The Cay: A Critical Analysis

The CayWritten in 1969 by Theodore Taylor, The Cay is the story of a white boy, Phillip, who gets stranded on a cay with an elderly, black West Indian stranger named Timothy after German submarines in the Caribbean torpedo their ship. Phillip is initially weary of Timothy due to prejudice instilled in him by his mother, but has to depend on Timothy and his survival experience, especially since Phillip has no vision due to a nasty head injury sustained during the shipwreck. As Timothy provides for them and teaches Phillip independence and survival skills, Phillip has a change of heart and grows to care for Timothy, despite their racial differences. When a hurricane ravishes the island, Timothy physically shields Phillip from the wrath of the storm. Timothy is severely weakened by the injuries and unable to recover. It is then up to Phillip, alone and still sightless, to orchestrate his own rescue. The book is a simple coming-of-age story, exploring prejudice and acceptance. In the fight for survival against the elements, the friendship between the characters grows and we see a transformation in Phillip as he realizes the sacrifice and selflessness that Timothy has offered.

Controversy and Racism in the Book

When Theodore Taylor wrote this novel, it was well-intentioned and initially well-received. The following year, it received the 1970 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, which is awarded annually to “children’s books published the preceding year that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence” (Jane Addams Peace Association). In the years that followed, however, it drew criticism for being a racist novel, especially from the Council on Interracial Books for Children (also known as the CIBC), leading to Taylor’s decision in 1975 to return the prize.

Jane Addams book awardTaylor wrote the book from the perspective of a “racially programmed” 11 year-old white boy. He states that he very intentionally wrote Phillip’s racist descriptions and reactions to Timothy in order to drive the theme of change (Taylor, “In the Mailbag” 286). Even Timothy’s use of the expression, “young bahss” for the first 40 pages of their relationship (Taylor, The Cay 30-72) is a deliberate use of dialect to show the social relationships between white and black people during this time period. The CIBC claims that Timothy’s characterization is harmful to children and “conforms to the traditional stereotype of the faithful slave or retainer who is happy to serve and even sacrifice his life for his ‘young bahss’” (CIBC 283). However, to be considered historically and regionally accurate, from Timothy’s Calypso dialect, taken from Taylor’s first-hand experiences in the Caribbean to the initial relationship between Phillip and Timothy, The Cay needed to unfold as written. Taylor felt that Timothy was compassionate and could patiently “cope with the mindless mouthings of a child” (Taylor, “In the Mailbag, 287). Marianne (57) cites the explanation in Pearson Education’s “Teacher Notes” on the book,

It is important in the novel that Timothy is black, and Phillip white… Like black people in many parts of the world at that time, [Timothy] would still have felt any white person to be his social superior… This is why he calls Phillip ‘young boss’ [sic]. Yet despite this, the friendship that grows between Timothy and Phillip is simply that between an old man and a young boy, not between ‘master’ and ‘servant’ or even black and white.

It would not have been realistic for Timothy to speak or act differently, even if critics think that his character is negatively stereotyped.

Instead, there are several places in the novel that we see evidence of Phillip’s growing acceptance, one being on page 72 when he asks Timothy to shed the title of “young bahss”. Taylor wanted Phillip to reach the point of symbolic color-blindness, in addition to his literal blindness (Taylor, “In the Mailbag” 287). At first we hear it in Phillip’s thoughts (76): “I moved close to Timothy’s big body before I went to sleep. I remember smiling in the darkness. He felt neither white nor black” and then in his words (100): “Timothy, are you still black?” Though perhaps a perspective of a white person wishing whiteness on a person of color, the receding of Phillip’s prejudice is still a dramatic change.

Place in School Libraries and Curriculum

From an intellectual freedom standpoint, I believe that it is important to provide access to titles that might be considered to be controversial so that readers can compare and critically review them if they wish. Knowing that there has been some controversy surrounding The Cay and that readers continue to seem interested in the book (according to my “nonscientific” analysis of demand at my high school library), I would consider purchasing it for a school library. That said, I would be cautious in my recommendation for elementary school libraries because I believe the book is meant for a middle level audience.

