographies, grant awards, and pass judgment on published works.

In contrast, the book inspection method accounts for the characteristics of every book in the collection (or the sample). It is probably the most reliable of the three methods, since the evaluators normally have access to the full text of each work. Although the book inspection method may require a substantial investment of staff time, it is the only method that allows for the development of diversity-related categories that are specific to each institution. In particular, it permits fine-grained distinctions among groups and can account for aspects of diversity that are important locally but not widely recognized elsewhere.

All three methods can be improved, and this review suggests some avenues for further development. In particular, the questions discussed in Section 6 have implications for both research and practice. Further investigations might also explore the impact of collection diversity on book circulation and other forms of use. Circulation statistics may be biased with regard to diverse books, however, since works of special relevance to underrepresented groups, or to others with interests outside the mainstream, tend to attract smaller audiences. Consequently, those works may have lower circulation than might otherwise be expected (Jahnke et al., 2022). We should also keep in mind that conventional library use statistics represent just one aspect of the collection’s utility. For many purposes, the more meaningful indicator is academic use – the extent to which library resources are integrated into students’ class discussions, course assignments, and term papers (Gonzalez, 2023; Pattee, 2020; Walters, 2016). BIPOC college students tend to use library collections and services to a greater extent than white students (Herrera, 2016; Whitmire, 1999, 2003), and it will be interesting to see whether there is similar racial/ethnic variation in the extent to which collection diversity influences book circulation and academic use.

Finally, there is a need for research on the relationships between collection diversity and broader educational outcomes such as academic performance, selection of a major field, retention, post-graduation employment, and long-term understanding of issues related to diversity. These kinds of investigations are sometimes difficult to plan and implement, but they are also important if the library’s ultimate goals are broadly educational rather than narrowly focused on information access and delivery. We should be asking not just “How much did we improve our collections?” but “How did those improvements influence students’ learning, attitudes, and capabilities?” Although quite a few studies have evaluated the impact of library instruction and use on educational outcomes (e.g., Cox, Gruber, & Neuhaus, 2019; Murray, 2015; Murray, Ireland, & Hackathorn, 2016; Scoulas & De Groote, 2021; Stemmer & Mahan, 2016; Urquhart, 2018), none have investigated the educational impact of collection diversity.


Esther Isabelle Wilder, Bernadette M. López-Fitzsimmons, and two anonymous referees provided helpful comments.

  1. Funding information: No funding was involved in this project.

  2. Conflict of interest: The author states no conflict of interest.

Appendix 1: Information Sources Used in the Checklist Studies

This appendix presents the information sources mentioned by name in one or more of the checklist studies shown in Tables 5 and 6. The most recent edition of each source is listed here. For additional awards and book lists specific to children’s and YA literature, see the following:

Cooperative Children’s Book Center. (2023). Diversity resources.

Davis, J. (2021). From cultural traditions to diverse superheroes: Strategies for building inclusive youth collections. In R. F. Hill (Ed.), Hope and a future: Perspectives on the impact that librarians and libraries have on our world (pp. 67–77). Bingley, U.K.: Emerald. doi: 10.1108/S0065-283020210000048008.

Kester, B. (2022). Diversifying an academic library’s children’s and young adult collection: A case study from the University of Florida’s Education Library. Collection Management, 47(2–3), 136–156. doi: 10.1080/01462679.2021.1910888.

Schulte-Cooper, L. (2015). Awards that celebrate diversity in children’s literature. Children and Libraries, 13(3), 34–35. doi: 10.5860/cal.13n3.34.

Multiple aspects of diversity


American Book Award (Before Columbus Foundation)

Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards (Cleveland Foundation)

Gloria E. Anzaldúa Book Prize (National Women’s Studies Association)

Lora Romero Prize (American Studies Association)

Mildred L. Batchelder Award (Association for Library Services to Children) – children’s/YA books

Music in American Culture Award (American Musicological Society)

Notable Books for a Global Society Award (Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group, International Library Association) – children’s/YA books

PEN Open Book Award (PEN American Center)

Philip Taft Labor History Book Award (Labor and Working-Class History Association)

Bibliographies and book lists

Blackwell North America. (1994). Focus on multicultural studies. Lake Oswego, OR: Blackwell North America.

