A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Make Your Library A Safe Space

by on December 11, 2012

The idea of the library is constantly evolving. In ancient times royalty held libraries and librarians in the highest regard. Kings and generals sought wisdom from the keepers of knowledge. Nowadays, libraries are free for all who wish to enter, but what can we offer besides a stiff finger pointed toward the fiction section? We try to make our spaces comfortable by adding overly stuffed cushions to chairs, but there is so much more we can do to make our cherished homes-away-from-home safe, especially for those who have nowhere else to go.

Bullying is of no surprise to most of us any longer, as the topic has been featured in the media regularly.. In these days when youth are bullied so harshly for any perceived differences, there are steps we must take to ensure that no harm will come to them inside the sanctuary that is the public library. This is especially important with LGBT youth, who are often targeted by both adults and other youth.

We are not therapists, counselors, or social workers, but many librarians find themselves becoming well acquainted with their frequent patrons. If you see a patron, especially a young one, who is being taunted or abused for any reason, you can offer them a place in the library. There should always be someone present with the power to remove any abusive patrons. Even the smallest gestures toward those being abused can make the biggest difference. If you’re unsure what to do, groups like GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) offer packets on ways to ensure that your library is a safe space, complete with stickers and pamphlets.

Growing up I was luckily never taunted or teased, but the library gave me a special place to go where I could find books about “people like me.” There I was assured that I was not a freak. I could read Annie On My Mind or Rubyfruit Jungle without so much as a blink of the eye from anyone around. It was wonderful to have somewhere to go where I could see familiar faces that wouldn’t judge me and even see people like myself. In a society where we can be ostracized from our own families or abused by strangers simply for who we love, it is important to create and maintain a haven to which people of all kinds may flock.

Now that I work in a library and carry some power, I feel it is my duty to offer the same safety that was offered to me many years ago. I wear a rainbow Mickey Mouse pin on my work lanyard so as to subtly inform people, “I’m like you,” and so far it’s worked. I smile at kids when they come in and make sure to speak up when I hear people using hateful epithets. No one, especially children, deserves to be attacked with malicious words. Sticks and stones may break bones, but no matter what anyone says, names can still be hurtful. With a little bit of effort, we can make sure that no harm ever befalls a child inside the walls of a library.