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Our Voices: A New Program for Indie Publishers

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by Curt Matthews, Chairman, Board of Chicago Review; Independent Publishers Group

Curt Matthews

Curt Matthews

The American Library Association has announced a new initiative, Our Voices, which is designed to boost the publication and circulation of books that explore the unique experiences of diverse groups in our society, including people of color, the LGBTQIA community, the differently abled, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

It is no mystery why diversity is now such a very widely discussed topic. By 2050 or so, the majority of Americans will no longer be white; since 2014, the majority of children born here are of non-white descent. People from under-represented groups continue to advocate vocally on their own behalves. Though there is no shortage of ideas or innovation coming from these diverse sources, there remains a lack of representation.

The ALA’s concerns about diversity center on how libraries should adapt their collections and services to adequately represent these traditionally silenced voices. Two important ALA divisions, the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS), have joined forces to stimulate the publication of titles dedicated to diversity. Here is a short list of their major concerns:

  1. The rise of challenges to diverse content. (Nine of the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2015 were by diverse authors or about diverse characters.)
  2. The failure of mainstream publishing, especially the Big Five publishers, to provide diverse content, despite the obvious increase in demand for such content.
  3. Readers who do not find their diversity reflected in their local library’s collection will find that library irrelevant and look elsewhere for books.
  4. Independent publishers and self-published authors produce the lion’s share of titles concerned with diversity, but they have great difficulty in bringing such titles to the attention of libraries.

Our Voices will have these major elements:

  1. The ALA will create a dedicated website that will describe the sorts of books that are right for the program and will solicit diverse content from independent publishers and self-publishers. A prototype site, ourvoiceschicago.ala.org, can now be viewed.
  2. ALA professionals will screen the submitted titles and allow the ones that meet its editorial and production standards into the Our Voices program.
  3. The selected titles will be featured in special four-color electronic catalogs circulated periodically to interested libraries of all kinds throughout America.
  4. Libraries that want to buy particular titles will be able to do so in a very direct and cost-effective process through their vender of choice.

The ALA’s Our Voices initiative is a powerful endorsement of the value and increasing importance of independent publishing.

Curt Matthews is chairman of the Board of Chicago Review Press Inc. and Independent Publishers Group. He serves on the ALA’s Our Voices Advisory Council.

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