The protagonist may only be a couple years older than some elementary students and the reading level may also be a fit—elements that can indicate age-appropriateness. Many librarians and teachers are comfortable with encouraging readers to shoot high and read books meant for older readers as a way to increase reading skill. However, when a book is challenged and criticized for racial stereotyping, for example, as in the case of The Cay, it is important to consider the critical thinking abilities of the readers. Without guidance, younger children may not identify content as problematic and it would be a disservice to include such titles as multicultural literature for recreational reading. This is not to say that elementary readers couldn’t handle this text in language arts or social studies curriculum under the tutelage of an experience teacher. Placement in middle school and high school libraries makes more sense to me. These readers are more likely to be able to identify critical material outside of classroom instruction. Though high school students will be slightly older than the main character, the plot is still engaging.

In the case of curriculum, elementary teachers might find ways to pair this book with another book, perhaps something more contemporary, written about similar themes such as cross-cultural acceptance or personal transformation. In this way, teachers can provide students with another reference point and discourage the acceptance of a text at face value without using a critical lens to examine its weaknesses. Ideally, however, this book fits better in the curriculum of older students. High schoolers may find The Cay to be a quality specimen of multicultural work that came out of the 1960s and interesting in the context of that social climate. For example, Taylor’s book dedication to Dr. Martin Luther King is an example of evidence that students might consider in their analysis. A unit associated with a 10th grade U.S. History course (perhaps collaboratively with a 10th grade English Language Arts course) would work really well with The Cay, given the abilities and course content involved. I could see middle school language arts and social studies curriculum approaching this book with either (or both) of my elementary and high school suggestions. Similar to several of the Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading (60), the primary goals of including The Cay in curriculum would be to use the text in a critical way that asks students to analyze how themes develop and assess how the author’s background shapes the content.

Informing My Recommendations

In my analysis, I looked for critical reviews of The Cay from the period when it was published, as well as more contemporary reviews. I found primary sources written by Theodore Taylor and a main detractor, the CIBC, in the “In the Mailbag” column of the American Library Association’s Top of the News publication. It was important to me to hear the author explain his rationale and defend his work in his own words. I also needed to find alternative views that conflicted with my own so that I was confident in my rationale.

I tried to only consult sources by those considered to be authorities in the field of multicultural and children’s literature. For example, Horn Book and its writers have a well-respected reputation among librarians. A blog article I found was also written by a former contributor to Horn Book and in the comments section of the post, I noticed that Kathleen T. Horning, director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (and someone whom I respect very much), had participated in the discussion.

It was useful to examine the historical context of the book and our country at the time it was published (and criticized). By referencing the Common Core State Standards, the criteria for the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and the Materials Selection Policy of the school district where I work, I was able to consider core values common to teachers and librarians choosing books and driving curriculum.

Place in Multicultural Literature

Multicultural literature includes books that serve as windows into and mirrors of parallel cultures. The reading experience should provide enlightenment for cultural outsiders but not reinforce stereotypes; this is a “window.” Cultural insiders should be able to see themselves, as if in a mirror, in characters experiencing real life adventures, triumphs, and failures. We need multicultural literature because all children in a democratic society deserve representation in the social and academic culture of that society. If we expect to grow as a society, we need to hear everyone’s voice. It is difficult to hear those who cannot be heard on a larger scale and are absent from our media. Multicultural books can be that equalizer though.

It is perhaps not as simple as Taylor suggests—that the example of Phillip’s change of heart might inspire a white audience to be more accepting of racial differences. However, the CIBC’s attempts to keep this book out of recommended lists, schools, and libraries could actually be considered censorship (Bader 663). Instead, as Susan Griffith suggests in her article, ““So the Very Young Understand”: Reframing Discussion of The Cay” (31) that these criticisms brought up in the 1970s can push readers to evaluate what we can learn from the racism in the book. Even Beryle Banfield, former President of the CIBC, suggests that controversial portrayals of African Americans in literature is likely a long-term dilemma that is best handled by creating an education that develops understandings between people and cultures (22).

By teaching students how to read critically and consistently providing multicultural texts written by cultural insiders and outsiders, we as educators and librarians can promote positive change in the identity formation and understanding of our youth. Books such as The Cay were formative in helping the dominant culture see multiple perspectives. The discussion and controversy around books like this can also have the positive effect of challenging the status quo and encouraging analytical thinking.

 

References

Bader, Barbara. “How the Little House Gave Ground: The Beginnings of Multiculturalism in a New, Black Children’s Literature.” The Horn Book Magazine 78, no. 6 (November 2002): 657-673.

