Blogger Abby Johnson

Finding Diverse Books Without a Hashtag

Last month, the organization We Need Diverse Books announced that they were no longer going to be using the term and hashtag #OwnVoices to describe books. I know many librarians and teachers had come to rely on the hashtag to identify diverse books by creators that have authentic experience and expertise. So… now what?

A stack of diverse books sits on a wooden library shelf.
Photo by Abby Johnson

If you haven’t heard of #OwnVoices, the hashtag, created by author Corinne Duyvis in 2015, seeks to highlight diverse books written by creators from marginalized groups about their own culture, ethnicities, sexual orientation, etc. But over the years, problems with the use of this hashtag and term have come to light. There are many posts from different sources that give details about the problems, but I’ll quote We Need Diverse Books here directly: 

[#OwnVoices] was originally intended as a shorthand book recommendation tool in a Twitter thread, for readers to recommend books by authors who openly shared the diverse identity of their main characters. The hashtag was never intended to be used in a broader capacity, but it has since expanded in its use to become a “catch all” marketing term by the publishing industry. Using #OwnVoices in this capacity raises issues due to the vagueness of the term, which has then been used to place diverse creators in uncomfortable and potentially unsafe situations. It is important to use the language that authors want to celebrate about themselves and their characters. [Quoted from the post Why We Need Diverse Books is No Longer Using the Term #OwnVoices.]

Rather than using the vague term #OwnVoices, We Need Diverse Books is advocating for describing authors and their characters in more specific terms and using the language that authors choose for themselves. But what if you’ve been relying on the hashtag #OwnVoices to seek out authentic books by and about marginalized communities? Don’t worry, you have options. 

Here are things I do and I’d love to have suggestions in comments. How do you keep track of diverse and inclusive titles and how do you promote them with your patrons and students? 

Seek out books on Edelweiss

Do you take advantage of digital review copies and/or publisher catalogs on Edelweiss? (If not, check out my ALSC Blog post on Digital Review Copies for Librarians for some tips!)

Each week, I get an email from Edelweiss that tells me which new galleys of upcoming titles have been added. The email identifies categories for titles (which are provided by the publisher) and as I’m looking through, I look for authors and scan for categories that indicate . I then look up the authors’ websites to find out more about them and see if I can identify titles that are written by authors from marginalized communities. 

Fill up your feed with creators from marginalized communities

If you’re not getting news about diverse books or if you would like to work on evaluating and identifying elements that may be problematic, take a look at your social media feeds. Following more people from marginalized communities can be a way to educate yourself. We Need Diverse Books features many authors and illustrators from diverse backgrounds who you may be interested in following. Check out the conversations they’re having on Twitter and other social media and you will likely find more creators to follow.  

Identify publishers that focus on diverse books

Seek out publishers and imprints that publish books by creators from marginalized communities and follow them to see what they’re putting out each season. Some of these publishers & imprints include Capstone, Cinco Puntos Press, Heartdrum (HarperCollins), Kokila (Penguin Random House) Lee & Low Books, Levine Querido, Rick Riordan Presents (Disney-Hyperion), Salaam Reads (Simon & Schuster), and Versify (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). These are by no means the only houses publishing books by authors from marginalized communities, but they can be a good starting point. Edelweiss can help with this, too, since you can find lots of publisher catalogs there.

Do all the work you normally would… 

Just go one step farther and do some research about the author. Since the publishing industry has jumped at the chance to insert the #OwnVoices hashtag wherever they could, you’ve probably had to do this all along. Sometimes you’ll be able to determine if the author’s experiences and background speaks to the content of the book. And sometimes you won’t, but it’s work worth doing.

Once you’ve identified books and purchased them for your collection, how do you promote them?

Make them part of everything you do

Your displays, your book lists, your signage… As a white cishet librarian, this didn’t always come naturally to me. It helped me to set goals and practice meeting them before this felt second nature. For example, one of our department goals was to include books by authors of colors in a certain percentage of our storytimes. In striving to reach our goal as a department, it got all of us in the habit of seeking out diverse books, researching the authors, and including them in our programming. This translates easily to other kinds of programming (booktalks), displays, book lists, and everything that you do. 

Face out, face out, face out!

Don’t make kids have to search for them; find every opportunity you can to display and face out diverse titles. Think about this when you’re putting up physical displays in the library, creating signage, or making digital displays of your e-books.

Get to know your patrons

I work behind the scenes now, but I get to know my patrons through our online readers advisory services. I archive their emails (instead of deleting them) because I can’t always remember offhand exactly who loved Kacen Callender or Ty’s Travels. If I’ve got their requests in my email I can always look them up when we get a new book in. If you work a public desk, you could keep track the same way. Send yourself an email or make a searchable document to help you remember who was interested in what.

These are a few things I do, but I’d love to have more ideas! What other suggestions do you have for discovering and getting books by marginalized authors into kids’ hands?

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, II. Reference and User Services, IV. Collection Knowledge and Management

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