Monday, November 22, 2010

Libraries as a Safe Space

               Last week I attended a workshop on Libraries as a Safe Space. There was a quick talk on cyber bullying but the main focus was mainly on making the library a safe place for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer/questioning) clients. Some scary things came up. In a study by School Library Journal, 73% of public and school librarians have admitted to not purchasing certain books for children and young adults, even though they are best sellers and/or award winners, because they were afraid that they would be challenged by parents. They self-censored  to prevent any fuss. Books about sex were the most likely not to be bought, and unfortunately, since homosexuality is seen by society (or these librarians) as inherently sexual, books with openly homosexual characters were also less likely to be bought. Oh and if you’re looking for young adult novels about Trans youth, there are apparently only three that have been written. If there are only three books that deal with the subject, it seems unlikely that every library will have a copy anyway, so at the workshop we were told to go out and write another one. I had actually read one of the three in the past two years, Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, and I thought it was really honest and funny.
             There are tons of issues with self-censorship, the main one being that it's a failure in one's duty as a librarian. Obviously, there are going to be LGBTQ clients at any public library. They are going to want to have access to books that reflect their lives. They are going to need access to books that help them understand issues, especially if they don’t have the acceptance of their families.  Since these clients exist, there need to be books for them, end of story.
            For me, however, clients need access to the books for a less obvious reason. Stories do so much for us, especially when we’re young. Of course they can help us escape reality, but they also help us understand reality as well. They put us in other people’s heads and give us the tools to help us understand other people, as well as to understand ourselves. In a course on slavery and the Middle Passage I read an article stating that empathy is dangerous and destructive because it is satisfied through another person’s suffering.  I don’t agree. I cannot see another option for mutual human understanding other than empathy, because logic only does so much for us. Straight and cis-gender teens also need access to these books in the hopes that if they read them, they’ll be more understanding of other people. 
It’s an old self-censorship checklist from the New York Library Association, but it just might help.

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