An ‘audit’ is a formal inspection, normally of financial accounts for a business. However in this case, we are doing a ‘bookshelf audit’ of the books on your shelves. It is a chance for you to look at all the stories you have been reading or having read to you. Then to see what the overall picture is, rather than getting sucked into the excitement of one story at a time.
Stories are an important part of how we find out about the world and think about new ideas. When we meet people like us in a story it gives us confidence that we aren’t the only one who feels or acts like we do, and can inspire us about what we could be and do. When we meet people who are different to ourselves it allows us a window into another world, finding out about other people and building empathy and understanding about their experience of the world.
So, time to have a look at the books on your shelves, and see if they have characters like you in them, and if they have characters who aren’t at all like you too.
You could make a list of different characteristics and tick off how many characters you find in each category. Otherwise, you could just look at the main character in each book and make piles to separate out your books by one particular characteristic.
Some things you might want to look at during your bookshelf audit
- What do the pictures look like?
- How many of the main characters are male and how many female? Are any non-binary?
- Are the characters all of the same ethnicity? Or do you have books about characters from different backgrounds?
- Are all of your books set in one country – maybe the one where you live – or do you have stories about other parts of the world?
- Are there deaf or disabled characters in your books? If so do they get to be the main characters in their stories?
- Where there is a family in the story does it look like your family? Are there LGBTQ characters? What about one parent families? How about children who have been adopted or fostered? And ‘blended’ families with step or half siblings.
- Are there other categories you want to explore? Have a think about all the different kinds of people there are and make a list – see how many of those you find on your bookshelves.
Analysing your data
Once you have collected all your information, it is time to examine it…
- Are the characters in your books representative of the people who you know?
- Did you find people like you, your family and your friends in your books?
- How does it feel to find someone like you represented in a book? How does it feel not to find that?
- Are your books representative of the world we live in?
- Are there any groups that aren’t represented at all in the books on your shelves?
Do something about your findings
Are there particular groups that you didn’t find in your stories? Then what are you going to do about it?
You could do some research to find books that do tell those stories. See if you can borrow some from a library or get the books to add to your collection.
How about talking to your school about doing a bookshelf audit of the school library. Ask that they commit to buying some more books to fill the gaps they may have.
You could write to some publishers to explain it has been hard to find stories with main characters who reflect the world we live in, and ask them to prioritise publishing books that ensure they have true diversity across everything they publish.
You could write your own story about some of the people who you didn’t find in the books you have.
Take it further
If you have enjoyed this exploration of your bookshelves, you could try exploring your local streets and thinking about what we commemorate there with our History Gap activity. You might also like to learn about and celebrate the New Black History Makers.