“Here was one place where I could find out who I was and what I was going to become. And that was the public library.” Jerzy Kosinski
The teenage years are not easy for anyone, but for many LGBT teens, the struggle to understand themselves and find acceptance from their peers and community can be even more difficult. The public library can be a wonderful resource for LGBT teens looking for answers or for those just needing a safe, welcoming space to gather with friends. If you want to begin to make a connection with your LGBT teen patrons, there are a few easy steps you can take to get started improving service to this often underserved community.
One of the easiest ways that librarians can help improve their service to LGBT teens is by becoming familiar with some basic terminology. People often mistakenly use inappropriate or outdated words that can offend or hurt, even when it is unintentional. Suzanne Walker, Professional Development Office Supervisor at the Indiana State Library, offers a training session on serving LGBT youth for librarians throughout the state. She says that it is especially important for librarians to understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation and recommends the terminology guide from UCLA to help clarify words that you are unclear about. She states that “There are an endless number of ways for a human to be a human and it’s important for librarians to remember that we serve all of them.”
Another way libraries can help reach the LGBT patrons is by having a collection that includes both informational and recreational materials that represent the diversity of the community. The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Round Table of the American Library Association is a great place to get some guidance on how to help build a balanced collection.
The GLBT Round table creates the Rainbow List and also sponsors the Stonewall Book Awards, which honor books for youth that have exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience.
However, the best way to find out what your LGBT teens need from your library is to ask them! If you are not sure who the LGBT teens are in your library, this might mean going outside of your library walls for help. Many high schools and most colleges have a Gay Straight Alliance group that can help answer questions you may have about serving LGBT youth.
There may be occasions where a LGBT teen comes to you in a crisis situation. LGBT teens are more likely to experience violence than their heterosexual and cisgender peers and have higher rates of suicide and homelessness. Many also lack a good support network. “It’s important for librarians to remember that we don’t have to have the answer for every question that crosses our desks, but we do have to know where to find that answer. Make sure your librarians know what resources are available to your teens and tell them about those resources through signs in the restrooms, programs, wordofmouth, or brochures.” explains Walker. If your library isn’t already, consider becoming a registered Safe Place, a national youth outreach and prevention program that helps connect teens with the resources that they need in their communities.
Finally, it is also important not only to have the knowledge and resources but to also celebrate the LGBT community. Many libraries have LGBT resources but shy away from putting them on display or highlighting them on the library’s website. If you have LGBT resources available but they are difficult to find, think about what message this is sending to your LGBT teens. Not sure where to begin? Why not try something for Teen Read Week, October 18-24!
- http://www.ala.org/PrinterTemplate.cfm?Section=Available_PIO_Materials&Template=/ContentManagement/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=11968. Accessed 9/18/15.