WeNeedDiverseBooks Analysis: What I’ve Learned

It’s strange to go into a hashtag centered around something you believe in deeply. It’s obviously more interesting than taking something you don’t care about, which makes the homework feel a lot less like work. On the other hand, it’s pretty much impossible to go into it without any preconceived notions about what you’re going to find.

Fortunately for me, I like a bit of a surprise.

When I started studying the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, I had heard of the movement–as well as its corresponding website–and saw the benefits that its prevalence had reaped. (As I said in a prior post, last year’s discussion about diversity in children’s literature most likely influenced the results of this year’s Youth Media Awards.) Individuals I knew in the children’s/young adult literature community had We Need Diverse Books banners added to their Twitter icons, my library had a specialized display up for months, they had an Indiegogo campaign… it was everywhere. And I was totally into it. But as much as I knew about it, I didn’t really know much about it. (If that makes sense.)

Diving into the hashtag, I noticed a few things. First, most of the diversity discussed in the tag was racial, and the myriad other kinds of diversity out there were uncommon. Second, a great majority of the tweets with the hashtag attached were retweets, and not much conversation happened.

A sample of tweets I archived. All tweets with RT at the beginning are retweets.
A sample of tweets I archived. All tweets with RT at the beginning are retweets. There are plenty more where those came from.

I was a bit disappointed. I was hoping to see thoughtful tweets about disability and mental illness in books, and there were only a few mentions of books with disabled characters (or even expressions of a want/need for books containing said characters). More than that, though, I wanted to see conversations going on, and there weren’t any.

Then, once I started following lots of authors and book enthusiasts, something occurred to me: the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag is only one facet of the pro-diversity community, and only one of its tools for communication. Following authors that used the tag frequently led me to a multitude of interesting discussions, plenty of feedback about things that are/are not good in regards to cultural representation, and talk about all kinds of diversity.

And, of course, I joined in here and there.

A conversation with the Twitter account for Tu Books, a publisher I discussed in an earlier post.
A conversation with the Twitter account for Tu Books, a publisher I discussed in an earlier post.

(Including the above tweet because it led to an interesting conversation with author Chase Night about unoriginality of book marketing. Which is awesome, because I talked to an author about something indirectly related to diversity.) There are many things that I have taken away from the whole experience of interacting with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag.

1. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag fits all of the criteria for a community that Nancy K. Baym describes in Personal Connections in the Digital Age. In the beginning of chapter 4, “Communities and Networks,” Baym lists five characteristics that online groups shared. They were a sense of space, shared practice, shared resources/support, shared identities, and interpersonal relationships.” (p. 72) Some of them are easier to assess than others, but by her standards #WeNeedDiverseBooks is a community. The space is the hashtag itself, the practice is using the hashtag and discussing diversity, the resources are various book lists and websites about diversity in books, the identities are generally as writers or readers (or both!) who all care about diversity, and most people have interpersonal relationships with one another. Based on this, I’ve come to the conclusion that this hashtag does, indeed, qualify as a community.

2. Though #WeNeedDiverseBooks is, in itself, a community, it is also part of a larger community. This is something I suspected; after all, I’d been on the fringes of the children’s literature community during the time when the hashtag was at peak popularity. However, I was unaware of the complexities of both communities. It’s hard to find anybody in the children’s literature community that doesn’t care about WNDB; on the flipside, nobody who uses the hashtag doesn’t care about children’s literature. (Aside from those who use it improperly, but I weeded them out.)

3. Though all diversity is important, #WeNeedDiverseBooks talks primarily about racial diversity. And that’s perfectly fine.   Though the children’s literature community at large cares a lot about all sorts of diversity, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag is mostly concerned with promoting books about and written by people of color. Though this initially disappointed me, I had to adjust my expectations and try to understand why this must be so. And it’s true: There aren’t all that many books about children and teens of different races out there, and the ones that do get released are often buried by their publishers in favor of books that are about white kids/teens. The world is a much more racially diverse place than the books that are supposed to represent it, and this is a problem that needs to be rectified. As much as I desperately want more intelligent and respectful books about people with disabilities and mental illness, that’s not quite the conversation that’s going on in this hashtag. But something just as important is, and that’s valuable.

With numbers like this, it's hard to argue.
A table with statistics from the article above. With numbers like this, it’s hard to argue.

4. Studying a hashtag, especially one related to your career field, changes you. I’m not going to lie: Before I started researching #WeNeedDiverseBooks, my reading list for this year’s YA lineup wasn’t remotely diverse beyond books about mental illness and disability. It was blindingly white, straight as a ruler, and overall sort of “familiar.” I’d only heard about the big buzz titles, because they were getting the best reviews. This, sadly, ensured that a lot of things flew by my radar for a little while. (There is much to be said about mainstream publications’ reluctance to recognize books by authors of color, as well as the general perception of diverse books by reviewers.) During the study, I took a look at my list of books I wanted to read, and it hit me. I decided to fix that right away, and looking through the hashtag put some incredible-sounding titles on my radar for the coming months…

And I grabbed a bunch of diverse titles from my local library, too.

