The original version of this post was published on the course blog for Information 266 (SJSU iSchool).
Right now I’m in the middle of a collection development course at San Jose State’s iSchool where I’m working on a teacher librarianship credential. As part of my studies, I read a report about the state of lesbian, gay, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ)-themed literature in school library collections. You can access the School Library Research report at this link.
I don’t publish all or, thankfully, even most of my library coursework on this blog, but this one struck a chord with me. The bottom line is most school libraries are not coming close to meeting the needs of their LBTQ populations. But there is something we can do about it.
The Upshot: Researchers Hughes-Hassell, Overberg, and Harris (2013) set out to discover whether school libraries maintained adequate collections LGBTQ-related titles. According to the study, a typical high school’s LGBTQ population is about 5.9 percent of the total population. Therefore, there should be at least that percentage of LGBTQ-related books in a school library collection, right? Well—surprise!—Hughes-Hassell and her colleagues found that LGBTQ-themed titles made up an average of only .4 percent of the collections they studied. That’s right, .4%! This was true for LGBTQ-related nonfiction, as well as for literature. The reasons the authors gave for this discrepancy included possible biases held by librarians or fears of repercussions by communities perceived to be “anti-gay.”
What We Can Do About It: Hughes-Hassell and her co-authors encourage librarians to equip themselves with the “courage, honesty, and fortitude” necessary to build these much-needed collections. We can arm ourselves with research, education standards, and plain common sense. We can be prepared.
One of our weapons is Article V of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which states, “A person’s right to use the library shall not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background or views.” Hughes-Hassell and company also cite several studies in which LGBTQ-themed books were found to have positive impacts on readers in the midst of the “identity formation” stage of adolescence. In fact, this turns out to be just as true for young people who do not identify as LGBTQ. A reader can become “more empathetic and understanding as s/he experiences the struggles and confusion many GLBTQ teens go through” (p. 10). A robust and diverse collection will “open up a world of understanding to other students, teachers, and administrators,” who may soon become “allies and advocates” (p. 13).
Final Thoughts: The Hughes-Hassell et al. study uses Webber’s (2010) Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning Teen Literature to identify suggested LGBTQ book titles, and they provide a few useful lists from that resource. I recommend opening the link to the study in order to see the books the researchers recommend. Another resource worth checking out is YALSA’s (2013) Guide to YA Novels with LGBTQ Characters—and don’t forget the cool infographic!
Also, the Hughes-Hassell study was published shortly after California passed the FAIR Education Act (2011), otherwise known as Senate Bill 48. Among other things, the FAIR Education Act mandates the inclusion of LGBTQ-related content into the school curriculum. In California at least, the situation may be improving. Time will tell.
One more thing: As a junior high school teacher, I sometimes wonder what LGBTQ-related titles are appropriate for younger adolescents. The Hughes-Hassell study focused solely on high school students, and I would argue that middle school students have different needs than older teenagers. Has someone completed that study for us? Here’s one educator who would love to know more.
I can’t resist. I love this topic, so I need to give a recommendation. If you haven’t already, please find and read Am I Blue? Coming Out from Silence, an anthology of short stories edited by Marion Dane Baur. A kindred spirit gave that book to me as a gift. I passed it on to another kindred spirit (who never returned it, but I feel the book found it’s home, so that’s perfectly OK).
Hughes-Hassell, S., Overberg, E., & Harris, S. (2013). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ)-Themed Literature for Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections? School Library Research, 1-18.