Diversify Your Collection

March 5, 2015

Rosalind Black

portrait of Kate Diamond
Photo credit: Zachary Christy

Some say people read because they want to see themselves in their favorite literary heroes; others claim reading is a process of escapism that allows people to immerse themselves in another world and another life. All Our Worlds: A Database of Diverse Fantastic Fiction, created by second-year Kate Diamond for a winter-term project, offers a rare opportunity for readers of every background to unite these two schools of literary thought—both seeing themselves ensnared in the action, and exploring worlds besides their own.

All Our Worlds is a database of science fiction and fantasy literature that features characters exhibiting diverse traits—they range in race, ability, sexuality, and gender. Using the 16 current tags (and many more subtags) in the website’s search function, users can find exactly what they are looking for.

Diamond began searching for diversity in sci-fi and fantasy literature when she noticed a recurring complaint among her friends and other consumers of the genre: there wasn’t enough diversity in popular sci-fi and fantasy books. Instead of agreeing and moving on, Diamond threw herself into the task of bringing to light the many exciting and diverse titles that satisfied the desires of sci-fi and fantasy readers but had slipped through the cracks by nature of their independent or small-press publication.

“Diversity has always been very important to me and to Oberlin as a whole,” Diamond says, “but all the conversations I heard about diverse sci-fi books were all people saying, ‘this is not enough,’ but I found a lot of them. Yes, there will never be enough, but instead of talking about what doesn’t exist, I would like to talk about what does: find the books out there that have the themes people want and share them so the authors get some encouragement, people find the books they want to read, and all of us can work together to inspire more writers.”

With the Oberlin community in mind, Diamond queried the Oberlin College Library: If she found 100 science fiction and fantasy books with diverse characters, would the library acquire them? The resounding answer from Jessica Grim, collection development and management librarian, was yes.

“We don’t really collect a lot of genre literature, and science fiction and fantasy are basically in those categories,” Grim says. “Kate’s project, being in a subset of that material, had a focus that piqued my interest and fits in with a collection of science fiction that we have as a gift from a donor, so it isn’t completely out of our purview to collect science fiction and fantasy.”

Grim says she and Diamond arrived on the number of books arbitrarily, but it proved a good number for the collection, giving a hefty sample of more obscure science fiction and fantasy titles that All Our Worlds offers.

Diamond began the work of compiling titles by revisiting books she had read as a child, rediscovering in the process the work of prolific author Mercedes Lackey, whose Valdemar series contains many characters with a variety of sexualities and races. By searching bookstores, Diamond came across Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi—among other books—the story of an African American lesbian woman with a chronic illness who is an incredible engineer. Diamond also scoured the Internet for blogs and booklists discussing books that fit the criteria of her search.

At the outset, Diamond only intended to collect enough titles for the library collection, but seeing the plethora of books that fit what she was looking for, she quickly resolved to create a space where all of her finds would be grouped together for users to browse. “And as it turns out, her database includes over 800 at this point, so she had some good work cut out for herself to choose just 100,” Grim says.

Since its creation, All Our Worlds has garnered a certain amount of attention from various online media outlets, notably the National Book Foundation, Jezebel, and BoingBoing. “I’ve gotten comment threads about the site, and people have sent me e-mails with suggestions or talked about how cool it was,” Diamond says. “It’s really exciting when people find it and I see how happy they are.”

Diamond says she believes her project could influence authors and publishers to put out more stories like those found in All Our Worlds by proving that they are what the community wants to read. “It is a good step forward toward promoting diverse authors and diverse stories because a lot of them are either self-published, put out by small indie publishers, or web comics; or they have fallen out of knowledge because they are obscure or old—suddenly they are brought back into the public eye,” Diamond says.

Grim sees another possible outcome for the additions to the library’s collection: scholarly work. “There are students in English—and other areas, but English primarily—who do honors-level work in their senior years. I would not be surprised at all if a topic like this would interest students in the future doing those types of really in-depth projects.”

Although winter term is over, Diamond remains committed to updating and maintaining the website as she continues discovering more books and receiving suggestions for entries. She also plans to add more tags to enable users to search for specific settings and plotlines. “I’m hoping that this can be an important resource for the sci-fi community and for people who are looking for diverse books,” Diamond says.

Although the books the library acquired from Diamond’s database are in the stacks for the time being, they will be highly visible to library-goers this spring. In April, Diamond will curate a display of the books that can be found in the spotlight on the collections cabinet on the first floor of Mudd Center library.

“It’s critically important to have diverse viewpoints, perspectives, genres, representations, in all literature across all fields to the extent that we can and it exists,” Grim says. “Kate bringing this to us in relation to [science fiction and fantasy] was great; it’s a piece of diversity that I know we don’t have much of. Diversity in literature is critically important, and critically important for libraries—we need to pay a lot of attention to it in collecting.”

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