This essay first appeared in the October 2022 issue of Choice (volume 60 | issue 2).
The call for libraries to diversify their collections has gained a new sense of urgency considering the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd. In response, library selectors are seeking books for their collections not just about diversity and inclusion as a topic, but that represent a diverse authorship within their field of selection. The authors of this essay include a science librarian, a biochemist working in a university chemistry department, and an astronomer. Working together, our team sought to establish a methodology to diversify our library’s collections in the sciences by gathering and reviewing recently published books written by BIPOC scientists. This bibliographic essay reports on the results of our effort and seeks to encourage other libraries and library staff who may pursue similar initiatives.
As readers will discover below, there is a wealth of new books authored by BIPOC scientists, and yet we readily admit that we have only begun to scratch the surface of what is available. Regrettably, current library search tools are not especially suited for discovering such books. As reported in the literature, issues inherent to library searching and classification limit the usefulness of typical bibliographic skills for discovering authors of diverse ethnicity.1 One cannot simply “apply a filter” or use a subject heading for books written by authors who do not self identify as white.2 If a BIPOC scientist is contributing to the literature in their field, rather than writing on diversity as such, there is no quick way to identify their books through library databases or other discovery tools, or even through collection development tools such as GOBI.3 Thus, ad hoc strategies were developed to locate books for this project, as discussed briefly below. Team members desired to avoid making assumptions about how authors identify racially, highlighting the heightened level of awareness and research diligence we needed to employ. We were also frustrated by our inability to access certain books that met our selection criteria but were elusive. The library at the State University of New York, Cortland, where we work, owned very few of the books discussed below when this project began. Some books we identified were not widely held by other libraries either and were therefore difficult to obtain through interlibrary loan services. Still, the fact that certain books were difficult to find or obtain only reinforced the gap addressed by the project.
In conceptualizing our project, we were aware that peer-reviewed journal articles are the main conduit for new scientific knowledge, rather than monographs. Nonetheless, partly because of the comparative ease of buying books for their collections, librarians are likely to remain committed to acquiring books as an obvious way to begin diversifying collections. Fortunately for our project, we were able to locate many book-length contributions to the scientific literature that are either written or edited by BIPOC scientists. In addition, we found numerous books authored by BIPOC scientists that are not intended as scientific contributions as such, but instead are written as memoirs or as works of popular science offered to the public. Such books can be valuable additions to an academic library’s collection, and we include them in appropriate sections below. In the following essay, we first outline the scope of our collection effort, then discuss how we identified books. Turning to the literature, we first discuss titles in groups defined by subject matter: chemistry, biology, ecology, urban planning combined with climate change, and physics combined with engineering form the first broad group. Several genre-based groups follow: popular science, children’s books, then memoirs and histories. We conclude the essay with a mixed group of “mini-categories” comprising books of poetry, titles about study and teaching, and works on diversity in STEM.
Hilary Dorsch Wong (MSLIS, Syracuse University) is Instructional Services Librarian and liaison to the sciences at State University of New York, Cortland.
Katherine A. Hicks (PhD, University of Michigan) is Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at SUNY, Cortland.
David Kornreich (PhD, Cornell University) is Professor of Physics at SUNY, Cortland.
1. Matthew Reidsma, “Algorithmic Bias in Library Discovery Systems” (published March 11, 2016), https://matthew.reidsrow.com/articles/173; Marianne Hebert, “Diverse Voices Research Strategies—Decolonizing the Library” (published October 2021), https://library.potsdam.edu/c.php?g=1164730&p=8502899; Crystal Vaughan, “The Language of Cataloguing: Deconstructing and Decolonizing Systems of Organization in Libraries,” Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management 14 (Spring 2018), https://ojs.library.dal.ca/djim/article/download/7853/7247); Melissa Adler, “Classification along the Color Line: Excavating Racism in the Stacks,” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1, no. 1 (2017), http://journals.litwinbooks.com/index.php/jclis/article/view/17/10. As a side note, the librarian co-author of this essay discovered that a library cataloging practice unintentionally obscured the work of at least one BIPOC author. When the project began, the WorldCat entry (and thus the record in SUNY Cortland’s catalog) for Newton’s Football, discussed under “Popular Science,” did not list author Ainissa Ramirez, but only her white, male coauthor. We were able to work with OCLC to address this lapse in attribution.
2. It is possible that the ability to do so would create other issues and/or undesirable outcomes. For purposes of this essay, we simply point out the fact that library discovery systems do not easily enable identifying works by BIPOC authors.
3. At the State University of New York Library Conference in June 2018, representatives from GOBI gave a presentation entitled “Options and Opportunities for Increased Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Collection Development.” The session focused on how librarians could use GOBI to find books about diversity to add to their collections. During the Q & A session at the end, one author of this essay asked if GOBI offered any tools to make it easier to find books written by diverse authors. The answer was “no.”