By: Holly Eberle
As of 2020, GLBT Book Month has been renamed Rainbow Book Month, following the Rainbow Round Table’s similar name change last year. This ALA Round Table used to be called the GLBT Round Table, which itself aroused member discussion as to why the G was first. The GLBTRT Chair from 2018-2019, Ana Elisa de Campos Salles, put it best in American Libraries:
According to ALA rules for name changes, we needed to have two different round table boards vote on this. We sent out surveys to get as much feedback from membership as possible. How did they feel about possibly extending our alphabet soup of a name to additional letters? Or did they want something more emblematic? The one that came out on top was Rainbow Round Table.
Rainbow Book Month is a celebration of the authors and writing that reflect the lives of the lesbian, gay, bixsexual, transgender, pansexual, genderqueer, queer, intersex, agender, and asexual community. June is also Pride Month, which commemorates the Stonewall Riots that happened at the end of June in 1969. For these reasons, it is quite common for libraries to have Rainbow Book Month displays in June. June is not the only time that such literature is important, but it is always a good opportunity to display and highlight materials.
The ALA Rainbow Round Table is the oldest LGBTQIA+ professional organization in the United States. The work of the Rainbow Round Table is especially important in its 50th year, with censorship of Rainbow library books, programs, and displays on the rise. Library displays are one of the most passive ways to draw attention to materials. The materials are simply existing for library users to see and take if they are interested (or not). Is that the whole problem? Libraries allowing space for Rainbow materials to be seen?
Censorship of Rainbow Library Displays
The Office for Intellectual Freedom began specifically tracking censorship of library displays in December 2016. Since then, 40 of the 54 reported Display Challenges are for LGBT content (74%). 24 of those 40 LGBT displays were retained by the library. The rest were dismantled, withdrawn, or the status is unknown. Some of these cases are still ongoing, such as the Rumford Public Library in Maine, which began in 2018. Rumford’s display was actually a Banned Books Week display that featured two LGBT books, not a display exclusively to LGBT materials.
Many libraries have policies for book challenges but displays are not always specifically written in and oftentimes the challenged display ends up getting dismantled without much discussion. When trends like this are allowed to continue, it leads to a chilling effect of self-censorship in libraries. No display, no problem. Except for that members of the LGBTQIA+ community do not exist in a vacuum. They exist on library staff, library volunteers, library patrons, and are members of the community. If you think a group of people will not notice the absence of a display, think again. My library has a regular who stops in the building every February 1st to check up on our Black History Month display — namely if it’s there.
There are many reasons why a person will not approach the reference desk to ask a question including the question revealing their gender identity, problems at home, physical problems, religious identity…questions can be very personal! Displays are great for this reason. Just because someone is not regularly asking about a topic, does not mean that topic is not important to them or that they do not exist.
Some of the complaints seem to politicize the existence of LGBTQIA+ individuals by requesting an anti-LGBT display to give equal representation. That really misses the point of using a particular month to highlight a group of people’s contributions to literature. Anti-LGBT, anti-feminist, and racist materials can be found in libraries but library workers usually do not put them with displays for Pride Month, Women’s History Month, or Black History Month. It is also common to display Oscar-winning films in January and similarly, library workers do not put the world’s worst rated films next to them for equal representation. Sometimes things just need to be celebrated!
If you’re on social media, you may have seen this story about a mother’s gender reveal party for her 6-year-old child. My initial youth librarian take-away was that the woman went to a bookstore, which was lacking in Rainbow children’s materials. The Library can provide far more than a mere three books!
With that in mind, checkout these Rainbow Round Table curated book lists for Rainbow Book Month Display ideas. Or eBook virtual displays — whatever the status of your physical collection in 2020 may be.
Holly Eberle is the Youth Technology Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library District in northern Illinois and a member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee. She received her MLIS from the University of Illinois in December 2015. Her passion for the intellectual freedom rights of youth began in kindergarten when her elementary school library pulled the Goosebumps series off the shelves. She also is interested in the technological realm of intellectual freedom and privacy issues. Outside of the library she is a metalhead and you may follow her on Instagram @doom_metal_librarian.