By: Kristin Pekoll, OIF Assistant Director
Libraries, bookstores and the broader public have been celebrating June as National Lesbian and Gay Book Month since the early 1990s. In 2015, ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS) and the Rainbow Round Table (RRT) continued the nationwide celebration with GLBT Book Month, to recognize the authors and writings that reflect the lives and experiences of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.
Pride Services and Materials at the Library
The creativity and passion of librarians in creating displays amazes me. Walls and bookshelves are covered in hearts, rainbows and sparkles; colors streaming from the ceiling; information and inspiration spotlighted wherever space is found. There are programs for all ages and all interest levels. The atmosphere of welcome, joy, love and PRIDE radiates beyond the four walls. There are some incredible examples when you search Pinterest for ideas.
Every display during any month is a great opportunity to include works by all authors and topics and not to shy away from adding materials that highlight queer content. But the reality is that June is when many libraries decorate with inclusive displays and rainbows. June is also when ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sees a spike in reports chronicling complaints about LGBT displays and requests to take down displays.
More common is when LGBT displays are outright denied approval to be crafted to avoid controversy or because administrators don’t agree with the content. Censorship of library displays is very common because few libraries have a policy or guidelines in place that protect librarians who build these displays or how to address concerns when they come from external or internal sources.
Please let the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom know if this happens to you. We can help! We can provide talking points, help with press interviews, provide letters of support for your board, publicly support your library on social media, coordinate with local allies to gather support, and offer a listening ear for questions and emotional venting. We will protect your confidentiality. Even if the display doesn’t come down, it’s helpful to know when these situations happen so we can build more support and education for the library profession.
If Drag Queen Story Hours (DQSH) aren’t the right step for your library, that’s ok. There are lots of programming ideas for Pride Month. Libraries have been very successful with film festivals, crafts, author visits, pride picnics, read-outs, photo booths, and interactive displays. A few things to consider when planning your programs: 1) Do you have support from your colleagues? It will help you feel more confident. 2) Does your library have a programming policy that addresses how complaints should be handled?
“LGBT” was the most cited reason for challenging library materials and services in 2017. Since 1990, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom has recorded 122 titles that have been challenged for including LGBT content. More than one-third of these titles have been challenged more than once.
The Intellectual Freedom Blog GLBTQ category chronicles a lot of the current events, challenges, and issues that we’re seeing in libraries and schools.
Censorship and challenges to library programs are just as important to report as a book challenge. These are events organized by skilled professional library staff and by censoring them, not only does the community suffer, the staff suffers. The chilling effect of censorship lowers our professional morale and creates a stressful work environment.
Resources to Support Librarians
There are a LOT of librarians who have had successful experiences with pride programming and displays. They offer a wealth of tips and advice. Here’s an abbreviated list of some blog posts and articles from our amazing colleagues.
- Drag Queen Story Hour blog post (July 22, 2017) by ALSC’s Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee
- Teaching Tolerance with Drag Queen Story Time article (January 26, 2018) by Karen Hart of TeachWire
- Drag Queen Story Hour Puts the Rainbow in Reading article (May 19, 2017) by Una Lamarche of New York Times
- Celebrate Pride Through Advocacy and Awareness @ Your Library blog post (June 27, 2017) by YALSA’s Deborah Takahashi
- Ain’t it a Drag? Program Challenges at the Public Library blog post (June 1, 2017) Jamie LaRue of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom
- Gay and Lesbian Pride Month blog post (April 7, 2015) by ALA’s Programming Librarian
- Libraries as Safe Spaces online resource by GLSEN
ALA’s Rainbow Round Table has a great toolkit; “Open to All” is designed for libraries of all types and sizes and offers practical tips and resources on purchasing materials, developing programs and promoting partnerships with other organizations.
“Our goal is to give library staff at any library a starting off point on serving this community. Those who are unfamiliar with the rainbow community and their needs often ask us where to start. This toolkit will help point them in the right direction,” said Peter Coyl, 2016 RRT Chair.