Du Mont, R. R., Buttlar, L., & Caynon, W. (1994). Multiculturalism in libraries. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

GOBI diversity, equity & inclusion spotlight lists. See EBSCO, 2022, Building a diverse and inclusive collection using GOBI Spotlight Lists.

Martin, R. R. (1994). Libraries and the changing face of academia: Responses to growing multicultural populations. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

Miller, W. C. (1976). A comprehensive bibliography for the study of American minorities. New York: New York University Press.

Parish, K., & Katz, B. (1993). Multicultural acquisitions. New York: Haworth Press.

Book reviews



Multicultural Review – no longer published

New York Times

Publisher’s Weekly

Databases (searches for relevant subject codes or subject headings)

Books in Print



Library of Congress catalog

OCLC WorldCat

Resources for College Libraries

Other information sources

Consultations with faculty at the home institution or elsewhere

In-house course syllabi and reading lists

Race and ethnicity – Asian and Pacific Islander groups


Asian American Literary Awards (Asian American Writers’ Workshop)

Asian American Studies Book Award (Association for Asian American Studies)

Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature (Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association)

Association for Asian American Studies Book Award

Hindu Prize (Hindu Literary Review)

John F. Richards Prize (American Historical Association)

Karachi Literature Festival Prize (Karachi Literature Festival)

Kiriyama Prize (Pacific Rim Voices) – no longer awarded

Sahitya Akademi Award (Sahitya Akademi)

Bibliographies and book lists

Asian American Librarians Caucus of ALA. (1977). Asian Americans: An annotated bibliography for public libraries. Chicago: American Library Association.

Barkan, E. R. (1992). Asian and Pacific Islander migration to the United States: A model of new global patterns. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Barringer, H. R., Gardner, R. W., & Levin, M. J. (1995). Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Chan, J. P., Chin, F., Inada, L. F., & Wong, S. (1991). The big Aiiieeeee! An anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American literature. New York: Meridian Books.

Chan, S. (1991) Asian Americans: An interpretive history. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Choice. (1993). Asian and Asian American studies. Choice Ethnic Studies Reviews. Middletown, CT: Choice.

Espiritu, Y. L. (1992). Asian American panethnicity: Bridging institutions and identities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Helweg, A. W., & Helweg, U. M. (1990). An immigrant success story: East Indians in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hundley, N. (1976). The Asian American: The historical experience. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Hune, S. (Ed.). (1991). Asian Americans: Comparative and global perspectives. Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press.

Jensen, J. M. (1988). Passage from India: Asian Indian immigrants in North America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Kitano, H. H. L., & Daniels, R. (2000). Asian Americans: Emerging minorities. New York: Pearson.

Li, M. H., & Li, P. (1990). Understanding Asian Americans: A curriculum resource guide. Chicago: Neal Schuman.

Lim, S. G., Tsutakawa, M., & Donnelly, M. (1989). The forbidden stitch: An Asian American women’s anthology. Corvallis, OR: Calyx Books.

Okihiro, G. Y. (2014). Margins and mainstreams: Asians in American history and culture. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Peck, D. R. (1992). American ethnic literatures: Native American, African American, Chicano/Latino, and Asian American writers and their backgrounds: An annotated bibliography. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

Other information sources

Library catalog of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. See Weiss, A., & James, R., 2013, Assessing the coverage of Hawaiian and Pacific books in the Google Books digitization project. OCLC Systems & Services, 29(1), 13–21. doi: 10.1108/10650751311294519.

