February 12, 2020

Finding diverse and #OwnVoices titles

Readers long to see themselves reflected in the stories they read. However, it can be a challenge for a reader to find books that reflect their lived experience if they are a member of a group that’s historically underrepresented in published fiction. Although NoveList librarians can’t change the publishing industry, we can use our metadata to make some of these stories easier to find.

In addition to various search strategies, NoveList has some unique metadata designed to help readers discover stories that reflect and respect human diversity. But what do these different terms mean? And how can they be used most effectively?

Our Diversity appeals, which appear on titles at all age levels, are a good place to start. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Culturally diverse: These books may feature characters from racial and ethnic minorities living in the United States, Europe, Canada, or Australia, as well as characters from non-white cultural groups living in other parts of the world.
  • Religiously diverse: These characters follow or have a background in a religion other than Christianity.  While their active level of involvement in the religion may vary, the character’s religious beliefs are an important element in the story.
  • LGBTQIA diverse: Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, or just questioning, these characters are not stereotypes and are important to the story (even if in a secondary role).
  • Ability diverse: These characters live with physical, mental, or emotional conditions that can often be challenging.

Intentionally broad in scope, these appeals work well when combined with NoveList subject headings (African Americans, transgender children) or themes (living with invisible disabilities, immigrant experiences).

Another way to fine-tune your search is our appeal term own voices describing works in which “the protagonist and the author share a marginalized identity.” 

Because the authors of own voices stories draw on their personal experiences as part of a marginalized group to depict their fictional characters’ journeys, these books can be especially welcome to readers who may not be accustomed to seeing people like themselves at the center of a narrative or seeing aspects of their own lives depicted with authenticity and nuance. 

It’s important to note that these appeals may (but do not always) overlap.

For example, try searching NoveList for books with the character appeal “ability diverse”:

CC Ability diverse = 1,208 results

Now add “own voices” to the search:

CC ability diverse AND SC own voices = 142 results

That’s a big difference! Even when one accounts for the possibility that some writers may not have disclosed their status, many books featuring diverse characters are not written from firsthand experience. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but…sometimes readers want a story written by someone who really gets it.

Ultimately, it’s up to the reader to determine whether a book works for them and meets their needs, but appeal terms can make the searching and discovery much easier. 

By the way, our appeals are a work-in-progress. Is there something we can do better? We always want to hear from you!

Gillian Speace is a Readers' Advisory Library at NoveList. She is currently reading Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. 


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