ALA Midwinter 2017

Welcoming rainbow families in your library #alamw17

Real Sister Pretend by Megan Dowd Lambert

I’m belatedly blogging about the incredibly valuable ALSC Mini Institute session on Friday, “Serving ALL Families in Your Library: Inclusive Library Collections & Programs for LGBTQ Families & Children,” presented by Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo (University of Alabama) and Megan Roberts (LGBT Center of Raleigh Library).

Whether you know it or not, if you serve young people in your library this session is relevant to your work. In the US there are over 125,000 same-sex couples raising children, between 2-3.7 million children under the age of 18 growing up with an LGBTQ parent or parents, and LGBTQ families are present in 96% of counties, many in rural and suburban communities, not just major cities. There are also the legions of LGBTQ young people growing up everywhere around the country. For ease of discussion, Campbell Naidoo and Roberts used the term “rainbow families,” and I’ll do the same here.

What do these families need? Fundamentally the same things as everyone else: high-quality materials that normalize their experiences, and inclusive programming that draws them into the wider community. People who are uncomfortable with rainbow families may see efforts to highlight inclusive, positive materials as “promoting” a particular lifestyle or denigrating their own values and beliefs. They may request that you include overtly anti-gay materials to “balance” your collection.

Another way to look at this is to realize that the overwhelming majority of literature already normalizes and affirms heterosexual lifestyles, while books showing rainbow families do not attack opposite-sex parents. Purchasing and displaying books that include a variety of family structures in a natural way (not just “problem” or “issue” books) benefits not just rainbow families, but also those with foster children, single parents, multi-generational families, blended families, adoptive families, and others who are too often invisible in books. The speakers also recommend that you check out this ALSC blog post.

How do you handle a negative remark by a child or adult during storytime? Roberts suggested setting the same clear boundaries you would about library behavior if someone made a hateful remark based on race or gender. Speaking for myself, as a school librarian serving a diverse community I remind people that we are free to believe whatever we wish, but at school we treat everyone with respect (distinguish between thought and behavior).

What else can you do?

  • Use inclusive language: avoid words that connote judgment, such as “normal.” Use vocabulary that includes all children (e.g. “grownup” or “caregiver” rather than “mom and dad”).
  • Create inclusive thematic displays that incidentally include books with diverse families, rather than othering rainbow families by segregating these books.
  • Do not use special stickers to identify LGBTQ books or segregate them in the “issues” section, both of which discourage their use by straight patrons and make it harder for your LGBTQ patrons to access them discreetly.
  • Help people find diverse family books through book lists, finding guides and subject headers.
  • Remember that there is a clear, bright line between respectful discretion and shameful secrecy. You want to affirm and respect rainbow families while recognizing that the reality many of them inhabit requires them to be cautious and private. Take the family’s lead when it comes to how public they are about their family structure.

How can you evaluate books?

  • Consider how the child in the story reacts when they learn that someone in their life is LGBTQ. Is sexual orientation always presented as a problem?
  • How is sexual orientation explained–is it done in a way that is too technical and clinical? Imagine the same language being used to explain why a character has a mommy and a daddy!
  • Are the illustrations warm and inviting?
  • How does the narrative present the lives of rainbow families?How are gender identity and diversity addressed? No one wants to see their family described as strange specimens. Ambiguous books, ones where characters may or may not be LGBTQ, are particularly nice since they are inclusive of many family situations and help us question our assumptions.

What I shared here is just a fraction of the valuable advice the speakers had for us, but I hope it will be of use in your library.


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