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Penn Libraries News

Diversity in the Stacks: Award-Winning Books in the Library Catalog

How Penn Libraries staff are making it easier for library patrons to discover books that have won awards for their depictions of or significance to marginalized communities.

Books on a shelf. Legible titles include: The Usual Suspects, Belles, Sea Winter, Dream Country, and The Last-Last Day of Summer.

Acquiring materials for the Penn Libraries’ collections is an ongoing and complex process. Working with many book dealers and other library material vendors, library staff build collections to include materials that meet the teaching, learning, and research needs of the University of Pennsylvania community. The Libraries also makes an effort to build collections that are as diverse as the communities they serve.

One of the methods that librarians use to acquire materials is to create profiles with library material vendors that reflect Penn’s collection requirements. These profiles, known as approval plans, allow vendors to automatically ship the most recently published materials that meet the Libraries’ needs. Several years ago, subject specialists expanded vendor profiles in order to increase the diversity of the Penn collections. With this change, the Libraries now automatically acquires a wide range of diversity award-winning books for both adults and children. These are books that have won awards for their depictions of or significance to marginalized communities, often given by organizations representing those communities. Some of these awards are longstanding, such as the National Jewish Book Awards, presented since 1950 for outstanding books of Jewish interest. Other awards are more recent, like the American Indian Youth Literature Award, honoring writing and illustrations by Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples of North America. Some awards focus on children and young adults; for example, the Américas Award is given out for books about Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinx cultures in the United States. Other awards focus on adult literature, like the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, which is awarded to Black literature in the United States and globally. Other awards encompass both adult and children’s literature. The Lambda Literary Awards celebrate LGBTQ writers and includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biography/memoir, comics, drama, and more for adults, children, and young adults. The various awards highlight many cultures and ethnicities. The Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature honors works about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage. Similarly, the Arab American Book Award honors books written by or about Arab Americans and reflecting their experience.

We wanted to make it easy for library users to find award-winners in our online catalog. Like all new library materials, each award-winning title receives a cataloging record in the Penn Libraries Franklin catalog, which allows users to search for books available at the library and shows them the options they have for borrowing them. Library staff were faced with a challenge: how could they ensure that someone would be able to find all the honorees for a given award—sometimes hundreds of books over many years? To begin to solve this puzzle, they researched each of the awards and gathered data from official sources like organizational websites. They then created spreadsheets for each award that included the official award name, the various award categories, and the publication data for all winners and honorees since the inception of the award. The COVID-19 lockdown presented an opportunity to complete this work while staff were working remotely in 2020. The next phase of the work involved matching the data on spreadsheets with titles already in the Libraries’ cataloging system. During this matching phase, staff also identified titles not present in Penn’s collections. Cataloging staff shared this information with subject specialists to consider for future purchase.

Metadata librarians with special expertise completed the final phase of the project. They worked with batch tools that allow for computer-assisted manipulation of large sets of data. Librarians frequently use batch tools to create and update cataloging records and other library metadata. These tools create processing efficiencies by eliminating the need for manual editing of cataloging records in some cases, while still resulting in easy-to-find records in our catalog. Some batch metadata tools include open-source and freely available programs such as OpenRefine and MarcEdit. Proprietary products include other tools, such as macros within Microsoft Excel, and tools in the cataloging system, which include import profiles, merge rules, and normalization rules. For this project, metadata librarians added an award note to each catalog record using these batch tools. The award note includes the name of the award, the award category (such as Nonfiction, Poetry, or Biography), and the year awarded. These notes display in Franklin and are searchable by keyword.

Screenshot showing the Franklin catalog record for the book Babyji: a novel by Abha Dawesar. The "Notes" section is circled in red and lists two awards the book has won: the Stonewall Book awards - Barbara Gittings Literature Award, Winter 2006 and the Lambda Literary Award - Lesbian Fiction, Winner, 2006.
Franklin catalog record for Babyji: A Novel by Abha Dawesar.

Library staff completed the initial diversity awards metadata project in 2020, which highlighted 33 awards and updated nearly 3,000 records. We recently completed a follow-up project to add notes to the newly-acquired award-winning books, and we plan to repeat this process annually to highlight new additions to Penn’s diverse collections. This project is only one of the ways that library staff are working to improve and enrich metadata to increase access to Penn’s collections. You can learn more about our other efforts in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Catalog Searching.

Since working on this project, we have received feedback from a number of librarians. Several have made suggestions for expanding the project to include additional awards. One librarian mentioned that working on the project brought to her attention some of the recent award-winners that she added to her reading list. Personally, this project brought home in a concrete way the many different forms and flavors of diversity in the Penn Libraries collections. Since we worked on this project in a retrospective way, it became clear that we have been acquiring diverse materials for many years—long before we started to highlight them through the Diversity in the Stacks series. Thanks to our efforts to highlight the award-winning books in our catalog, these important materials will become even easier for our library users to discover.