Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Selection or Censorship? School Librarians and LGBTQ Resources

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Selection or Censorship? School Librarians and LGBTQ Resources

Article excerpt


In July 2010, a 15-year-old student named Brent created a stir among school librarians when a recent posting from his blog The Naughty Book Kitties was published in School Library Journal (SLJ). In this posting, Brent explained just how important books were to him and to other young adults in helping them come to terms with their sexuality. Brent and his friends combed bookstores and public libraries looking for gay and lesbian characters, but when he turned to his own school library, his school librarian informed him that, "This is a school library. If you're looking to read inappropriate titles, go to a bookstore" (Limited Shelf Life, 2010). Librarians around the world were aghast, and sent letters to the editor of SLJ and posted comments on Brent's blog that reflected concern for his school library. Brent's blog post's closing statement was a wake-up call to many school librarians:

The world needs more librarians who are devoted to finding the right book to put in the right person's lap, not librarians who think they can decide what's "inappropriate" and what's not based on their personal prejudices. There are tons of gay teens struggling to find a group to fit into. LGBT YA lit helps us realize that no, we aren't alone, and no, we aren't worthless. It helps us discover that we are part of the LGBT group, which includes tons of brilliant people, doing brilliant things. (Limited Shelf Life, 2010)

Most school librarians can attest to the thrill of pairing students with the perfect book, introducing teens to characters that will inspire, comfort, challenge, and excite them as well as help them to move beyond their limited experiences. Students who are struggling to find a place to belong so often take solace in books; it is vital that all students have access to stories that validate their feelings and experiences. It is this desire that all students have access to high-quality, inclusive school library collections that motivated this study.

While there have been a variety of small studies conducted intended to determine whether school librarians self-censored books, including titles that specifically addressed LGBTQ topics, to date, no one has yet undertaken a large scale research project that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative methods. There is a need to ascertain to what degree librarians may be self- censoring their collections, as well as to understand librarians' philosophies about library collection development and justifications for their selection decisions. This project seeks to provide that knowledge.

Research Hypotheses

Phase One. More than half of the sampled schools will show evidence that suggests that school librarians are censoring their collections.

Phase Two. There will be certain variables about the librarian, school, and/or community (e.g., the age of the librarian, student enrollment in a school, Ohio Department of Education (ODE) ranking or the local political climate) that will correlate with higher or lower instances of self-censorship.

Phase Three. Some factors that may cause librarians to self-censor books with LGBTQ themes include past experiences with material challenges, personal belief systems, and/or pressure from administrators to avoid controversy.

Research Questions

Phase One RQ:

What is the evidence that suggests school librarians may be practicing self-censorship when it comes to including library materials with gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender content?

Phase Two RQ:

What is the evidence that suggests certain attributes of the librarian, school, or community may correlate with higher or lower instances of self-censorship?

Phase Three RQ:

What actual professional and personal experiences affect how school librarians approach collection development and materials selection? What internal or external factors influence their decisions during the selection process?

LGBTQ Literature is Vital to School Library Collections

The need for welcoming, informative and inclusive library collections is particularly pertinent for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) students who often find school libraries to be safe havens and use libraries to locate information, despite the fact that information can easily be accessed elsewhere (Whelan, 2006). …

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