Developing a strong LGBTQ collection is only the beginning. The library must seek out its audience and actively promote available resources, from print and digital resources to programming, education, and events. Bringing resources to those who need them is at the core of every library’s mission, but it is especially challenging with LGBTQ patrons, many of whom are reluctant to ask for help due to concerns about their privacy. Here are some things librarians can do to make LGBTQ patrons aware of the library’s services and materials and to make them easy to find and access.
PROMOTE DIGITAL RESOURCES
For the reasons noted above, digital tools are an especially valuable resource. But how do librarians make LGBTQ youth aware of these offerings? Beth Yoke, Executive Director of ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), has some answers. For starters, she suggests contacting local schools to determine if they have Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs), and if they do (and there are more than 4,000 GSAs in America), take advantage of opportunities to work with the groups’ members to promote online and other services. Other outreach opportunities can be discovered using Map My Community, an interactive mapping tool allowing users to find federally supported youth programs by zip code (http://youth.gov/map-my-community).
The library’s website and social media accounts can reach teens who seldom visit the library. Within the library, signage, fliers, and displays are useful tools. And don’t forget word of mouth, still one of the most effective means of promotion. If the library has a Teen Advisory Board (TAB), its members can effectively spread the word about digital resources among their peers.
Finally, Yoke encourages librarians to connect with homeless shelters in the community to reach the 40 percent of such young people who are LGBTQ. Shelters specifically for homeless LGBTQ youth can be found using The True Inclusion Directory (https://truecolorsfund.org/providers/).
MAKE COMMUNITY PRESENTATIONS ABOUT LIBRARY SERVICES
Find local groups and organizations in the community that serve an LGBTQ audience and arrange to conduct programs or presentations promoting the library’s offerings. Presentations to GSAs and other related groups can be particularly fruitful (54 percent of students in a recent survey said they had access to a GSA), offering a great way to strengthen public libraries’ relationship with youth in the community. Similarly, make sure to include LGBTQ content in the library’s in-building programs, including author presentations. For an interpretation of how library initiated programs are supported by the Library Bill of Rights, see: www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/libraryinitiated. Each library will naturally determine whether public programs meet the needs of its LGBTQ community, who may not want to be outed by attending.
HARNESS THE POWER OF DEWEY
As with many subject areas, LGBTQ nonfiction will typically be scattered across the library’s nonfiction collection, from social sciences to health to history to biography and memoir. Patrons who know how to use the library catalog will be able to locate relevant titles across the nonfiction collection, but others will run into trouble. Still, the Dewey Decimal Classification System can be an asset. University of Illinois Professor Emerita Christine A. Jenkins recalls her experience as a school librarian, citing weekly “search and rescue” missions as she walked through the library’s stacks looking for nonfiction titles with LGBTQ content. The books were rarely checked out (few students wanted their names in the circulation records or to be seen carrying certain titles around), but these books were clearly being read by students, who as Jenkins says, would look up homosexuality in the library catalog, find the books on the shelves, read them in a study carrel or other private location, and leave them unshelved. By finding and reshelving the library’s LGBTQ nonfiction in its proper place, Jenkins enabled the next information seeker to locate the books, which, she notes, “is exactly what the Dewey Decimal System was designed to facilitate—particularly helpful when you don’t want anyone else to know what you are looking for.”
PUT YOUR SUPPORT ON DISPLAY
Merchandising is critical to getting subject-driven material in the hands of interested readers. Creating displays of print and digital resources is an effective way to do just that. Below are other ways to put your library’s support on display.
PROMOTE NEW LGBTQ ACQUISITIONS OR SHOWCASE AWARD WINNERS.
Make sure your community is aware of award winners (Stonewall Book Awards, Lambda Book Awards, ALA’s Rainbow and Over the Rainbow lists) soon after they are announced.
KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON THE CALENDAR FOR LGBTQ OBSERVANCES.
