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Diverse STEM Reading: a Layer Cake of Problems

Discover some of the diverse STEM books, documentaries, podcasts, and other items available from the ISU Library and on the web, and learn how to find more of these materials. This guide was made to accompany a 2021 ISCORE presentation.

Tips for finding stuff

Finding diverse STEM materials can be a real challenge. Search tools are designed to provide information about the things people made (i.e. books, films, discoveries, etc.) and usually do not include information about the creators other than their name, and sometimes a date of birth and date of death (if applicable). Race, ethnicity, gender, and other author identities and affiliations are often not readily apparent unless a creator photo or bio is provided, and even this can involve making assumptions about an author's identity.

Often the best way to identify creators from marginalized groups is to use a search engine to look up the type of creator you're interested in (e.g., Black podcasters, gay biologists, women engineers, etc.) before looking for a particular kind of media. Do a little background research on the open web, then dive into searches for books, movies, podcasts, etc.

Even if you have pre-identified a creator (i.e. you know their name) you'll likely need to use advanced search features, or do a lot of manual browsing, to find what you're looking for.

Words mean things (or not)

Sometimes words have multiple meanings, and sometimes there are multiple words that all mean the same thing, or a set of words that together or in part form a single concept (BIPOC is a good example of this). The computer performing your search has no way to understand which meaning(s) you want unless you tell it! Here are some tips for doing that:

Using multiple keywords

Combine terms with AND to require all terms to appear in your search results. This will ensure that all your concepts are covered in your results. For example: Deaf AND scientists

Combine terms with OR to require one or both terms to appear in your search results. This is a simple way to search for different words with the same or similar meanings. For example: Latino OR Hispanic

Using quotation marks

You can force words to appear together, in a specific order using quotation marks. For example: "African American women chemists"

Using parentheses

Use parentheses if you want to combine AND and OR. Typically this works best if you group your OR terms within the parentheses. For example, to find books on BIPOC scientists you could try: ("African American" OR "Asian American" OR "Hispanic American" OR Indian) AND scientists

Removing words you don't want

Use NOT to remove words you don't want from your results. For example, to find books on indigenous science and avoid getting results about science fiction by indigenous authors, use: "indigenous science" NOT fiction

Subjects help but don't quite get it

Subject headings label items in a library's catalog based on what those items are about. Using subject headings to search can make it easier to find items on related topics, but the system has limitations.

Subject headings:

  • Do not include author identity unless the book is about the author and/or how they identify.
  • Sometimes use outdated, problematic, and/or non-preferred terms (some librarians are trying to be better about this but there remains a lot of work to be done)
  • Often use specific terms instead of broader ones (such as chemists, zoologists, microscopists, etc. instead of scientists)... and searching using only the broader term will often miss everything using the narrower terms

Because they describe what an item is about, subject headings will not help you identify materials by authors from underrepresented groups, unless their experiences as members of those groups are a key topic of the book. You may need to start by using other tools (like search engines) to identify LGBTQ+ and BIPOC people in relevant academic fields and then look for materials by or about those people.

Lists can help... if you can find them

A quick Google search will reveal lots of lists compiled by librarians, educators, authors, and others that cover diverse STEM books, videos, and more. These can be very useful resources! Unfortunately, the vast majority consist of recommended materials for K-12 readers or celebrate the same people over and over again. Compounding this issue, there is currently a dearth of diverse STEM materials lists for adult and academic audiences.

If you have found a list of materials and want to see if the ISU Library has them, you have some options:

  • Copy and paste the title and/or author name into Quick Search
  • Use Advanced Search to specify where the title and author name should appear (do this if you get too many or irrelevant results using the previous method)
  • If your items have DOIs, copy and paste the DOI into the Item Fetcher

Here are some helpful sites for identifying Black scholars in all academic fields:

When all else fails...

Ask a librarian! We're here to help!

Check social media and some of the groups/sites listed on the Things of the Internet tab! There are lots of knowledgeable people out there that share great recommendations.

Check University Lectures! There are often book or media tie ins with the guest speakers.

a slice of cake

This guide was made to accompany the 2021 ISCORE presentation:
Diverse STEM Reading: A Layercake of Problems :-/

Presented and created by:
Megan O'Donnell, Data Services Librarian &
Erin Thomas, Engineering Librarian

Both presenters identify as white women and recognize that this group has a disproportionate representation and influence on two of the industries that act as gatekeepers on print media: publishers and libraries.