GUEST POST! The forgotten demographic: Catering towards the LGBTQ community in your library, by Suzie Day

Not long ago, I asked a room full of about 30 queer youth, most in their early twenties, to raise their hand if they were bullied at school. Almost everyone did.I then asked those who had been bullied if they had taken refuge in their school library. About 75% of the room raised their hand.

If 10% of your library’s user demographic were from a non-English speaking background, you would tailor your services to that demographic, by having books in other languages, English as a second language resources and classes, and employing staff which can speak a range of secondary languages.

The LGBTQ Community is no different. Research shows that approximately 9-11% of people are not exclusively heterosexual (as determined by La Trobe’s 3rd National Survey into Secondary Students and Sexual Health, 2002). However, as this demographic isn’t something that can collected from local census information, or from your annual user survey, it is often forgotten when revising collection management policies, or youth services.

There are a number of ways a school or public library can address this:

Collection management: Make sure you have titles in your collection that are LGBTQ inclusive. This includes adult, YA, and junior areas. There is a huge array of picture books which are ‘family friendly’, and are more than suitable to place in your Junior Kindergarten section. A simple Google search can provide you with many book lists.

• Most public libraries have a number of posters decorating the walls. Make sure you have some that are inclusive. The Freedom Centre in WA can provide you with some fantastic ones that state “This is a safe space in which everyone is welcomed and respected”. Perfect for your YA section.

Inclusive StoryTime! Try including some LGBTQ friendly picture books every once in a while. Many parents will thank you for explaining to their kids why their Uncle Frank and Uncle Bill live together. Not to mention the fact that LGBTQ parents will be thrilled, and will quite possibly spread the word within your local Community that your StoryTime is awesome.

Spine labels: it may seem simple, but having an inverted pink triangle, or a small rainbow sticker as a genre label can do a lot. To people who have an interest in LGBTQ literature, this is a flashing neon sign. To everyone else, it is just another book. For LGBTQ youth who may be still in the closet, or live in a country area, you are showing them the way to connect with the wider Community, and proving to the most lonely, frightened teenager that they are not alone.

Pride is commonly referred to as Gay Christmas. Most major cities will set aside three or four weeks of the year for events, lectures, Fair Day and celebrations, cumulating in the epic Pride Parade. So why should your library miss out on the fun? Set up a display, host an LGBTQ themed movie night,invite queer authors in for books talks, or have a special Pride-themed StoryTime. Do anything you like for Pride, so long as you have fun!

No matter what you choose to do, by making sure your library is LGBTQ inclusive, you are making a positive difference to your community. If you want to find out more, join the ALIA LGBTQ e-list (http://alia.org.au/alianet/e-lists/). You do not need to identify as LGBTQ, or even be an ALIA member to join.

Visit Suzie Day’s blog at: http://cataloguethis.com/

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11 thoughts on “GUEST POST! The forgotten demographic: Catering towards the LGBTQ community in your library, by Suzie Day

  1. Excellent, thanks Suzie!
    Very clear and practical solutions to a very real problem! Most applicable in school and public libraries but I wonder if it is something that could be considered in academic libraries as well – if not in our collection in o-week activities…

    You should submit this to inCite – it needs a wider audience than just New Grads!

  2. Some good things to think about Suzie. It can take reading something like this to put an issue on your radar. I will be sending this around at my library!

  3. I agree with MelC- it needs to spread further into academic libraries as well. Many universities have programs like “ALLY” in which the staff member wears a rainbow badge but what about the collection- and also the events on campus. Do all students now what the ALLY badge represents?

  4. Thanks everyone for your comments. On my blog I have a page that lists a selection of LGBTQ resources, relevent to library services. One of my favourites is a badge which states BE PROUD @ YOUR LIBRARY on a rainbow background, available from Zazzle (ALIA isn't able to advertise commercial products directly, which is why it was not in the blog). Ther are also links to booklists, downloadable poasters and leaflets, as well as an essay from a man who owes his life, and self acceptance, to his local library. Well worth a read!

  5. Hi Suzie

    Definitely agree with sending this to inCite.

    Having worked in public libraries for 25 years, I've tried, where possible, to implement some of these ideas, particularly a broad range of LGBTQ fiction and appropriate spine labels. When I introduced these at Kalgoorlie library it was interesting to note that gay fiction with the labels was being read while titles which hadn't been labelled weren't!

    On a practical note I'd recommend using rainbow labels for a modern audience as few people today realise the symbolism of the pink triangles and it would need to be spelled out somewhere.

    One other thing I would advise with hosting LGBTQ collections, particularly junior items, is to be prepared for a backlash. Some members of the community will react out of all proportion to even the slightest mention of “two fathers” for example in a children's book, with formal complaints, personal attacks and letters to the press (yes it has happened).

    Being prepared to respond to such a backlash is important (whether new grad or not) and I'd recommend having a prepared reply which can be tailored to the individual situation, thereby removing the “personal” from any response. Ensure you have a collection policy which underpins your reply, particularly the emphasis on non-censoring of materials in the collection.

  6. Nice post Suzie.

    I would add to your list that if you have next to the front door the “retired peoples free newspaper” and the “what's on in our city free weekly newspaper” and the “local area free newspaper that is really about flogging real estate” then you should add the local LGBTQ free weekly newspaper to the pile.

    I did this in a very conservative public library area and did not have any complaint about the explicitness of the content, which I thought may happen. Most of the time the pile was gone before the next week.

  7. Thanks for that Kathryn! I hadn't thought of that one before! I have pushed in the past for having leaflets for LGBTQ groups in the community info racks, but I never thought of getting the local gay rag near the front door (do I hear a duh! moment?)

    Also Gareth, thank you so much for what you did in Kalgoorlie all those years ago! I remember you teaching my 10 yr/old self how to use the OPACS, and to recently find out that it was you who applied the first of those genre labels really made my day!

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