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Making the Library a Positive Place for LGBTQIA Patrons

by on November 22, 2016

Public libraries have seen a lot of change in the last three decades: the advent of the Internet and modern computer, the creation of the OPAC/ILS (bye-bye card catalog), the burgeoning eBook industry, and the rise of self-published authors, to name a handful. What hasn’t changed  is the ongoing plight of the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Allied) community and the fact that they are often not provided relevant resources in public libraries.

Last month, Kelly Jensen from BOOKRIOT published an article titled Queer Phobia and the Public Library. In her article, Jensen describes the challenges libraries face in providing material and programming (or lack thereof) for queer patrons. Challenges mostly center on whether a queer book should be obtained by the library; then, if a library decides to obtain such an item, where to place that item in the collection, and whether the item should have special requirements placed upon it (such as being placed in an isolated area or marked with a special identifying mark).

For instance, Jensen, reporting on an article from The Oklahoman, describes the Metropolitan Library System’s (Oklahoma City, OK) practice of separating queer children’s books from non-queer children’s books. MLS accomplishes this by grouping queer children’s books with books on such topics as divorce and drug use, in an elevated section so that children may not access the books without parental supervision. Jensen identifies such a practice as a microagression on LGBTQIA patrons. She points out that the library is making a statement by separating queer children’s books from non-queer books, implying that the books are not normal.

Behaviors such as this marginalize LGBTQIA patrons, and can make them feel like they are separated from the community in which the library resides. Consider for a moment, a queer family (two dads/two moms & their child/ren) who visit the library seeking LGBTQIA children’s books. Imagine a library staff person walking them to the area where they are kept. Picture the hurt and confusion when they discover that the books they are looking for are mixed with those on depression, sexual abuse, death, and alcohol abuse.

Some libraries are stepping up and embracing their queer patrons. The Ames Public Library (IA) just hosted a teen drag show on November 12, open to anyone between the ages of 14 and 20 (including performers and audience members). The library served refreshments and freely welcomed teens in the community who wanted to participate or to just view the show. Events like this can help generate dialogue between those who identify as LGBTQIA and other members of the community.

Ask yourself what you can do to make your library a more positive place for queer patrons. Assess if there are areas of improvement or current policies that can be changed, such as separating queer books from the main collection. Finally, consider contacting a local LGBTQIA advocacy group in your community to collaborate with the library, and to help with hosting LGBTQIA events.

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