There is a book challenge in the news and Wasilla, Alaska is the source. (Frontiersman)
Before I begin opining about life, the universe, and library things, let me say how I believe this book challenge, and almost all other book challenges, will work out.
- People will be angry and call their friends.
- The librarians and library board will keep the book right where it was.
- The city council will say they are going to review their policies.
- Librarians everywhere will make sure they already have this book in their collections and send moral support.
- The author will be grateful as book sales rise.
- Most people will forget and move on with their lives.
I enumerate this progression not to trivialize what is going on, but to recognize that we have been here before, and it usually works out in the book’s favor. Think about how far we have come, the books being challenged today could not have been openly published fifty years ago. Challenges bring awareness to topics and authors and create an opportunity for librarians to share principles of diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. These experiences can be very difficult for the individuals and libraries that are in the middle, but as a whole, they strengthen the library community. They give us an opportunity to shine and an opportunity to support colleagues.
This Book Is Gay by James Dawson has been described as the instructional manual for LGBTQIA sex education.
The local newspaper, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, reported that 50 people showed up for a Wasilla City Council meeting to object to This Book Is Gay. The local librarian, KJ Martin-Albright, deemed that the book was appropriately shelved based upon industry standards and set up a review with the complainant. This process did not appease the parties and the debate continued at the city council meeting. As is often the case, harsh words were used to describe the librarian at the council meetings and general aspersions were cast upon librarianship for supporting materials that make some feel uncomfortable.
This Book Is Gay is a nonfiction book that fills an educational gap for teenagers who are rarely given information about non-heterosexual sex (if they are given information about sex at all). I tried to get a hold of a copy, but all 10 copies at my local library system were checked out. It is clear though, from reviews, that the book serves an important purpose. I do not know much about the book, but I do not need to know much about the book to talk about this familiar situation. Books get challenged every day, and how we respond is important.
It should go without saying that we need to respond with kindness and empathy. I spent six years as a public library director in an extremely remote and conservative area. I had many of these conversations with concerned community members. They were almost always people with real concerns and they deserved my time and empathy. More often than not I listened to people with concerns and that was the end of it. They were heard and they eventually listened to why I was not going to recall or remove a book. It was almost always a positive experience. An opportunity for me to talk about the principles of librarianship, and more importantly, an opportunity to try and understand one of my patrons.
When it does progress beyond those private conversations, always remember that they are your patrons. Do not label them as bigots or idiots. Do not personalize attacks. Hold strong to your principles, which are our shared principles of librarianship, and admire them for holding strong to theirs. Book challenges are an opportunity to discuss and support intellectual freedom. They are an opportunity to openly show support for less vocal parts of your communities.
This Book Is Gay by James Dawson was reviewed and starred in Booklist on May 15, 2015.
If you’d like to support the book, the library, director KJ Martin-Albright, or intellectual freedom send a message at the Wasilla Public Library Facebook page.
Dustin Fife is the Outreach and Patron Services Librarian at Utah Valley University Library. Prior to coming to UVU Library, Dustin spent six years as a public library director for San Juan County, Utah. Dustin is currently the President of the Utah Library Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.