On Diversity and Banned Books Week
By: Sarah Hicks
With Banned Books Week coming up, it’s time to start building your reading lists and displays. While there is no shortage of banned books to promote, it feels, at this point in time, important to especially highlight works by authors from marginalized groups.
As we all know, right now there is such visible, virulent hatred for The Other (which covers a lot of groups), not just from private citizens, but also government officials. Many people, in many communities, are feeling increasingly unsafe.
Libraries can alleviate this alienation, even just a little, by promoting the work of authors who would not be welcome at a white nationalist rally. (And, let’s be honest, that covers a lot of ground.) Making more inclusive reading lists and displays has two key effects. Most importantly, people feel increasingly like they belong somewhere if they see themselves reflected in that place. This is true of film and television, and its certainly true of books. If we want everyone to feel welcome in a library, then we need to make sure everyone is represented.
Additionally, it’s harder to hate people when they’re humanized, which is something fiction can do with ease. People who read fiction often end up more empathetic, which makes sense, given that fiction can expose people to wholly new and unfamiliar experiences. By highlighting voices that are often ignored or overlooked, libraries can expose more people to more ways of thinking. It also means that people can gain more understanding and empathy for people they don’t usually interact with, which is never a bad thing.
Thankfully (well…), the list of banned and challenged books is incredibly long, so there’s a lot to choose from. Diversity comes in a lot of forms, so while many recent, oft-banned books deal with an array of gender identities and sexualities, racial/ethnic diversity, religious diversity, and disabilities (among others) shouldn’t be overlooked. This is especially true given that publishing is still largely dominated by white authors. Everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in their local library, a place that should be safe and accepting for everyone.
Sarah Hicks is a current MLIS student at the University of Pittsburgh, and works in a local public library. She has long been passionate about issues regarding intellectual freedom, and believes that these issues are becoming increasingly important worldwide, especially those related to privacy, surveillance, and censorship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as certain stereotypes about librarians are not wholly untrue, she is both an avid reader (of many genres) and a total cat lady. Sarah can sometimes be found @exactlibrarian.
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