Race and ethnicity – Black studies


Amaury Talbot Prize for African Anthropology (Royal Anthropological Institute)

ASA Best Book Prize (African Studies Association)

BCALA Book Awards (Black Caucus of ALA)

Bethwell A. Ogot Book Prize (African Studies Association)

Coretta Scott King Award (Coretta Scott King Book Awards Round Table of ALA) – children’s/YA books

Elliott P. Skinner Book Award (Association for Africanist Anthropology)

Harriet Tubman Prize (Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery)

John Steptoe New Talent Award (Coretta Scott King Book Awards Round Table of ALA) – children’s/YA books

Martin A. Klein Prize in African History (American History Association)

NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work

OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (Bocas Lit Fest)

Paul Hair Prize (Association for the Preservation and Publication of African Historical Sources)

Paul Murray Book Prize (African American Intellectual History Society)

Phillis Wheatley Book Award (Sons & Daughters of the United States Middle Passage)

South African Literary Award (Write Associates)

Stone Book Award (Museum of African American History)

Bibliographies and book lists

Asante, M. K., & Mattson, M. T. (1991). Historical and cultural atlas of African Americans. New York: Macmillan.

Clarke, J. H. (1990). A reading guide for the study and teaching of African world history. In A.G. Hilliard & L. Payton-Stewart (Eds.), Infusion of African and African American content in the school curriculum. Morristown, NJ: Aaron Press.

Davis, L. G. (1986). The black family In The United States: A selected bibliography of annotated books, articles, and dissertations on black families in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Edozie, R. K. (2013). African American studies research guide: AAAS830: African American studies readings, 2013–2015. East Lansing: Michigan State University.

Hilliard, A. G. (1990). Selected bibliography (classified) on African-American history from ancient times to the present. Atlanta, GA: A. G. Hilliard.

Hine, D. C. (2005). Black women in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Irwin, L. B. (1973). Black studies: A bibliography. Brooklawn, NJ: McKinley.

Lowery, C. D., & Marszalek, J. F. (Eds.). (1992). Encyclopedia of African-American civil rights: From emancipation to the present. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Nosakhere, A., Hughes, M. E., & Mosby, A. P. (2004). African-American studies core list of resources: An annotated list of selected resources used by teachers of African-American studies at colleges and universities in the United States during the 1998–99 academic year. Caldwell, NJ: Blackburn Press.

Peck, D. R. (1992). American ethnic literatures: Native American, African American, Chicano/Latino, and Asian American writers and their backgrounds: An annotated bibliography. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

Rodriguez, M., Rasbury, A. R., Taylor, C., & Johnson, C. (1999). Sacred fire: The QBR 100 essential black books. New York: Wiley. The list of books is also available online at

Sabosik, P. E. (1992). African and African American studies. Choice Ethnic Studies Reviews. Middletown, CT: Choice.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. (2003). G.K. Hall interdisciplinary bibliographic guide to black studies. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.

Book reviews

QBR: The Black book review

Race and ethnicity – Hispanic groups


Arvey Book Award (Association for Latin American Art)

International Latino Book Awards (Empowering Latino Futures)

John C. Ewers Book Award (Western History Association; John and LaRee Caughey Foundation)

NACCS Book Award (National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies)

OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (Bocas Lit Fest)

Premio Aztlán Literary Prize (National Hispanic Cultural Center)

Pura Belpré Award (Association for Library Service to Children, Young Adult Library Services Association, and REFORMA) – children’s/YA books

Bibliographies and book lists

Erro-Peralta, N., & Silva, C. (2000). Beyond the border: A new age in Latin American women’s fiction. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Kanellos, N. (1993). The Hispanic-American almanac: A reference work on Hispanics in the United States. Detroit: Gale.

Peck, D. R. (1992). American ethnic literatures: Native American, African American, Chicano/Latino, and Asian American writers and their backgrounds: An annotated bibliography. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

Sabosik, P. E. (1992). Latino studies. Choice Ethnic Studies Reviews. Middletown, CT: Choice.

