A School Library Diversity Initiative

Understanding the importance of diversity in school libraries: Who does diversity benefit and how?

Partner overview 

Imagine Me Stories (IMS) is working to address the lack of diversity in the UK children’s book industry providing book packages for schools to diversify their libraries and ensure children are able to read stories with diverse perspectives and experiences. 

The challenge

children's books

33.1% of UK school children are from a BAME background. In contrast, CLPE statistics released in 2018 show that only 7% of UK published children’s books featured a BAME main character. Such lack of diversity in literature has real-life effects not only for BAME children, but for society as a whole.

Research shows that lack of representation can result in low self-esteem and reduced life chances among BAME children, while among non-BAME children the lack of exposure to BAME characters can result in general intolerance towards people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. 

Research team

  • Nicola Lester, Department of Human Communication, Development and Hearing, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, The University of Manchester.
  • Susie Johns, Department of History, Humanities, Keele University
  • Yaron Golan, Department of Politics, History & Philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University

The solution 

The aims of this project were to gain a better understanding of the current level of diversity in school libraries, and also the procurement decisions for stocking libraries, thus hopefully identifying a market for IMS and how they can meet schools’ needs.

A questionnaire was disseminated to thousands of primary schools across the UK to gain information on the diversity of their libraries; how decisions are made about their collections; and the processes used to stock libraries. The questionnaire responses, along with a summary of the existing literature surrounding the effects of engaging with diverse literature, and a summary of Ofsted and DfE guidance on diversity in schools, were collated into a comprehensive report for the partner. 

Outcomes and impact

The research found that there are wide-spread issues around under-representation in UK school libraries and that this has real consequences for children of all backgrounds. Nevertheless, the team found that many librarians and literacy leads are aware of the issue and hope to address it, and that there is therefore a demand for Imagine Me Stories’ services.

While there are various reasons as to why schools struggle to diversify their libraries, the key obstacle is the lack of information on how to source diverse books. The report provides the partner with a de facto toolkit for embedding their services into the existing education system. The benefits of this are threefold:

  • This will help IMS increase their sales and achieve their goal of diversifying school libraries.
  • This will benefit schools – most of which are already seeking to work with a company like IMS to diversify their libraries.
  • Pupils for years to come will be able to see their experiences and identities reflected in their schools’ books.

In the media

  • Kids library books are virtually all-white
    The Voice, 19 October 2021.

Read the report

Understanding and promoting diversity in Primary school libraries (PDF, 1.2mb)

I would definitely recommend [the Collaboration Labs] programme to other partners. The researchers fully understood the project goals and exceeded my expectations in their delivery. The findings will prove very useful in establishing business relationships with schools in the future and also the research is very helpful in drawing attention to the lack of diversity in school libraries and how this can be addressed.

Keisha Ehigie / Imagine Me Stories Director

We learned that the skills we have acquired on our PhDs are transferable, and can be used to problem-solve in a variety of situations rather than just for academic writing. This will be invaluable in looking for work beyond academia, as well as in conducting future interdisciplinary work. Academia can be a lonely place, and the possibility of linking up with others and thinking through problems together rather than individually has been invigorating and led to great work satisfaction.

Yaron Golan / Manchester Metropolitan University

We enjoyed and valued collaborating with a non-academic partner, on a project that we not only feel passionately about, but that is immensely important to the society in which we live.

Susie Johns / Keele University