Banfield, Beryle. “Commitment to Change: The Council on Interracial Books for Children and the World of Children’s Books.” African American Review 32, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 17-22.

Council on Interracial Books for Children. “In the Mailbag.” Top of the News 31, no. 3 (April 1975): 282-284.

Griffith, Susan C. ““So the Very Young Know and Understand”: Reframing Discussion of the Cay.” The Horn Book Magazine 88, no. 5 (September 2012): 27-31.

Jane Addams Peace Association. “What are the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards?” Jane Addams Peace Association. Accessed May 11, 2014. http://www.janeaddamspeace.org/jacba/about.shtml

Marianne. “A Comparative Analysis of Racism in the Original and Modified Texts of The Cay.” Reading in a Foreign Language 19, no. 1 (April 2007): 56-68.

Sieruta, Peter D. “Collecting Children’s Books: This One Really Did Happen.” Collecting Children’s Books (blog), April 7, 2009, http://collectingchildrensbooks.blogspot.com/2009/04/this-one-really-did-happen.html

Taylor, Theodore. “In the Mailbag.” Top of the News 31, no. 3(April 1975): 284-288.

Taylor, Theodore. The Cay. 1969. Reprint. New York: Random House, 2002.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading.” Common Core State Standards for Literacy in All Subjects. Last modified September 2011. http://standards.dpi.wi.gov/files/cal/pdf/las-stds.pdf

Latino and More: Realistic Contemporary Adolescent Literature for Hispanic Americans–Part Two

An Annotated Bibliography

See the Bibliographic Essay and Rationale here. Or, see my video presentation here.

Cofer, Judith Ortiz. Call Me María. 2004. Reprint, New York: Scholastic, 2006.

Worried about her father’s depressive state, María decides to move with him to a barrio in New York to look after him and seek an education, leaving her mother behind in Puerto Rico. María tries to fit in, get used to English (and Spanish) and stay neutral as she witnesses her parents’ marriage deteriorating. Perceptive and introspective María expresses herself in a mix of poems, prose, and letters home to her mother. More than just an immigration story, Call Me María is a collage of emotions and strength that reads easily. Ages 12 and up.

If I Could FlyCofer, Judith Ortiz. If I Could Fly. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.

When Doris’ mother abruptly leaves for Puerto Rico after a health scare, Doris anxiously hopes she will return. Two months later, her mother confirms that she will not be coming back to New Jersey and her life with Doris’ father as a salsero singer. Doris feels alienated by her father’s move to get a new girlfriend and tries to fend for herself. She turns to her friends, Arturo, Yolanda, her elderly neighbor Doña Iris, and the homing pigeons on the roof. Misfortune strikes them too and Doris wishes she could just escape. After a visit to her mother in Puerto Rico, though, she realizes it’s better to confront your problems than to run from them. Full of life-drama, this book will appeal to adolescents dealing with the grief of divorce and tragedy. Ages 13 and up.

Dole, Mayra Lazara. Down to the Bone. New York: HarperTeen, 2008.

Laura gets expelled from Catholic school and, subsequently, her house when the nuns and her Cuban mother discover that she is a lesbian, also known as a “tortillera” in the Miami Latino community. Her girlfriend, Marlena’s family reacts by sending her back to Puerto Rico to marry a man. Thankfully, Laura is not completely alone and is taken in by her best friend Soli and her mother Vivi. Laura attempts to find herself through several experiments with relationships, all the while maintaining her optimism. Teens will relish the dichotomy of the humor and pain in Laura’s story. Ages 14 and up.

Color of My WordsJoseph, Lynn. The Color of My Words. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2000.

Ana Rosa is a dreamer who longs to become a writer, always stealing away scraps of paper to write her poems and stories on. Her impoverished life in the Dominican Republic leaves little hope, especially after she witnesses her brother’s death trying to protect her the day of her thirteenth birthday. She temporarily gives up writing until she realizes the healing power of telling her brother’s story—and her own—with words. Full of beautiful, descriptive language, this story lends itself well to read-alouds and celebrates the triumph of human resilience. Ages 10 and up.

López, Lorraine. Call Me Henri. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2006.