Telgen, D., & Kamp, J. (Eds.). (1993). Notable Hispanic American women. Detroit: Gale.

Race and ethnicity – Indigenous groups, non-Hispanic


American Indian Youth Literature Award (American Indian Library Association) – children’s/YA books

Beatrice Medicine Award (Native American Literature Symposium)

Electa Quinney Award for Published Stories (Native American Literature Symposium)

First Book Prize (Native American and Indigenous Studies Association)

Indigenous Voices Award (Indigenous Literary Studies Association)

John C. Ewers Book Award (Western History Association; John and LaRee Caughey Foundation)

Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Awards

Subsequent Book Prize (Native American and Indigenous Studies Association)

Bibliographies and book lists

Bataille, G. M., & Lisa, L. (Eds.). (2001). Native American women: A biographical dictionary. New York: Routledge.

Champagne, D. (Ed.). (2001). The Native North American almanac. Detroit: Gale.

Choice. (1992). Native American studies. Choice Ethnic Studies Reviews. Middletown, CT: Choice.

Davis, M. B. (1992). Developing a Native American collection. Wilson Library Bulletin, 67(4), 33–37.

Norton, D. E., & Norton, S. E. (1993). Developing the library collection for Native American studies. The Acquisitions Librarian, 5(9–10), 247–266.

Peck, D. R. (1992). American ethnic literatures: Native American, African American, Chicano/Latino, and Asian American writers and their backgrounds: An annotated bibliography. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

Roscoe, W. (Ed.). (1988). Living the spirit: A gay American Indian anthology. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Book reviews

American Indian Culture and Research Journal

Race and ethnicity – Jewish studies


National Jewish Book Award (Jewish Book Council)

Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature (Jewish Book Council)

Race and ethnicity – Middle Eastern and Muslim groups


Albert Hourani Book Award (Middle East Studies Association)

Arab American Book Award (Arab American Museum)

Fatima Mernissi Book Award (Middle East Studies Association)

Nikki Keddie Book Award (Middle East Studies Association)

Bibliographies and book lists

Orfalea, G. (1988). Before the flames: A quest for the history of Arab Americans. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Gender and sexuality – Women’s studies


Alison Piepmeier Book Prize (National Women’s Studies Association)

Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize

Emily Toth Award (American Culture Association; Popular Culture Association)

Fatima Mernissi Book Award (Middle East Studies Association)

Gloria E. Anzaldúa Book Prize (National Women’s Studies Association)

Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize (Susan B. Anthony Institute, University of Rochester)

Mary Kelley Prize (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic)

Sara A. Whaley Book Prize (National Women’s Studies Association)

Susan Koppelman Award (American Culture Association; Popular Culture Association)

Women’s Prize for Fiction (Women’s Prize Trust)

Bibliographies and book lists

Bataille, G. M., & Lisa, L. (Eds.). (2001). Native American women: A biographical dictionary. New York: Routledge.

Bindocci, C. G. (1993). Women and technology: An annotated bibliography. New York: Garland.

Conway, J. K. (Ed.). (1992). Written by herself: Autobiographies of American women: An anthology. New York: Vintage Books.

Erro-Peralta, N., & Silva, C. (2000). Beyond the border: A new age in Latin American women’s fiction. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Hine, D. C. (2005). Black women in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jezie, D. P., & E. Wood. (1994). Women composers: The lost tradition found. New York: Feminist Press.

Kemble, J. (1993). United States women’s history. The Acquisitions Librarian, 5(9–10), 275–308. doi: 10.1300/J101v05n09_20.

McGrayne, S. B. (2001). Nobel Prize women in science: Their lives, struggles, and momentous discoveries. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press.