Examples include Pride Month (June), National Coming Out Day (October 11), and Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20). You can also work LGBTQ-related materials into displays for events, such as Banned Books Week (typically in late September), Holocaust Remembrance Day (date varies), Black History Month (February), and Women’s History Month (March). World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) can hold special significance because LGBTQ people attempt and commit suicide at higher rates than non-LGBTQ people. (Although statistics are imprecise because not all suicide attempts result in death, and sexual orientation is not always reported in association with suicide attempts or deaths, LGBTQ youth are almost five times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youths; 40 percent of transgender adults report having made suicide attempts.)
In a strong example of using the calendar, every June the Boston Public Library (BPL) hosts a variety of events centered on Pride. In 2016—in addition to film screenings, drag tutorials, and flying Pride flags from the BPL main branch in Copley Squar —the library released a dedicated book list centered on recent books written for and about the LGBTQ community, disseminating it at Pride-centered library events and on a dedicated Pride page on the BPL website.
EXTEND THE DISPLAY CONCEPT INTO THE STACKS.
Williamsburg, Virginia reader’s advisor Neil Hollands, who writes Booklist’s Every Book Its Reader column, reminds us that placing titles face out will help them fly off the shelf. “Covers,” Hollands says, “provide more clues about what we might find inside.” Mix LGBTQ titles in with other fiction displayed face out, and track the effect on circulation. Finally, don’t forget that physical displays can be a great way to make patrons aware of digital resources, too.
BUILD SAFE SPACES.
Libraries can consider designating specific locations in the building (including but not limited to the YA department) to highlight the message that the library is a safe place for the LGBTQ community. Signage, posters, book displays, and other media are used to drive home this concept. For more information on the library as a safe place for LGBTQ youth, see “Library as Safe Space—Librarian as Ally” in GLBTRT Newsletter, 2012. Also, consult GLSEN for a variety of related news and resources (www.GLSEN.org).
SUPPORT AND EDUCATE FAMILIES.
Families, friends, and support groups need library support and education opportunities just as much as the individuals who care about them. YA novels featuring this family dynamic—books such as Mariko Tamaki’s Saving Montgomery Sole, which features two lesbian mothers, and Will Walton’s Anything Is Possible, which features two gay fathers—can be especially helpful in providing information and empathetic opportunities for those addressing this situation for the first time. Nonfiction books can serve this same need, providing straightforward, real-world contexts for information and education. A few examples available as Gale eBooks on GVRL would include Are You LGBTQ?, by Jeanne Nagle (Enslow Publishing); Being Transgender: What You Should Know, by Thomas E. Bevan (Praeger); Gender: Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks, by Renée C. Hoogland (Macmillan Reference USA); and Teens and LGBT Issues, by Christine Wilcox (ReferencePoint). In addition, librarians can acquaint users with national organizations, such as the aforementioned GLSEN, and PFLAG, following.
COLLABORATE WITH COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS
Librarians who actively identify and pursue their service goals will reach out to other LGBTQ-friendly community organizations—PFLAG (www.pflag.org) chapters, LGBTQ community centers, and chambers of commerce, among others—to assess needs and find opportunities for joint projects. In 2016, the Seattle Public Library hosted its first “LGBTE” Business Builder, an event designed to raise awareness of the LGBTQ-Owned Business Enterprise Certification process. Partnering with the Small Business Administration and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the library used the event to continue its efforts to help underserved regional businesses. The event drew 115 people—an audience 10 times larger than other similar programs—and a representative from the county pledged that LGBTQ businesses would receive representation in government contracts. The event fostered deeper relationships between the library and local LGBTQ businesses, which continue to participate in the library’s community outreach efforts.
Public libraries should also consider working directly with school libraries to coordinate their efforts in support of LGBTQ students. With students at risk in schools, the public library’s role as a safe haven becomes all the more imperative. These collaborative efforts should serve as building blocks for all library programming and may inspire other organizations in the community to take similar steps, in concert with the library, to make their groups welcoming to the LGBTQ population.
Recently, we partnered with Booklist to produce a piece on the library being more than a safe space, “Supporting the LGBTQ Community” is just the beginning of it. We spoke with past PLA presidents, ALA GLBTRT chairs, librarians, authors, and library-goers to create a wonderful piece, and we’re very excited to share it with you. Download the full white paper >>