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.
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!