In a rough urban landscape of gangs, beatings, death and abuse, Enrique juggles a complicated existence between a middle school trying to assimilate him with ESL classes and the care of triplet baby brothers that he has assumed responsibility for at home. Privately, he wishes he could just learn French, a language much closer to his native Spanish. After witnessing a drive-by shooting and his own safety now threatened, supportive and sympathetic teachers intervene and arrange for an escape that is a fulfillment of Enrique’s dream. Tension and action pair with hope in this realistic account of a Mexican-American teen’s life in the barrio. Ages 12 and up.

HeatLupica, Mike. Heat. New York: Philomel Books, 2006.

Michael Arroyo is a talented baseball player with a problem. Ironically, it is the same talent that is threatening his future. Rival coaches don’t believe that he could be so good at twelve, but Miguel has no way to prove his age since his birth certificate is back in Cuba! What’s more, Michael has no parents left and if social services finds out that his dad passed away, they will put him and his older brother Carlos in foster care. Their hope is to hide the truth for a few more months until Carlos turns eighteen. There is a fairytale ending in store, but readers will appreciate the snappy dialogue and the passion Michael has for his sport. Ages 11 and up.

McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. Under the Mesquite. New York: Lee & Low Books, 2011.

Lupita’s mother is dying of cancer and their close knit-family feels like it’s unraveling as the disease takes her away. Papi takes care of her mom while Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. After her mother’s death, Lupita struggles with grief and sustaining the will to move forward with what she and her mother saw as goals for herself. She visits and seeks support from family in both Mexico and Texas and eventually comes to peace and finds herself ready to face her future. Beautifully written and entirely in verse, Under the Mesquite offers an honest look at loss, family and love. Ages 12 and up.

Yaqui DelgadoMedina, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2013.

When Piddy Sanchez is told that a stranger at her new school named Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass, she is utterly confused. Though Piddy is half-Dominican and half-Cuban, she is scorned by a rough group of Latino girls for being too white and too smart. At first, she tries to ignore the threats, but the bullying escalates from verbal abuse to physical confrontations. Piddy’s once-strong grades fall and she begins skipping school due to her constant fear of being attacked. There is no simple solution to the problem, but first Piddy has to at least break the silence. Meg Medina skillfully explores the complexity and difficulty of bullying situations, while accurately portraying the terror and conflicting emotions of a victim. This is a valuable, yet realistic book for teens and the adults in their lives. Ages 12 and up.

Miller-Lachmann, Lyn. Gringolandia. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2009.

Daniel Aquilar’s family fled to Madison, Wisconsin, after his father Marcelo was arrested, held and tortured as a military prisoner in Chile. After six years, his father is released and rejoins the family in 1986, but is thoroughly jostled by the adjustment to a new place—“Gringolandia,” he calls it. Daniel and his “gringa” girlfriend Courtney witness the damage that the trauma has caused with mixed emotions. Though in wretched shape, Marcelo is still an activist yearning to continue the fight in Chile and Daniel is led to reconcile his conflicted attitude toward his former country and roots. This novel provides a hard-hitting look at the effects of oppression, post-traumatic stress and healing. Ages 15 and up.

Enrique's JourneyNazario, Sonia. Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013.

Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, left her children behind in Honduras when Enrique was only five in order to seek relief from poverty and go find work in the United States. Like many children in this situation, Enrique is utterly lost and confused by the absence of his mother, so he sets off eleven years later, determined to find her again, on a treacherous journey across Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico—mostly on the tops of freight trains. Their reunion is not without its ups and downs either as they try to heal the pain and resentment of the separation. Sonia Nazario conducted her research first-hand and traced the journey of this real migrant boy. This book is a young adult adaptation of her 2007 book for adults updated with current immigration statistics, but it does not gloss over the true perils (such as maiming, rape, beatings and death) these migrants face. It is an eye-opening, humanizing look at immigration, sure to trigger discussion. Ages 14 and up.

Osa, Nancy. Cuba 15. New York: Delacorte Press, 2003.

Violet Paz lives in Chicago and doesn’t know much about her half-Cuban roots, nor does she really speak Spanish. She definitely is not interested in having a quinceañera, the traditional Latina coming-of-age party complete with tiaras and frilly pink dresses. But when her abuelita from Miami comes to visit and begins making plans for a “quince,” she eventually accepts. During the preparations, Violet learns a lot about what it means to be Cuban and manages to find a way to make the party her own. Sassy, fun and rich in culture, the reader will have a ball on this romp through a Latino tradition. Ages 12 and up.

