Saturday, April 15, 2017

Where'd They Go?

So... where'd the gay and black folks books go?

The question is whether LGBT and/or African American books should be shelved separately from other library materials or not.

First off, what IS an LGTB book or an African American book?  Is it a book about being gay or black? Is it a book by a gay person or black person?  Is it history, contemporary? And if we shelve them separately, is that "celebrating" or "segregating"?  Is it helping folks find stuff, or just another way of pointing out someone's "different-ness"?

"...and librarians have a profound responsibility to give validity to that freedom to read by making it possible for the readers to choose freely from a variety of offerings."  (ALA, 2017)

I decided to look at this through the LGBT experience and interviewed two people about their viewpoint.  Z explained that she had been to bookstores many years ago that had a separate LGBT section, and she felt very exposed and uncomfortable just browsing there.  Both X and Z said they appreciated being able to find gay books easily, and that having access to books which feature gay people or address gay concerns is important to them, but they would prefer to not feel singled out.  Z suggested that libraries should try using metadata tags, which made me go "aarrgh!", and I explained that we DO.  They both said that with the availability of searchable catalogs that include LGBT metadata tags and subject headings, they can find materials without having to go to the "gay" shelf.  X said that a book about gay parenting should be in the parenting section so that she can browse all kinds of parenting books.  "We're interested in the same things as everyone else, so the books should be integrated".

Does this mean that if we segregate these books (make them "special") we somehow abridge the ability of both gay and straight patrons to choose from a variety?  My friends suggest that this is so, and causes pigeonholing.  Pigeonholing = bad.

 They suggested that having a display during pride month (June) if a library wants to showcase its LGBT collection and show support for that group of minority people.
X disagreed with marking or labeling books in any way.  At first it seemed like a good idea for browsing, but then they both said people might feel uncomfortable bringing a marked book to the checkout counter or having it visible in their home if they're not "out" yet, so they decided that they really feel that for most gay people the best solution is to use the catalog search filters.  This provides accessibility, while still protecting privacy.  The American Library Association (ALA) states:  It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept with any book the prejudgment of a label characterizing the book or author as subversive or dangerous.  Would a label denoting a book as LGBT be perceived by that community as helpful or judgemental?  According to my friends, it could be the latter, and that would against the ethical and professional standards of the ALA.  

I think these ideas apply to African American books as well.  If I go to the "black" section, I feel very conspicuous, like I shouldn't be there, or I'm only there to prove how non-racist I am.  Makes me feel like a poser.  On the other hand, if I'm browsing the fiction and run across The Help, I just feel like I found a great book - not a black book.  Yes, it certainly sheds light on a black issue, but those issues are important for all of humanity.  And for crying out loud, I'm guessing that black people have had enough of being separated.

Disclaimer: This does not apply to special centers or museums dedicated to preserving a unique history or voice, or an academic library supporting specialized research. 

Let's just stick together, people!


  1. I like that you interviewed members of the LGBTQ community and got their opinions on this subject, I think that is an important thing to do. I was surprised by their answers, but after reading about why they wouldn't want them separated, it makes sense. They shouldn't have to feel uncomfortable about checking out books and they shouldn't be treated any differently because they aren't that different from everyone else. Libraries are for everyone! :D

  2. Hi Deirdre,

    Great points! I feel as though we are definitely on the same wavelength with this prompt and issue! One of my first thoughts on the issue as well was, what would make a LGBTQ or African American fiction book “enough” to make it to one of these separate sections? Does the author need to be a member of the LGBTQ community or identify as one? Do a certain amount of characters need to fit into to either grouping? Are these prerequisites that must be followed? It seems like it is adding too many hypothetical and actual questions to the mix instead of assisting patrons find books. I can remember aiding with a weeding/checking to make sure there was an adequate amount of materials for a given subject within the DDC 300’s for a project during my internship. What I thought was interesting and great (both in terms of humanism and ease of browsing and retrieval) was the combining of (exactly as you mentioned) books on parenting, raising children, and teens; with basically each and every possible situation you could think of. Single mother, single father, no parents, caregiver only, grandkids, gay son, lesbian daughter. I know this is non-fiction, however, I feel the point remains the same. My point is: I agree that not only does the segregation of certain genres eliminate a certain tint of the humanism a library offers, it also creates confusion for all, especially for a patron in a hurry. Great use of images for helping make your points as well!

  3. Great prompt response! You did a great job backing up your point and i liked that you asked people who it could directly affect. Full points!

  4. How do you feel about cataloguing a book with those keywords?

    1. They already are for the most part. LC Subject headings include LGBT, GLBT, gay, lesbian, homophobia, sexual minority, and others related to the LGBT population and many, many subject headings related to African Americans. Online, many people have included tags as well as controlled vocabulary subjects. Loads of them on Goodreads, and many are in the metadata on Amazon and other sites as well. I think we should include as many subject headings/ keywords as is reasonable in the MARC records. So - now I'm very curious - how do YOU FEEL about cataloguing a book with those keywords?

  5. I liked your prompt response a lot. My library is creating a center for African-American Literature and Culture and the Black Experience (long title) that will have a non floating collection of just about everything in African-American literature, but other copies will go where they normally would in the regular collection. It's supposed to be a place for gathering, programming and dialogue as well as learning so I definitely think it's going to be exciting. I like that you went and asked people about their opinion too - that's always top priority that we should be doing before making that kind of decision.