So how has it worked out? Very well, I’d say. My reading list is truly diverse now, consisting of even more books than before, and I’ve found some truly incredible stories. That, I think, was supposed to be the end goal of #WeNeedDiverseBooks: to get people to read books they wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and to show publishers that these books are every bit as valuable as the ones they promote so heavily. And if it worked on somebody who was supposed to be analyzing the tag for school, imagine how it would impact a kid just looking for good books to read about people like them.

WeNeedDiverseBooks Analysis: What I’ve Learned

Kim’s Thoughts on the Diary of Writing Technology Activities

For an assignment for my Writing, Research and Technology Class, I was asked to track my phone usage for 48 hours. Each time I picked up my phone, I had to write down the activity I was doing, how long it lasted, and what (if anything) I interrupted to check on my phone.

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I started my assignment at 6:00 PM on Monday, February 23rd, and ended it at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, February 25th.

During the course of this assignment, I picked up my phone 56 individual times.

Activities:

Phone calls: 2 times (social) (1 minute)
Text messages: 15 times (social/textual) (2 minutes)
Facebook: 5 times (social/textual) (10 minutes)
Google Survey: 1 time (social) (2 minutes)
Spotify: 5 times (social) (4 hours)
Other social websites: 3 times (social) (15 minutes)
Google Sheets: 1 time (textual) (2 minutes)
Google Docs: 2 times (textual) (10 minutes)
Email: 2 times (textual/social) (5 minutes)
Browsing the Internet: 3 times (social/textual) (10 minutes)
Tweeting: 10 times (textual/social) (4 minutes)
Playing games: 3 times (social) (30 minutes
Miscellaneous social activities: 4 times (social) (10 minutes)

Total time spent on phone: 5 hours, 41 minutes.

It wasn’t all that difficult to take note of each activity… except when I was walking around. Unfortunately, most of my periods of heavy phone usage occur when I’m walking somewhere. In these instances, I had to make sure I only checked my phone when I could get to a flat surface to write on, or to make mental notes to write the information down the minute I got to one. The little Field Notes book was easy to carry it around as I walked, and I was able to write down all the phone activity that took place.

Things filled up rather quickly at first.
Things filled up rather quickly at first.

I feel as if this activity connects to technological determinism because, well, tracking technology on paper is sometimes horrifically inconvenient. While I was conducting the assignment, I often wondered if it would be easier and more efficient for me to keep the log in a Google Sheets document instead. I definitely think technological determinism is a spot-on perspective; the more new writing technologies come my way, the less I like writing by hand.

I decided to lessen my phone usage during the 48-hour period. The main reason for doing this was so I didn’t have to write down a note every five seconds. Fortunately, since I don’t get a lot of texts and have other methods of communicating with my friends (mainly from my Chromebook), no big problems occurred. I wasn’t acting against societal pressure to use technology so much as plain ignoring society’s pressures by doing things on my own terms. I’m not into text-based communication due to its awkwardness and lack of direct emotional expression, so it wasn’t very hard to do.

Sadly, though, there were times when more important things got interrupted.
Sadly, though, there were times when more important things got interrupted. (Sorry, Professor Wolff!)

Considering how I still logged a considerable amount of time spent on my phone, though, what does it say about my phone usage during a normal week? In a 48-hour period of more typical phone usage, I suspect the numbers would double.

I wasn’t all that surprised to find that other apps took up the rest of my time, since I don’t text much. Most of my phone usage was when listening to music on Spotify… which totaled up to 4 hours of my total time because I spent all of my time scrolling around on the app. I also spent a lot more time on phone games than I thought I would; though it only totaled about 30 minutes, that’s twice as much as I expected. This tells me that I’m more interested in music and interactive media than participatory culture.

In her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym says that “People, technologies, and institutions all have power to influence the development and subsequent use of technology.” (p. 47) I agree wholeheartedly with this assumption, and believe that our society has fully changed the way we do things, and has created a boatload of technological advancements. But that doesn’t mean I feel the need to O.D. on them just because others around me do.

I love my phone, and I feel it plays a vital role in my life, but I wouldn’t say it’s been fully domesticated into my life yet. It’s an incredibly convenient tool in many ways, but not something I can’t live without. It does, however, offer me things that a lot of other devices cannot: considerable portability, relatively quick ability to interact with others, and a lot of interesting other bits of interactivity. The way that my phone use changed reflects my fight against the current technology overload in the world: I don’t particularly care about what the “societal norms” regarding technology usage are. I do either what I have to do or want to do when it comes to my technology usage.

I’m not sure I’m as digitally literate as I thought I was before this project. I know how to navigate the spaces I enjoy, but not so much how to branch out beyond them. Interacting on social networking beyond close friends sites like Facebook is still a profoundly bizarre experience; self-promotion and “selfies” are things I try to avoid like the plague. It’s jarring to see others around me who are so accustomed to using technology already and how the world changes to make us even more tech-friendly–this is part of the social shaping phenomenon where tech and users feed each other’s changes–but I’m slowly coming around to changing as well.

Here's the back of my Field Notes. I drew my phone, which I nicknamed Harold.
Here’s the back of my Field Notes. I drew my phone, which I nicknamed Harold 3.0 as part of a running joke.
Kim’s Thoughts on the Diary of Writing Technology Activities