We Were HerePeña, Matt de la. We Were Here. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.

Miguel Castañeda is sentenced to a year of juvie in a California group home. He and two friends he makes there, Mong and Rondell, hatch a plan to bust out and escape to Mexico. They make their way down the coast with a wad of stolen money and hopes of starting over. Miguel keeps a journal of their adventure as he tries to come to terms with his crime and cultural identity, revealing a side most would not see from appearances. The journey comes full circle as two of the boys end up heading back to where they started. This is an intense, gripping story about troubled teens that even reluctant readers will enjoy. Ages 15 and up.

Preview of the “Annual Review”

Jill Emery and Graham Stone described the reviewing process in chapter 6, “Annual Review,” of Techniques for Electronic Resource Management (2013). The process itself is pretty straightforward and the authors offer several valuable tips. For example, it is a good idea to divide your resources into batches and schedule yourself to review each quarter, making sure that you are allowing time to meet cancellation notices if you need to. Another wise piece of advice is to compare new licenses to the existing contract to be sure that unwanted changes haven’t snuck into the deal.

Since we often have access to usage statistics, this data should also play a big role in the decision-making process for continuation or cancellation. COUNTER-compliant usage data makes it easier to compare usage across vendors, with indicators like cost-per-use or percentage of total e-resources budget. Like they say, you can prove anything with statistics, and it’s nice to see how a vendor fits in among its peers—where it’s apples-to-apples, not apples-to-Volkswagens.

You can check up on vendors to see if they are actually providing compliant data by finding their listing (or lack thereof) on the COUNTER website. Even if they aren’t COUNTER-compliant and you still value their service, you should ensure that they minimally are sending you some kind of usage data in some form. However, besides usage data that comes directly from the vendor, it’s also smart to keep track of trouble, outages and downtime on your own. This could be useful in your decision-making process when searching for loser products, or even getting a refund or lower price on renewal.

Emery and Stone suggest that many vendors are open to re-negotiation once they realize they might be on the chopping block. This came as a surprise to me, especially after learning about the Big Deal packages of databases. If your library subscribes to a Big Deal plan, prices and amounts of content seem to be fixed. I would be surprised if vendors would be willing to allow you to negotiate a smaller package or drop your number of simultaneous users in that context. With Big Deals dominating large percentages of material budgets, the ability to have a bargaining chip on the vendor is definitely appealing—however, wouldn’t it mean that re-negotiation would actually change the deal into a “medium deal”?

Patron-Driven Acquisition: What happens when everyone relinquishes control (at least, for a few areas)

For a library to pilot a patron-driven acquisition program, it has to be willing to trust that the materials its patrons select are worth the money. The safeguards often put in place by librarians before triggering an auto-purchase (such as paying 10% for several short-term loans before purchasing) crank up the price, but also demonstrate that the title is in demand and has proven its usefulness. The librarian has to give up control of the selection process and trust that the money won’t be wasted. I like that the patron is given the power to show through their actual research process what they are looking for.

Is it strange that I no longer expect that industry to work to provide products based on the wants and needs of its clients? It’s just good business to do this, yet we’ve gotten so used to just accepting whatever is put in front of us, like it’s our parents telling us to “Eat your vegetables; they’re good for you.” The one-size-fits-all business model has become the norm.

Yet, here in two of our readings for this unit (Herrera, 2012, and Hamel et al., 2012), we see examples of academic libraries (University of Mississippi Libraries and University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries) who were able to successfully collaborate with e-book aggregators to create PDA programs aligned with their institutions values, missions and budgets! Both reports expressed concerns that they were still working to resolve, but also that the projects had been worth pursuing. Barb Hamel of UW-Madison Libraries came to speak to our class live and echoed Herrera’s conclusion: PDA e-books have a place as a PIECE of a collection policy. There also has to be room, especially in the budget, for a regular [print and database] collection too.

Polanka & Delquie, in their chapter of the 2011 book, Patron-Driven Acquisitions: History and Best Practices, provided a useful analysis of the aggregators providing PDA e-books, all of which seemed to offer fair and logical options for their clients. I think the authors were right to conclude that the evolution of such programs will depend on the market, the roles of librarians and the adoption of e-books. If libraries are able to create successful PDA systems, their patrons get what they are interested in AND their vendors earn a steady stream of e-book sales from the libraries, without the cost of shipping and binding and processing. Win-Win-Win.

