In the weeks leading up to the Drag Story Hour at my former branch, I was equal parts excited and worried. I had been wanting to host a Drag Story Hour for a long time because these special storytimes encompass some of the best parts of children’s programs in libraries: having fun, encouraging creativity, and celebrating diversity through stories. And I was certain that it would be popular with the families who came to that branch.
But I also knew that Drag Story Hours and other library programs that highlight the LGBTQ+ community had become a lightning rod for hate groups. Libraries across the country were dealing with protestors who often harassed and threatened both the performers and the library staff.
The number of program challenges reported to ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has grown over the past ten years from one or none each year to a peak of sixty-nine challenges in 2019, according to a presentation by Sukrit Goswami and Amanda Vazquez for Programming Librarian. The vast majority of the reported challenges are for programs related to LGBTQ+ themes.
These are just the instances that have been reported to the OIF. Most challenges go unreported.
At my library, we had internal policies and procedures to guide us in planning programs, but none of those policies or procedures addressed how to prepare for potential challenges to or protests against a program. Up until then, our most pressing programming issue had been how to deal with overcrowding at our weekly baby and toddler storytime.
Recognizing the need to prepare library staff for opposition to programs, ALSC tasked the School-Age Programs and Services (SAPS) committee with creating a toolbox focused on program challenges. On behalf of the SAPS committee, I’m excited to share the result of our work from the 2022-23 term: the ALSC Toolkit for Program Challenges.
We split the toolkit into three sections: before, during, and after a program challenge. For each stage, we suggest areas that may need special attention, identify specific steps you can take, and provide adaptable templates for creating a program policy, planning a program, and responding to a challenge.
We hope this toolkit will help library staff as they continue to serve all of their community, and we look forward to your feedback for future revisions. We invite the ALSC community to participate in strengthening this evolving toolkit and our service to children by sharing suggestions, experiences, and feedback via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Bintrim is a member of the ALSC School-Age Programs and Services Committee. She’s the head of children’s services at the Potomac branch of the Montgomery County (MD) Public Libraries.