Ogilvie, M. B. (1986). Women in science: Antiquity through the nineteenth century A biographical dictionary with annotated bibliography. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rise: A Feminist Book Project for Ages 0–18 (Social Responsibilities Round Table of ALA) – children’s/YA books

Saxton, M., & Howe, F. (Eds.). (1993). With wings: An anthology of literature by and about women with disabilities. New York: Feminist Press.

Shult, L., Searing, S., & Lester-Massman, E. (Eds.). (1991). Women, race, and ethnicity: A bibliography. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin.

Telgen, D., & Kamp, J. (Eds.). (1993). Notable Hispanic American women. Detroit: Gale.

Vare, E. A., & Ptacek, G. (1989). Mothers of invention: From the bra to the bomb: Forgotten women and their unforgettable ideas. New York: Quill.

Book reviews

Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources


Gender and sexuality – Other aspects of gender, sex, and LGBTQ+ identity


Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize

Fatima Mernissi Book Award (Middle East Studies Association)

Lambda Literary Award (Lambda Literary Foundation)

Mary Kelley Prize (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic)

Publishing Triangle Award (Publishing Triangle)

Ruth Benedict Prize (Association for Queer Anthropology)

Stonewall Book Award (Rainbow Round Table of ALA)

Bibliographies and book lists

Likosky, S. (Ed.). (1992). Coming out: An anthology of international gay and lesbian writings. New York: Pantheon Books.

Naidoo, J. C. (2012). Rainbow family collections: Selecting and using children’s books with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer content. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited. – children’s/YA books

Rainbow Book List (Rainbow Round Table of ALA) – children’s/YA books

Roscoe, W. (Ed.). (1988). Living the spirit: A gay American Indian anthology. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Walker, W. (2015). An annotated bibliography of books, DVDs, and internet resources on GLBT Latinos and Latinas. Los Angeles, CA: Loyola Marymount University.

Book reviews

Lambda Literary Review

Other information sources

Library catalog of California State University, Long Beach. See Pavenick, A., & Martinez, G., 2022, Hearing and being heard: LGBTQIA+ cross-disciplinary collection development, Collection and Curation, 41(4), 109–115. doi: 10.1108/CC-07-2021-0021.

Skin tone (dermatology resources)

Library research guides

New York Institute of Technology. (2023). Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in medical education.

Temple University. (2023). Dermatology: Skin of color.

University at Buffalo. (2023). Skin of color resources.

University of British Columbia. (2023). Foundations of medical practice (MEDD 411, MEDD 412): Information sources.

University of Florida. (2023). Skin of color resources. g = 968727&p = 8060217

University of Illinois. (2023). Dermatology.

University of Michigan. (2023). Skin of color.

University of Texas Southwestern. (2023). Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) guide.

Disability studies


Alison Piepmeier Book Prize (National Women’s Studies Association)

Outstanding Book Award (Disability History Association)

Schneider Family Book Award (American Library Association) – children’s/YA books

Bibliographies and book lists

Adams, R., Reis, B., & Serlin, D. (2015). Keywords for disability studies. New York: New York University Press.

Crosetto, A., Garcha, R., & Horan, M. (2009). Disabilities and disorders in literature for youth: A selective annotated bibliography for K–12. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. – children’s/YA books

Davis, L. J. (Ed.). (2017). The disability studies reader. New York: Routledge.

Saxton, M., & Howe, F. (Eds.). (1993). With wings: An anthology of literature by and about women with disabilities. New York: Feminist Press.

Watson, N., Roulstone, A., & Thomas, C. (Eds.). (2022). Routledge handbook of disability studies. New York: Routledge.

