Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a panel discussion at the Nassau Library System on GLBTQ books and library programs and services. The panelists were David Gale of Simon and Schuster, author Ellen Wittlinger, and authors Jack Martin (Jack’s a librarian too) and James Murdock. Here’s some of what was discussed:
- David Gale covered the history, current state, and future of GLBTQ books for teens. He reminded the group that the first teen books with gay or lesbian characters focused on the angst and difficulty of growing up as a gay teen and in these books some terrible thing happened to at least one character – or even a pet. David reminded the group that in the past few years we’ve seen the literature grow and are seeing more and more books in which the gay character is just another teen character. Being gay doesn’t require some major trauma or angst different than what any teen might go through. David also provided examples of how publishers and authors are continuing to publish titles with GLBTQ themes that in the past might have been considered taboo. For example, Ellen Wittlinger’s just to be released book Parrotfish.
- Ellen Wittlinger gave audience members a look at her new book by reading a couple of selections. The book chronicles the story of Grady, a teen girl, who decides during her teen years to transition to being a boy. She does this publicly in her family and in school. Ellen also talked about the GLBTQ themes she focuses on in some of her other books and recounted stories of being uninvited from schools and libraries when the community learned that she was going to talk about titles with GLBTQ themes. A main point Ellen made was that we may think that the world has come very far in the acceptance of GLBTQ teens and adults, however, acceptance is not universal and it’s important to recognize that fact and work to help to guarantee that materials with GLBTQ themes for teens are kept on library shelves.
- The program ended with the presentation from Jack Martin and James Murdock who wrote the book, Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Quetioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual. Martin and Murdock described how libraries can create safe spaces for teens where no matter what one’s sexual preference the library space is safe and welcoming. They discussed ways for providing programs that recognize the GLBTQ teens in the community and talked about how to help teens who might be looking for GLBTQ themed books find those books, even if the teen is afraid to ask. The suggestions included audio recording sessions in which teens get to talk about any issue in which they are interested and slipping a GLBTQ book into a stack a librarian might hand over a teen that asked for readers’ advisory.
Each of the presenters did a great job reminding audience members what we as librarians need to do in order to support GLBTQ teens in libraries. One day, if we as a society really embrace these teens we might not have to have programs like the one described here. If teens of any sexuality are just like any other teen in the library, than we won’t have to separate programs out in order to serve them successfully. When that day comes it will be a great thing.