School is In: LGBTQ representation in professional school library literature

 

Lockers-Rainbow

 

GLBT News: By Elizabeth Gartley -August 16, 2015

A few months ago, I came across the 2011 article “The Silent Message: Professional Journals’ Failure to Address LGBTQ Issues” by Elizabeth Koehler, in The Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, the academic journal of YALSA. In her study, Koehler searched for LGBTQ-themed articles in nine professional journals commonly read by public and school librarians who serve young adults.

Around the same time, I had come across research which looked specifically at how well school libraries and school librarians are serving LGBTQ students. Articles such as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ)-Themed Literature for Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections?” by Hughes-Hassell, Overberg, and Harris in School Library Research (2013) and “2.5 Million Teens” by Wendy Rickman in Knowledge Quest (2015), found that overall, school librarians are underprepared to serve LGBTQ students. I was interested in Koehler’s study to see what connections or correlations there might be.

Koehler looked at a span of five years (2006 to 2011), and searched each journal electronically for the terms gay*, lesbian*, homosexual*, transgender*, transsexual*, transvestite*, and queer* for articles with LGBTQ-themed content, including reviews and letters to the editor. She found a total of 83 articles across nine journals over the course of five years. School Library Journal accounts for nearly half of those, with 37 LGBTQ-themed articles found within the timeframe; Booklist was the next highest producer with 17 articles.

Koehler also found that the vast majority (70.2 percent) of these articles were reviews. However, she also points out that the number of reviews does not accurately reflect the number of high quality LGBTQ-themed fiction and nonfiction published for young adults between 2006 and 2011. She notes that the Rainbow Book List, compiled by GLBTRT offers “an annual bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content.” She writes that since the first list was published in 2008, the project:

has included 137 quality fiction and nonfiction LGBTQ-themed titles for young adults. In that same time period, the nine journals examined in this study reviewed only thirty-four LGBTQ-themed books and five of those were professional titles. While professional journals cannot realistically review every book that is published, these numbers suggest that dozens of quality books that could benefit young adults and the librarians who serve them are being overlooked by the professional journals that many librarians read.

Intrigued by Koehler’s work, I decided to take my own (rather unscientific) look more specifically at journals and trade magazines focused on school libraries. I identified 12 school library journals which I could easily search electronically, and tweaked Koehler’s keywords: I searched gay*, lesbian*, bisexual*, transgender*, queer*, LGBT*. I was mostly interested in content, so I didn’t include reviews or letters to the editor, and I also limited my search to articles that presented LGBTQ topics in positive or neutral tone. I didn’t limit my time frame, but rather looked at whatever span of time was available by publication. Overall, my findings line up with Koehler’s, with School Library Journal having printed far more LGBTQ-themed articles than all other publications combined. School Library Journal published its first LGBTQ-themed article, “Gay Lib’s Guidelines For Children’s & YA Books,” in 1975, and has been including articles on such topics with relative regularity ever since.

 

Name Publication Type Geographic Focus Dates Surveyed Articles
1 IASL Newsletter Organization Publication Global 2005 to Present None
2 Knowledge Quest Organization Publication US 2003 to Present 3
3 Library Media Connection* Trade Publication US 2003 to 2015 None
4 Library Sparks Trade Publication US 2009 to Present None
5 School Libraries in Canada Organization Publication Canada 2001 to Present 1
6 School Librarian’s Workshop Trade Publication US 2003 to 2015 1
7 School Libraries Worldwide Academic Journal Global 2003 to Present 2
8 School Library Journal Trade Publication US 1974 to Present 37
9 School Library Monthly* Trade Publication US 1995 to Present 1
10 School Library Research Academic Journal US 1993 to Present 1
11 Teacher Librarian Trade Publication US & Canada 1990 to Present 5
12 Teaching Librarian Trade Publication Canada 2006 to Present 3

*Merging to become School Library Connection this fall.

But maybe that’s not fair comparison, since all the other publications I surveyed begin much later. If I limit School Library Journal only to the last 10 years (2005 to 2015), I find 17 articles: the same as the total number of all other LGBTQ articles I found in the 11 other journals. The only other publication which featured an LGBTQ-themed article before the 2000s was Teacher Librarian, which published “Conflict and Compromise Over Homosexual Literature” in 1994.

Koehler also noted that:

It is particularly concerning that inclusion of LGBTQ issues in professional journals for young adults has not increased in relation to the number of current events related to issues of sex and gender.

I thought perhaps this was because Koehler looked at such a limited time frame, but as I started plotting the number of articles by year, I had to come to the same conclusion. I saw no pattern of growth from the early 2000s (when most of the journals surveyed began publication) to 2015.

Looking at individual publications made the situation seem even starker. School Library Monthly, popular with many of my colleagues, has only published one LGBTQ-themed article in 20 years of publication. Another popular trade magazine, Library Media Connection, hasn’t published any LGBTQ-related articles in 12 years of publication. The official publication of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) is only slightly better, with three articles in 12 years.

While Koehler stops short of drawing a causal relationship between a lack of LGBTQ-themed books in libraries and a lack of articles about LGBTQ topics in professional journals for librarians, I don’t think her findings can be coincidental when looking at research into how well school libraries are serving LGBTQ students. Hughes-Hassell, Overberg, and Harris (2013) found that LGBTQ-themed books made up only only 0.4% of school libraries’ collections. Rickman (2015) found a lack of resources available for LGBTQ students in school libraries in Arkansas. Both studies found a lack of nonfiction resources on LGBTQ topics in school libraries. The 2013 GLSEN National School Climate Survey found that less than half of LGBTQ students (44.2 percent) could find LGBTQ content in their school libraries (for comparison, the 2003 survey found that 45.2 percent of students surveyed could find LGBTQ-related content in their school libraries).

I believe very strongly in the role of the school library for the education of all students, but I’m disheartened by the lack of attention to LGBTQ students in my profession — particularly when contrasted with the increased visibility of LGBTQ lives and experiences in so many other areas:entertainment and media, government and current events, and cultural institutions. Despite this increased visibility, LGBTQ students still struggle, particularly at school, with having their voices silenced, being marginalized by their school community, and otherwise struggling with discrimination at school.

Pretending that potentially controversial topics don’t exist will not make them disappear, and school library professionals do a disservice to all students by ignoring LGBTQ lives and experiences. Koehler urges librarians to write letters to the editor, book reviews, or opinion pieces to those journals which print reader-generated content, and she highlights some resources that exist to aid librarians in LGBTQ book selection, including the Rainbow Book List, the Stonewall Book Awards, and the Lambda Literary Awards, and other resources such as Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians by Hillias Martin and James Murdock.

While there may not be a direct causal link between a lack of LGBTQ resources in libraries and the lack of articles addressing LGBTQ topics in professional journals, if more school librarians begin prioritizing LGBTQ resources and services, the journals will have to reflect that. And as the professional journals publish more LGBTQ content, more librarians are likely to be inspired to create more inclusive library services and collections.

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