Official ALA Statements and Definitions
Libraries are so much more than books. The services librarians provide in creating displays and implementing programs are essential to creating a cohesive whole for people-all people-to learn, engage and have fun in the library. In The Librarian’s Book of Lists, American Libraries Magazine Editor George Eberhart offers this definition:
“A library is a collection of resources in a variety of formats that is (1) organized by information professionals or other experts who (2) provide convenient physical, digital, bibliographic, or intellectual access and (3) offer targeted services and programs (4) with the mission of educating, informing, or entertaining a variety of audiences (5) and the goal of stimulating individual learning and advancing society as a whole.”
In Quotable Facts about America’s Libraries: “Public libraries offer 4.3 million programs per year” and “There were 96.5 million attendees at public library programs in 2013, more than all Major League Baseball and NBA games combined.”
Library-Initiated Programs as a Resource: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. “Library-initiated programs support the mission of the library by providing users with additional opportunities for information, education, and recreation. Article I of the Library Bill of Rights states: ‘Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves.’”
Access to Library Resources and Services Regardless of Sex, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, or Sexual Orientation: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. “The American Library Association stringently and unequivocally maintains that libraries and librarians have an obligation to resist efforts that systematically exclude materials (and services) dealing with any subject matter, including sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. “Beyond merely avoiding the exclusion of materials representing unorthodox or unpopular ideas, libraries should proactively seek to include an abundance of resources and programming representing the greatest possible diversity of genres, ideas, and expressions. A full commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion requires that library collections and programming reflect the broad range of viewpoints and cultures that exist in our world. Socially excluded, marginalized, and underrepresented people, not just the mainstream majority, should be able to see themselves reflected in the resources and programs that libraries offer.”
Dear Saint Paul Public Library
On June 4th, Saint Paul Public Library (SPPL) posted a press release on its Twitter feed and was immediately swarmed with replies.
MEDIA RELEASE: Saint Paul Public Library will host Drag Story Hour for families in celebration of Pride. We will live stream the June 11 event on Facebook – https://t.co/9wO4FEZacs
— St Paul Library (@stpaullibrary) June 4, 2018
OIF sent an email to the library offering assistance and support and that help was quickly accepted. While the library has not and will not be considering any cancellation of the story hours, they wanted to be able to show that ALA supports not only drag queen story hours at SPPL but all pride events and displays. Here is the letter to SPPL:
Dear Ms. Catherine Penkert and the Saint Paul Public Library staff:
On behalf of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, we express our gratitude for upholding the ideals of respect, inclusion, and equality for all people and celebrating intellectual freedom in your library. By crafting programs that create a joyful and engaging environment for everyone, you have proven to your community that SPPL welcomes all people, from all backgrounds, and difference is not something to be feared.
The library’s mission — “We connect people in Saint Paul with the imperative and the joy of learning through a lifetime” — is clearly exemplified in this series of programs. You’ve not only connected the library’s mission with the story hour, you’ve tied together the “We Belong Together” (SPPL’s inclusivity campaign), the ALA Library Bill of Rights, and the state of Minnesota Pride Month celebrations.
“Drag Queen Story Hours capture the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real.” — Dragqueenstoryhour.org
By increasing the visibility of materials and services for everyone in your community, SPPL is establishing the library as a welcoming and inclusive center with free access to all ideas, without censorship or discrimination. By providing library users with the freedom to explore an array of viewpoints, libraries help them develop into thoughtful citizens.
We extend our full support to the library staff of the Saint Paul Public Library, who work to organize and promote a diverse range of services for the community without shying away from potentially controversial subjects. We encourage their continued excellent service to all the members of their community, whether straight or gay, who have made a home in Saint Paul.
By providing diverse programs and defending the freedom for community members to attend or not attend, you sent a powerful message – that, in this country, everyone has a place at the library.
James LaRue, Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
An Exemplary Response
In January, Broome County Public Library announced a Drag Queen Story Hour at its library in Bingingham, New York. When I read its Facebook post in defense of the event and aim for the community to “freely explore the entirety of the world,” I printed out the post and pinned it to the bulletin board in my office. I read it out loud at a staff meeting for everyone who works at the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Libraries celebrate and defend the freedom to be who we are — differences and similarities and everything in between.
Drag queen Deja Brooks is pictured near the entrance of the Lawrence Public Library. Photo via Lawrence Public Library