Immigration and immigrants


Philip Taft Labor History Book Award (Labor and Working-Class History Association)

Bibliographies and book lists

Barkan, E. R. (1992). Asian and Pacific Islander migration to the United States: A model of new global patterns. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Helweg, A. W., & Helweg, U. M. (1990). An immigrant success story: East Indians in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jensen, J. M. (1988). Passage from India: Asian Indian immigrants in North America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Religion and spirituality


National Jewish Book Award (Jewish Book Council)

Nikki Keddie Book Award (Middle East Studies Association)

Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature (Jewish Book Council)

Bibliographies and book lists

Estelle-Holmer, S., Limpitlaw, A., & Spomer, M. (2021). Can you find yourself in the stacks? Building diverse collections in religion and theology. Atla Summary of Proceedings, 81–116. doi: 10.31046/proceedings.2021.3002 – list of bibliographies

Appendix 2: Sampling and Significance Testing

Four general points related to sampling and significance testing are especially relevant in the context of diversity audits.

First, a sample is not the same as a small or limited population. The population of interest for a diversity audit need not include the entire collection, and it is not unusual to limit the population in some systematic way – by call number range or publication date, for instance. Once the population of interest has been defined, however, the sample should represent that population as faithfully as possible, without any further limitations or restrictions. (Stratified sampling, discussed in many statistical guides, is an exception to this rule.)

Second, the representativeness of the sample is generally more important than its size, since the impact of an increase in sample size declines as sample size increases. That is, an increase in sample size from 50 to 100 will have a much greater impact on reliability and statistical significance than an increase in size from 250 to 300. For a book inspection audit, the most straightforward way to ensure representative sampling is to compile a shelflist of all the books in the population of interest, then select cases at random from that list. (If the list is prepared as a spreadsheet, assign a random number to each case using the Excel RAND function, copy and paste the random number cells as plain text, then sort the cases in descending order by the random-number column and select those with the highest random numbers). When preparing the shelflist, it may be helpful to include use statistics as well as bibliographic information so that a single file can be downloaded and used to select a sample, to place books into diversity categories, and to assess the use (or non-use) of diverse and non-diverse titles.

Third, When sample statistics are compared, a significance test is needed for every comparison, since we need to assess whether the difference between the sample values can be attributed to chance or whether it is likely to represent a real difference between the two populations. For example, we may want to evaluate whether the percentage of disability-related books in a library’s collection increased from 2023 to 2026. We can’t examine every book in the collection (the population), so we select a 10% random sample in each year. For this example, asssume that the sample data for 2023 and 2026 show an increase over time in the percentage of disability-related books. However, we cannot reach the same conclusion about the two populations (the library collections of 2023 and 2026) unless we undertake a significance test.

Significance tests are necessary because any one sample may not represent the population accurately. Every time we select a random sample of cases, there is some chance that the sample will include relatively many cases from the high or low end of the population distribution. (This is easiest to visualize for a continuous variable – individuals and their heights, for instance – rather than a yes/no variable such as disability-related or not). We cannot know for certain whether a particular sample accurately represents the population, but a significance test will allow us to evaluate whether the difference between the sample values can be attributed to random variation of this type (sampling error).

Most diversity audits will involve comparisons of proportions (percentages), and the significance tests used to compare proportions are distinct from those used to compare means. The two-sample chi square test of proportions is generally appropriate for comparisons of two sample values (e.g., evaluating whether the proportion of disability-related books in the library increased from 2023 to 2026, or whether Library X had a higher proportion of disability-related books than Library Y in a particular year). However, the one-sample z test for one proportion is a better choice if the goal is to compare a sample value to a constant, such as a target value. Online calculators can be used to conduct these tests as well as many others. See, for example, MedCalc (2023a,b).

Finally, there is no way to know in advance whether a particular sample size will be adequate, since the results of each significance test are influenced by several factors other than sample size. The sample size that leads to significant results for one comparison (e.g., percentage of books related to disability) may not do so for another (percentage related to women’s studies). Nonetheless, online tools such as those developed by Creative Research Systems (2012), SurveyMonkey (2023), and Qualtrics (2023) can be used to estimate sample size requirements.


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Received: 2023-04-04
Revised: 2023-05-28
Accepted: 2023-06-16
Published Online: 2023-07-24

© 2023 the author(s), published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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