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Reflecting on CBC Diversity

Contributed by Mark von Bargen, Senior Director of Trade Sales of Children’s Books at Macmillan

With the year coming to a close, I am finishing up a two-year term on the CBC Diversity Committee. It has been a great honor to work with the committee. They are doing amazing work, putting together terrific programs that are bringing about real change in our industry. As a final blog post, I wanted to share some thoughts.

When first starting on the committee, it seemed like a swirl of ideas, opportunities, and issues, all combating preconceived notions. It was hard to get a sense of where to go. One issue that kept coming up was the ability to find diverse books — the problem of “discoverability.” With somewhere between six hundred thousand and one million books being published each year, accurate categorization is vital to ensuring that books can be found. Our industry subject codes, the Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISACs) are outdated, with some categories not represented. Some books that address diverse social issues do not have an aligned category code. As a result, they are given overly generic codes. When this happens, especially with novels, they are often lost in the tidal wave of “fiction.” Thanks to the work of the committee, there are new codes being added to help the categorization problem. There is more to be done. Categorization is not static. It evolves, like language. As a group we need to keep current.

What keeps coming back to me is that diversity is about sharing stories and ensuring that voices are heard. Of course, the issue goes beyond children’s books. But every change starts with a moment; a moment that is a conversation, a thought, or a story. The stories we publish create those moments. There are enough logistical challenges in publishing books. The whole publishing process, from author to reader, can feel like a “pass the egg” game at a kids’ party.

It’s pretty safe to say that we all share the goal of understanding our world and making it better. Thanks to technology, the ability to speak up and be heard is more powerful than we could have imagined a generation ago. I recently saw a map that shows how much of the world is connected to the internet.

It’s startling to see how concentrated the coverage is, where it is, and where it isn’t. Looking at this map shows how lucky we are. To understand our world, we need to be the light for those who are not. We have the tools to do that. We have the passion to do that. In some ways, we are being the light for those in the darkness.

We all have our comfort zones. When I look at what is now in mine, much of it was at one time outside of it. As we accumulate experience, our comfort zone grows —consciously and subconsciously. Great stories come from many sources.  Getting out of one’s comfort zone is essential to finding those stories. My resolution for 2016 is to venture more out of my comfort zone and make it bigger.

None of what I’m saying is new. But putting it down in writing is new for me. Thanks for listening.

Mark von Bargen is the Senior Director of Trade Sales of Children’s Books at Macmillan. He started in the book business in 1988 as a book store manager and has held buying, marketing and sales positions at Baker & Taylor, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan. He currently specializes in children’s book sales through independent bookstores and educational wholesalers and is an out-going member of the CBC Diversity Committee.

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