In five to ten years, however, I wonder if these vendors of PDA systems will still be as “nice” and responsive to the libraries they serve—or if we will be back to the big guy telling the little guys “how it’s going to be”…

Silencing the Cynic

Traditionally, I am distrustful of business-types who primarily appear to be only interested in profit to the detriment of their customer and competition. Survival of the fittest may be reasonable to expect, but so is ethical behavior. I want to believe that there is more good in these deals than I think.

It doesn’t seem right to me to encourage publishers to prey on the scholarly clientele, many of whom are partially funded by public tax dollars (as with public schools or universities). Good business practices thrive from win-win situations, so the optimist in me hopes that there is more to the “Big Deal” business model for delivering digital academic content to libraries. What truly goes on behind the scenes?

Zac Rolnik’s article in the Serial Librarian in 2009 suggests that content selection has been taken away from the library (i.e. the bibliographer) and given to the Big Deal publisher, who has the power to pad the subscription with unsolicited content. These freebies are potentially wasteful, so it would seem better for libraries to choose what they want–if they could actually afford to do it this way. If I shush the cynic in me for a moment, I then consider that, since they have taken on the role of the bibliographer, it is in the publisher’s best interest to do a good job of matching content to the needs of the library because if not, at some point they risk losing the client. I would be interested in knowing HOW they approach this–what content gets selected for inclusion in a bundle and how does it vary from institution to institution?

Hopefully content does vary from institution to institution based on needs/focus, but we know that pricing definitely does. This is where I put my cynic cap back on. In 2012, Strieb and Blixrud discussed the rates of nondisclosure clauses in contracts between libraries and publishers. Knowing that libraries tend to believe in the idea that “information wants to be free” and are often subject to open records laws, it is curious to me that a publisher would ask them not to share the pricing they have agreed to, unless they are concerned with protecting a profit margin. It is a lot harder for a vendor to extract extra money out of a rookie negotiator if it is common knowledge what everyone else is paying.

To me, the refusal of three of the Big Seven publishers to sell e-books to libraries also points to greed. Why should they let libraries lend their e-books out if they can force more readers to purchase (instead of borrow) the books they want? Perhaps libraries aren’t going to get 5s across the board on their ALA Ebook Business Model Scorecards, but it would be nice if publishers would start negotiating in good faith with libraries soon.

A collection for a growing Latino population

I received an assignment to develop a collection for a public library with a growing Latino population. The parameters:

Because there had only been a tiny number of Spanish-speaking patrons in your library to this point you have almost nothing in your collection appropriate for your new patrons. Likewise, because there had been almost no Hispanic patrons in your library, there was almost nothing in your collection representing Hispanic ethnicities or authored from an Hispanic perspective.

The new patrons are about half children and young adults, almost all of whom are in school. They are almost all bilingual, though Spanish is their first language. Working-age adults constitute most of the remainder. Some are bilingual, others speak only a little English. The rest are older adults, almost all of whom speak very little English. The adults have had some formal schooling, though only a tiny portion have a full secondary education or anything beyond. Literacy rates (in Spanish) among adults is quite high.

You have been authorized by your supervisor to use $500 of this year’s collection development budget and $250 in ongoing funds (i.e., yearly expenses extending indefinitely) to expand your collection to help meet the needs of your new patrons.

Here is my attempt to address the situation:

  1. a spreadsheet with my choices of materials
  2. pie and bar graphs showing the proportions and costs of the materials

And here is my explanation/rationale…

Strategy

In order to develop a collection of library materials that would meet the needs of a growing Latino community, I divided my search into several themes: materials that maintain a connection to the Latin American world, materials that support early-childhood reading activities, multicultural material for bilingual youth and materials that address specific adult educational needs. I wanted to be sure to provide services to the Latino community that they may not be able to afford on their own or that could be used for programming to draw these families in. I specifically thought about having the appropriate resources to begin a bilingual or Spanish story-hour. I also wanted to secure cable television access to channels like Univision and Telemundo, so that families could watch soccer matches, telenovelas (soap operas) and Latin American movies in a common, social place like the library.

Because this is a collection for a public library in a community that is still adjusting to the population shift, I wanted the materials I got in English to be useful for both Latino patrons and white patrons. I choose some books that could give Anglo patrons a better understanding of the Latino experience and culture and promote tolerance.

