Updated: May 7
This is the second in a series of five blog posts that will serve as a guide for practicing “disruptive collection development” in the context of the nonfiction collection. Each day we’ll explore a different category of nonfiction (as developed by Melissa Stewart) along with strategies for thinking critically about the collection development procedures that we employ for selecting, cataloging and shelving those books. The first post in this series unpacks the inspiration for this work. As noted there...
The goal of “disruptive collection development” is to move beyond the occasional infusions of inclusivity offered by intentionally adding, or even focusing on, historically marginalized voices in book ordering throughout the year. While this is surely a best practice, it’s also a strategy that is rendered inconsistent and temporary by its dependence on the whims of staffing and funding. Only through holistic, purpose driven collection development can we move toward more permanent change that is both systemic and procedural.
Thank you to the team at Disrupt Texts who were early readers of these posts and who gave me permission to use the term "disrupt" in this context. Their mission charges us with challenging the traditional canon in order to create more inclusive, representative, and equitable collections. These posts are my attempt to support librarians in using their nonfiction collections as a vehicle for this important work.
To learn more about Melissa Stewart's five categories of nonfiction, I encourage you to visit the first post in this series which contains additional links and context. Links to each remaining post will be added as they are published.
Part 1: Traditional Nonfiction
Part 2: Active Nonfiction (You are here!)
Part 3: Narrative Nonfiction
Part 4: Expository Literature
Part 5: Browsable Nonfiction
Category 2: Active Nonfiction
Definition: “Inspired by the maker movement, publishers have begun creating what booksellers call “active nonfiction”—browsable books that are highly interactive and/or teach skills that readers can use to engage in an activity. Written in an expository style,
these how-to guides, cookbooks, field guides, craft books, and more are becoming increasingly popular with young readers.” (Stewart, 2018)
Highly interactive and/or teaches skills for engaging in activity
How-to guides, field guides, cookbooks, craft books
Clear, straightforward language
Expository writing style
Disruptive collection development:
Using Data: Because active nonfiction invites participation, these books represent an opportunity to connect that focus on interactivity to the unique and varied traditions that imbue and enrich your community. Here are some tips for using data to update your active nonfiction holdings in ways that are both inclusive and personalized:
Use demographic data about the community your library serves to discover the traditions and celebrations observed by many of your families.
Administrators and/or PTO members can also help you conduct and distribute a survey of families to learn more about the celebrations and traditions that enrich their lives.
Set up times to chat with community leaders to deepen your understanding of traditions and celebrations that may be new to you. Rather than peering in without permission, ask parents, grandparents, etc., for advice on seeking out resources that will provide authentic windows into a piece of their world.
All of this data can form a lens through which you should examine the active nonfiction in your collection. Whether you choose to scrutinize books featuring holidays and celebrations or cookbooks and craft books, (or some other type of active nonfiction), the key questions to ask are:
does this part of your collection privilege recently published, high quality texts written, edited and illustrated by creators whose lived experiences inform their work?
do your readers see their own cultures and traditions celebrated on the shelves of your active nonfiction collection?
do they see the traditions of other cultures celebrated alongside their own on those very same shelves?
In the catalog: Even though most librarians upload ready made marc records, these automated additions to your OPAC represent an opportunity for critical analysis and disruption. Here are some tips for becoming a disruptive cataloger:
In addition to intentionally editing and updating subject headings to more accurately reflect historically underrepresented voices, (see the first post in this series for more information), you can also use your catalog to update the book’s description to highlight #ownvoices as an important text feature.
A book's description can also be expanded to include community connections. A sentence at the bottom of a title's description that reads: "Community Connection: Many MGMS Gator Families celebrate Diwali. This title can help you learn more about how your friends and neighbors prepare for this annual Festival of Lights."
Another way to use your catalog for disruption is by intentionally cataloging non-traditional items that celebrate the diverse traditions that exist in and strengthen your community.
For example, digitizing and cataloging family recipes, using the same call numbers and subject headings as other active nonfiction, illustrates the profound and essential connection between a library and the community it serves.
If you really want to put the active in active nonfiction, this can be taken a step farther by creating and cataloging kits full of the supplies needed to recreate the recipes and/or crafts, etc depicted in active (and disruptive!) nonfiction titles.
In these ways, the catalog can serve as a resource for both books and tools to affect the kids we serve as readers, learners and thinkers living in a diverse global community.
Selection: Because active nonfiction invites engagement, it is perhaps even more essential that these titles depict experiences that your community recognizes as their own, as well as those that are unfamiliar.
Look for #ownvoices titles that inspire and invite readers to engage in ways that deepen their understanding of both their own community and those they’ve yet to discover.
Turn to the experts in your community. The same community leaders who helped you identify potential topics to explore, should now become your collaborators. Their lived experiences can help inform your purchasing decisions to ensure the books you select are authentic reflections of important threads in a community's fabric. This disruption to traditional collection development practicea, which place the librarian as the expert in the center of all decisions making, will not only strengthen the relationship between you and your community, but it will also level up the collection itself. The more a collection reflects the needs and strengths of its community, the more essential it becomes.
On the shelf: While disrupting existing march records as we've discussed will surely make new holdings more searchable, it's important to remember that many readers are simply not motivated to use the OPAC (no matter how many times you point them to its magic). For these (and all readers) it's essential that you also make your new active nonfiction resources discoverable. Here's some tips for increasing discoverability by disrupting traditional shelving practices:
Make room on your shelves for kits and student projects that result from engagement with active nonfiction texts.
Crafts and framed photos of culinary creations can become personalized signage to help learners navigate the library and discover their next read.
Create shelf talkers inviting readers to reflect on how these titles affect their understanding and appreciation of a new tradition. These voices can serve both as endorsements of specific titles and as anecdotal evidence of how disruptive collection development results in positive outcomes for kids.
Organize pop-up demonstrations led by community experts who are pros at the skills focused on in your new active nonfiction resources.
If possible, set up these pop-up demonstrations in your nonfiction section to entice readers to explore.
With permission, record these events and then connect them to the book forever, by adding a QR code, linking to the video, on the cover.
Recommended titles: Some recently published titles that can help you disrupt the active nonfiction include:
Click on each image for more information about the book.
In the days ahead we'll look at all of Melissa Stewart's nonfiction categories through the lens of disruptive collection development practices. Tomorrow, we'll take a deep dive into Narrative Nonfiction in order to think about how to leverage these story fueled informational texts to create more inclusive, representative, and equitable collections. See you tomorrow!