To Whom It May Concern at the Libby App, by Overdrive:
I have recently started using the Libby App to request, download, and read / listen to books through the busiest library in the world for the population it serves, aka the Toronto Public Library. While I’d previously used the Overdrive app, it had been a long time, and honestly, the Libby App is so much better. It’s design is easier to use from what I remember and looks nicer—both of which would make me want to use it more frequently…even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic with all the local library branches closed.
I even noticed that you have some timely categories that could help readers find books that meet their needs more easily, such as a curated list of books that celebrate Muslim culture under the general heading of Teen titles. Perfect for Ramadan!
Now I want to say that I’m not religious, and I wasn’t brought up in the Muslim culture. However, I have read many of the Sandhya Menon’s YA novels, including From Twinkle, with Love and There’s Something About Sweetie. (To my blog readers, I want you to please excuse what might seem to be a non sequitur for just a moment. Things will become clearer very soon, I promise.)
Both of the above mentioned books by Sandhya Menon were listed among the 10 featured books under the Celebrating Muslim Culture category. The entire list has, I’m told from the app, over 100 titles, but I honestly didn’t check it out any further because two of the first 10 were very suspect in my opinion
Suspect? Are you wondering why, as of yet unnamed employee of the Libby App? Well, when two of the first 10 books I noticed on the list don’t actually celebrate anything about Muslim Culture as the list purports, it calls the other 98+ into question. You see, the main characters of Sandhya Menon’s contemporary YA books are, like the author, not Muslim, but Hindu.
For the most part, these books don’t focus on religion, so if you’re just quickly scanning and see a brown person on their covers, then I guess it might be possible to mistake Hindu people for Muslims who don’t wear a hijab. I mean, as a white person, I wouldn’t mistake them, but maybe someone who works on the Libby App or the Toronto Public Library did. However, if you actually knew these books, then you would know that both Sweetie and her love interest, Ashish, in There’s Something About Sweetie go to a temple on one of their dates at Ashish’s mother’s insistence. Yes, a Hindu Temple, not a Mosque—the type of religious place where Muslims go to pray.
As I said earlier, I’m not Muslim, but I’m also not Hindu, so this oversight doesn’t offend me personally. However, as someone who is white, I think it’s important that people working in the very white book publishing world actually get this kind of thing right.
Because it may offend someone. They might think that the Libby app and those who work for it just don’t care enough about creating an exact, personalized reading experience for them because they aren’t white people.
Moreover, it may cause someone to distrust your app or the library completely if they pick up these books thinking they will celebrate Muslim culture as per the category listing, but they come to realize that they have nothing to do with Muslim culture.
Furthermore, Sandhya Menon’s books aren’t just targeted toward people who share the same Indian-American upbringing as her characters. Remember, I read them even though I’m a white person who will never know what it’s like to have my parents attempt to set up an arranged marriage for me and who can’t begin to understand what a Hindu, Indian-American teen would expect to experience.
Some white people, like myself, will realize that these stories are actually about Hindu characters. However, there’s also a big risk that some white people will pick up these books from your list saying that they Celebrate Muslim Culture, will read them, and because these books don’t focus on religion in any significant way, they may close them book with this really wrong idea about the characters in their mind, especially if they don’t know anyone in real life who is Muslim.
I know mistakes happen. But I also know that if the characters in these books were white, the readers who picked up the books because they identified with the type of characters or stories they expected to find wouldn’t end up being disappointed in any way. People of colour should have the same reading experience when they seek books that show their culture.
I think that for all the reasons I stated above—this mis-categorization may offend people in minor or major ways, may cause them to completely distrust your app and refrain from using it anymore, and/or may perpetuate ignorance about other cultures when some people in the white “majority” pick up these books—someone should update this list immediately and take more care going forward when you create content lists without having actually read the books in question.
YA Book Shelf