Penn State Brandywine’s Vairo Library has officially launched its Diverse Reading Challenge for 2022! The semester-long challenge encourages students, faculty, staff and community members to read at least three books by authors from a diversity of backgrounds.
As Annie Jansen, reference and research librarian explains, the challenge provides a unique chance for participating readers to broaden their horizons.
“I think most people would agree with me that reading diverse books really provides an opportunity to travel beyond our own community, our own social status, and our own everyday culture,” Jansen explained.
“So I think it's a nice way to learn some empathy and understanding about groups that we ourselves are maybe not part of,” Jansen added.
Jansen learned about the concept from the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services group.
“At a symposium a few years ago, there was this public librarian who was talking about the summer reading program for teens, where they had this challenge to read a book with a protagonist by a Black author, a book with a protagonist with a Latinx heroine. So that kind of idea spurred me to think, well, how can we do this with a college population, including students and faculty and staff,” Jansen explained.
“So I amended it a little bit, but it was really this idea from this public services librarian that I took and ran with,” Jansen said, adding that the challenge has truly been a group effort shared among the entire library staff.
“We’ve all been involved with it and supportive of it -- coming up with different books and title and working on it together,” Jansen said.
Each month, the staff provides a selection of titles representing a different diverse backgrounds and creates a themed table displaying some of their suggestions.
“In February we ask people to read a book by a Black author for Black History Month, in March, we are hoping that people will join us in reading a work by a person who identifies as female for Women's History Month,” Jansen explained. “And then in April, we're going to try to encourage people to read works by anyone who is neuro-diverse. April is Autism Plus Awareness Month.”
"Engaging with texts by authors of varying backgrounds allows us to share and maybe understand some perspectives that might be different from our own."
—Annie Jansen , reference and instruction librarian
The Diverse Read Challenge also includes monthly “book chats,” which allow participating students, faculty and staff to come together and discuss their reading experiences. During last year’s challenge, Jansen explained, this was one of the most interesting aspects.
“Even though we did not read the same title each month, we all had points to bring to our conversation that really allowed us to understand the challenges a population is facing -- a population that we ourselves are not a part of,” Jansen said.
“So even though we're not reading the same title, I think we're joining in this kind of circle of understanding and empathy and growing, and we're diversifying our shelves at the same time which is great too” Jansen said.
“Especially if we're thinking about faculty who are doing this that then have these books on their shelves. And when students come in and see the books on their bookshelves, in their offices, they think, oh, that's a book by a person that looks like me or I've heard of that one. So there's all of this representation that's happening that I think is really important too,” Jansen said.
Faculty, staff, students and community members who participate in the challenge are encouraged to share their reading journey on social media using the hashtag #BWDiverseReads22. The challenge also has a Teams page and their suggested reading lists can be found here. The book chats will be held at 3 p.m. Feb. 25, March 25 and April 22 with the location to be determined.