Resources

To decide on a focus for what types of resources to look for, I asked for input from my Latino high school students. I also discussed the topic with the librarian at my school who is always working to improve our Spanish-language and multicultural collection.

As a starting point for children’s literature, I used lists of awards such as the “Pura Belpré Award” and the “Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature.” I also accessed resources from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, like their Choices 2012 publication and their “50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know” and “30 Multicultural Books Every Teen Should Know” booklists. I used Follett’s Titlewave website to get information about reading and interest levels on some of the children’s books. Customer reviews and popularity rankings on Amazon.com sometimes were helpful as a starting point to find what Spanish-speakers are reading. This wasn’t a perfect solution though, just because the “sample size” of customers publishing reviews on Spanish language books tends to be smaller than on English books. Fortunately, I do speak Spanish pretty well; otherwise, some of the descriptions would have been a barrier for me trying to figure out what to select.

When I was looking for magazines, I looked for circulation information and “top 10 lists” of Latino magazines. Ratings by HispanicMagazineMonitor published on the Media Economics Group blog were helpful. AllYouCanRead.com pointed me to a few ideas for magazines as well. There weren’t a lot of choices for men’s magazines unfortunately (unless they involved scarcely-clothed women), so most of the magazine subscriptions were for women.

In order to get more information about Latino cable television packages, I called Charter Communications and talked to a representative in the Charter Business department. He helped me draw up the pricing for a cable package at the library that includes 25 channels, ranging from Disney to ESPN Deportes to CNN en Español.

Other Considerations and Values

For the younger children, I decided that it would be best to get children’s books mostly written in Spanish, so that parents could read with them. Young readers would have also access to beginning-level texts in their native language, thus promoting bilingual literacy. I focused on tween and young adult books written in English with Latino multicultural themes. In my experience, Latino teenagers prefer to read young adult literature in English, unless their English proficiency is weak—then they either won’t read or they prefer reading in Spanish. Not surprisingly, they identify more with characters from their own national background (as opposed to exploring the experiences of Latinos from other countries.) They like stories about immigrant experiences or Latino issues (e.g. racism, gangs, poverty, etc.) set in the United States.

For the adults, I mostly searched for Spanish language materials, but I tried to focus on lighter topics, like pop culture and family. I looked for popular magazine subscriptions that would appeal to both men and women. Even though the adults do read well in Spanish, I thought the money was better spent on enhancing their entertainment and family life. Factory shifts are often long and grueling and many of the Latino parents that I know work opposite shifts so that someone can be home for the children at all times. If they are trying to balance time between work and family, I would assume that they are less likely to want to sit down with a novel than to grab a magazine or check out the soccer game on Telemundo in the library lounge. Also, considering the education levels of many of the adults, I chose a GED prep book in Spanish that could be very useful for those who never completed high school.

I chose to use Amazon.com as my primary source for purchasing and pricing, mostly because they currently have the largest Spanish language collection of books, movies, music and magazines all in one spot and free shipping if you purchase in volume, which the library would do. I chose library binding and hardcover books whenever possible, in order to prolong the life of the collection. The prices listed in the spreadsheet are publisher list-price, so someone replicating my plan would not necessarily have to purchase through Amazon.com.

Because this is a budding collection in a library that essentially had not Spanish-language resources before, I thought it was most important to build a foundation of print materials, before seeking movies or music. Also, because children’s books are quick to read, it seemed important to have a ready supply. I had to sacrifice a few reference materials for the adults, such as picture dictionaries and ESL materials, in favor of a well-developed bilingual children’s collection. This children’s collection would be used by both the children and the parents, since the parents could read to their children as a family activity.

Unanswered Questions

It would have been useful for me to know more about the nationalities of these Latinos. Because I didn’t know if they are originally be from Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Honduras, Cuba, Guatemala, etc., it was hard to target books that they would identify with.

I also assumed that most of the Latinos world be Christian and Catholic, but without knowing for sure, it may have been presumptuous of me to subscribe to the Magnificat religious publication or buy the Bible storybook.

I wasn’t sure what kind of technology resources this library had at its disposal either. I calculated the price of the Latino View cable package as an add-on and assumed that the library already maintained basic monthly cable access. I also assumed that the library had some kind of station that digital magazine issues could be accessed. Without knowing for sure though, these resources may have been wasted.