Disproportionate representation of ethnic minorities revealed in UK’s school library books

  • International School Library Month’s theme for 2021 is ‘Fairy tales and folk tales around the world’
  • Research team calls on government to pay for ethnically diverse fictional books in every school in UK to combat the need for ethnic minority

A new study has found that less than 10% of children’s books published in Britain feature characters from BAME backgrounds. 

This is despite the fact that 33% of  school children in the UK are from an ethnic minority. 

A research team made up of researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Manchester, and Keele University, have cooperated with company Imagine Me Stories to investigate this matter for the University of Manchester’s Collaboration Labs programme financed by the Economic and Social Research Council. 

According to the researchers’ findings, 65% of school libraries revealed that less than 15% of their books featured ethnic minority main characters. 

Government statistics show that only 4% of those books having ethnic minorities as the heroes/heroines. 

The findings were released to coincide with 2021 International School Library Month (ISLM) 

ISLM’s theme of ‘Fairy tales and folk tales around the world’, founded on the International Association of School Librarianship’s conference theme ‘A rich tapestry of practice and research around the world’. 

Studies have already shown that there are different global versions of the same children’s fairy/folk tale which may teach the same moral messages using different cultural contexts. 

Zahra, an Asian British sixth form college student spoke to Northern Quota on the issue: “I personally don’t care because growing up, I’ve never cared for the race or ethnicity of the characters. It’s about the story that the author has written and the message that the story conveys. 

“The race or ethnicity of the character does not affect the story unless the culture plays a main part of the plot. I don’t feel insecure because there wasn’t somebody of my background in a fictional book. 

“However, for children who do feel underrepresented, they could ask for a section in school libraries dedicated to ethnic minority stories.” 

In regard to the International School Library Month’s theme of fairy tales and folk tales around the world, she said: “There are so many fairy tales from around the world that could be in the libraries, instead of the fairy tales that everybody knows. 

“Or they could be the fairy tales we know, but just from different places in the world, like the Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood.”

Despite this relatively dissenting opinion, the researchers’ stance remains calling on publishers to tackle the challenge of the disproportion of books and writers that they run with and meet the demand of children who can feel both connected to their cultural roots and find connections in the cultural roots of others for the purposes of both self-education and leisure.