As an author who visits a lot of different schools, I’ve noticed that the selection of authors/illustrators for school visits is conducted very differently from school to school, and that not very many schools have an author visit selection policy. I’ve also noticed that many schools lack diversity in their author visit selection.
It is my belief that having an author visit selection policy in place can help support diverse author programming, which in turn expands students’ experiences with diversity and inclusion. So I’ve put together this page as a resource for schools that are thinking about creating a policy. This page is under ongoing development, so don’t hesitate to contact me with suggestions, information, or links.
An author visit selection policy can help a school:
- Clarify the purposes and benefits of author and/or illustrator visits
- Support and increase author and/or illustrator visit diversity
- Avert parent or community objections to diverse author and/or illustrator visit programming
An author visit selection policy can be a stand-alone policy, or it can be a subsection of a school library collection development policy or school library programming policy.
In developing an author visit selection policy to support and increase author visit diversity, some suggested policy development steps include: (key points in the bulleted list below are shown in bold but not yet linked directly to resources; however, see the end of this page for links and suggested reading)
- Understand why author visit diversity is important:
- Learn about the current diversity of world and U.S. population and of U.S. youth population
- Learn about the underrepresentation of diverse voices in children’s books and in children’s book publishing
- Learn about the benefits for students of diverse author visits and the harm done to students when author visits are not diverse
- Compile diversity information and data:
- Identify kinds of diversity (race, ethnicity, gender, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation)
- Identify diversity components of author visits (author diversity; book character diversity; book genre diversity)
- Conduct a diversity audit of past author visits at the school to quantify overrepresentation and underrepresentation (I’ve compiled some ideas for this over on my blog).
- Seek out best practices sample author visit policies from schools, libraries, and organizations that have intentionally addressed author diversity in their planning and policies
- Embed your planning process within the school policy structure:
- Review your school system’s policies and procedures about programs and guests (criteria, approval process, etc.)
- Identify specific parts of the school’s mission and/or curriculum that can or should be supported by author visits.
- Articulate the purpose/goal(s) of author visits at your school.
- Establish considerations and/or criteria for author visit selection. Ensure that the criteria can be applied fairly and consistently, and that the criteria cannot be used to intentionally omit, gatekeep, or discriminate.
- Review school policies around diversity, inclusion, and non-discrimination, and be sure that all author visit selection policies and procedures are in keeping with school policies and do not violate any state or federal legal standards. Depending on school policies and state laws, diversity typically should not be used as the only criterion for contractor selection but can be considered as a factor.
- Determine/assign responsibility for author selection and invitation (i.e. is it a function of the school, the PTA, individual teachers, etc.; does it need to be approved; and if so by who)
- Be prepared to respond to any challenges from parents or community members:
- Create a worksheet to clearly document:
- the purpose and/or curriculum connection(s) that the invited author’s visit will connect to
- the acquiring of any necessary administrative approval of the author and book selection.
- the pre-visit timeline of sharing author and book information with teachers, students, and parents
- Review the school system’s guidelines for responding to parent and community concerns/challenges to author visit selection and content. Also review the school system’s guidelines and procedures for parent opt-out.
- Create a worksheet to clearly document:
- Incorporate all of the above into a written author visit selection policy. The policy can be modeled after or adapted from library programming policies. Some examples of library programming policies:
The following are some links to resources, not all of which are directly related to the topic of author visits, but that may help establish a framework and outlook for author visit diversity planning. This list will grow over time – for now this is just the start of the list.
- Guide to Diversity Audits by Cheryl Fidler Williams
- Nancy Jo Lambert article about diversity audits
- Kelsey Bogan blog posts on diversity audits
- Kathy Ishizuka article about ways to increase speaker diversity at events
- Cynthia Leitich Smith interview about How and Why to Build Diversity into Your Speaker Program
- Article about bias against authors and characters of color in children’s book reading lists
- “Chronically Absent: The Exclusion of People of Color from NYC Elementary School Curricula” report
- Article (from 2014) by Malinda Lo about diverse books being disproportionately targeted for challenges/bans
- NYT article “Just How White is the Book Industry?“
- CCBC Diversity Statistics
- Article by Julie Underwood about curriculum content legal issues (how classroom and school content are chosen; how parent objections are handled)
- Boilerplate conference diversity statement from O’Reilly Media – can be adapted
- Wisconsin Library Inclusive Services Assessment Guide — See p. 16 for a useful checklist about inclusive and diverse programming
- Emily Knox article, “Banned Books Are Often Diverse Books“
- Phil Bildner article, “When Bully Parents Cancel an Author Visit“
- Article about Robin Stevenson school visit cancellation
- Article about Ellen Hopkins school visit cancellation – and a web site with additional analysis
- Usually, visiting authors are independent contractors (not employees), and in most cases anti-discrimination laws apply only to employees. However, if your school’s past practices of author selection seem to indicate potential bias and/or a pattern of non-diversity, it is important to scrutinize those practices and address them. Understanding the anti-discrimination requirements for employment hiring can help inform your author visit selection policy development. The following, while not legal advice, provide some entry points for understanding some of the issues: EEOC Systemic Discrimination information; EPI article about Strengthening Accountability for Discrimination; HR article Champion Diversity Without Discriminating; article about Independent Contractors and State Anti-Discrimination Laws; article about Why So Many Organizations Stay White; other articles to be added.
This page is meant as a resource for POLICY CREATION occurring prior to any particular author invitation. This page is not meant as a how-to for the specific details of a particular author visit.
This page is a work in progress and not yet complete. It was last edited May 19, 2021.