In this reading, Cai describes three possible interpretations of multicultural literature:
1. multicultural literature includes literature from all cultures, with no distinction between the dominant and other cultures.
2. multicultural literature includes only literature from cultures which are marginalised – without the elements of power structure and struggle the term multicultural loses its meaning.
3. multicultural literature should focus only on “people of colour”, whose voices have typically been absent from literature.
While always celebrating the multicultural nature of Australia and bandying the word about a lot, I had never really thought about how the term ‘multicultural’ might actually be defined. I’ve always thought of the ‘culture’ part as only ethnic (not just indicated by skin colour/visible differences though – Russian folktales definitely count!). The inclusion of sexual orientation/disability/the elderly etc is new to me and while I agree there are ‘cultures’ associated with some of these, I would probably list them separately in my selection criteria otherwise they may be overlooked by people like me who have never thought about how broad ‘multicultural’ might be. Upon reflection, I think if you have a multicultural library, it means the literature of the dominant culture is there as a given PLUS literature from other cultures. Otherwise it is monocultural (dominant culture only).
As a Teacher Librarian, I think the first priority is to know the diversity of your clientele and cater to that, then as much as possible include representations of other cultures and groups to allow library users to see the diversity possible in the wider world.
Cai, M. (2002). Defining multicultural literature. In Multicultural literature for children and young adults : reflections on critical issues (pp. 3-8). Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press.