The trouble with diverse books, part I: on the limits of conceptual analysis for political negotiation in Library & Information Science

Publication year
Journal of Documentation

From the abstract:

Though diverse books is a concept in need of a definition, conceptual analysis is not an appropriate method for adjudicating between the definitions we have on offer. This is because the concept is fundamentally political, serving as a resource for re-shaping collective social arrangements and ways of life. The conceptual problem outlined here requires for its resolution a method that will move us from a descriptive project to an explicitly normative one, wherein we consider what we properly work to achieve with and through the concept in question.

A second part to this article is planned, which will offer "an analytical intervention in which political concepts are defined partially in terms of their benefits vis-á-vis informational justice."

Here are some quotes:

I begin by laying out the details of conceptual analysis as a research method, with reference to historical precedents in the LIS literature. I go on to apply that method to diverse books, drawing inspiration from an exercise I run with students in a course on popular romance fiction.


it is increasingly critical that those who aim to advocate for diverse books clarify which books count and why some proposed replacements are in fact incommensurate. It is difficult to mount a convincing case for the active inclusion (or moral impermissibility of exclusion) of certain sorts of materials when one lacks a compelling account of what those materials are. To advocate well, we need, in short, a defensible definition of diverse books.


Use of the term diverse signals a commitment to a broader and arguably less well-specified notion of representation – in terms of characters and authors, cultures and identities – than ancestral terms like “multicultural” or “ethnic literature.” Indeed, this terminological shift ensconces diverse books in the prevailing discourse of diversity and inclusion. Which is simply to say, diverse books appears to be conceptually novel, though the political commitments that motivate its use probably are not, or at least not entirely.


I detailed the general lack of conceptual clarity surrounding diverse books in contemporary discourse. Here I will take a different tack, introducing a subgenre of popular romance fiction, the sheikh romance, that stands as a peculiar sort of edge case – which is to say, it consists of novels we may or may not classify as diverse books, depending on our intuitive sense of what this means.


the reality is that these narratives do generally feature a non-white protagonist, and non-white racial representation among primary characters is a common feature of books we tend to call “diverse.” At the same time, sheikh romances typically advance Orientalist stereotypes and imperialist ideological commitments that seem, minimally, to violate the spirit of the diverse books movement. One result, then, of taking a closer look at this particular subgenre is the problematizing of a straightforward, readymade, or largely uncontroversial account of diverse books.


Brenda Jackson shares a racial identification with her heroine – that is, that both the author and protagonist of Delaney's Desert Sheikh are African-American. This example prompts us to ask whether and in what ways an author's own background bears on a book's qualification as diverse.