The Ohioana Library Association thanks everyone who has expressed their views and concerns regarding diversity in our programming, particularly the 2018 Ohioana Book Awards held last October at the Ohio Statehouse, and the 2019 Ohioana Book Festival, held on April 27 at Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Library.
This year marks Ohioana’s 90th anniversary. Throughout our history, Ohioana has served diverse communities and looked for new ways to reach out to those communities, both live and virtual. Our programming and events are open to all, regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, or political beliefs.
More than 400 books every year are considered for the Ohioana Book Awards, which are the second oldest state literary prize in the nation. These books are nominated by authors, publishers, and the general public. There are only two criteria. First, the author must be an Ohioan or a non-Ohioan whose book is on an Ohio subject. Second, the book must have been traditionally published (not self-published) in the past year. Any author whose work meets these criteria is eligible. Five finalists are chosen by volunteer judges in each of six categories, and one in each is selected as the winner. Throughout the history of the book awards, the winners have reflected a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, including persons of color and other minorities.
The Ohioana Book Festival is open to any Ohio author who has had a book traditionally published in the past year. Ohioana takes applications from authors from July to November, and participants are selected in December. While some authors are specifically invited, including past Ohioana Award winners, the majority are chosen via the open application process. Every festival has included authors of color, authors who are LGBTQAI+, and authors with disabilities. The number of participants in these groups can vary from year to year, based on how many authors in these groups apply with books that qualify.
The festival itself is free and open to the public. April 27’s event, presented for the first time at Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Library, drew a record 4,400 attendees. They represented a wide and diverse audience of readers from Columbus and beyond, and 68% who took our on-site survey said it was their first festival. Reaching new audiences was an important goal in moving the festival to the Main Library.
We recognize we can do more to create a more diverse representation on all fronts: in our awards review process; in selecting authors for the book festival, including distributing the application in places where it can be found by writers who are not familiar with Ohioana or the festival; and in recruiting members for our board. Identifying ways to improve in these areas, and then implementing those identified changes, will be a major focus for the Ohioana Library over the coming months.
We appreciate that several people, including those who have been among our biggest supporters and our most vocal critics, have expressed their willingness to help. We look forward to working with them and the community to discuss what next steps Ohioana can take, both formal and informal, to encourage greater diversity and inclusiveness.