The Roadtripping Librarian: Austin! and the Surrounding Cities

I’m in Austin!

(Okay not really anymore, I am home now, I couldn’t really write coherently from my iPhone while on the trip…)

In Austin, I was lucky to be able to spend a few day with my friend Jenny and her husband George. Jenny is a former blogger for Forever Young Adult and currently blogs for Writers Out of Bounds. She is working on her first YA novel, so we have a lot in common and a lot of YA to talk about…we’re both hardcore fans of Michael Grant’s Gone series and hadn’t seen each other since before the last book came out.

OutYouth Center for LGBT Teens in Austin

OutYouth Center for LGBT Teens in Austin

While in Austin, I visited three libraries, ate LOTS of BBQ and was lucky enough to meet with Natalia Ornelas, the program coordinator at Out Youth, a nonprofit in Austin that serves LGBT youth. Before I describe my experiences, I want to quickly go over my method of identifying libraries to visit and what I do once I am there.

Since the scope of this trip is pretty small and lasted only 12 or so days, I’m not attempting to make a definitive statement about what teen services and access to LGBT material looks like across the country. As I follow along my route on Apple maps, I’m randomly picking towns I’m passing through, researching whether they have a public library, and if it will be open when I am passing through. So, to some extent, the libraries I visit are completely random. I’ve gone to a few because someone I met along the way suggested it to me, especially in Austin, where I am staying for more than a night. But overall, my choices are random and hinges on where Apple maps routes me.

Nonfiction display at the George Washington Carver Library in Austin

Nonfiction display at the George Washington Carver Library in Austin

That being said, in Austin I visited three libraries. One was the George Washington Carver branch of the Austin Public Library, and the other were in towns about a half hour outside of Austin. One was the Taylor Public Library in Taylor, Texas (where I was going to for more BBQ, initially). The other was the Round Rock Public Library in Round Rock, Texas, where I decided to go to because the proprietor of a feminist book store, Book Woman, suggested I visit, because, in her words, “Round Rock is a very conservative town.” Obviously, I had to visit and to see what they offered. The same woman told me about Out Youth, which was how I ended up meeting with Natalia and seeing the amazing work they were doing.

The Carver branch of the Austin Public Library was great. It looked brand new, was clean and brightly lit and had an area specifically for teens with fiction and nonfiction, as well as a room with computers and places to hang out for teen use only and a dedicated teen librarian (with sporadic summer hours, but regular ones during the school year). The nonfiction section had multiple titles dealing with being young and queer, as well as one of those titles, Queer: The Ultimate LGBT guide for Teens, prominently on display. They also had ten LGBT fiction titles on the shelf in their YA section, including two titles with trans* characters, Luna by Julie Anne Peters and Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Overall, the experience I had here was positive and I was happy to see that they had a good selection of material that represented LGBT teens. But I was unsure of what to expect at my next stop, libraries outside of the seemingly liberal boundaries of the Austin city limits.

Young Adult Area in the Taylor, Texas Public Library

Young Adult Area in the Taylor, Texas Public Library

In Taylor I saw something very interesting, that was repeated at other libraries on my journey. Despite having 15+ LGBT YA titles on their shelves, they had only one nonfiction titles (that I could find) in the entire library, and it was Opposing Viewpoints: Homosexuality (not exactly a celebration.) I wonder why they would have so much fiction available and barely any nonfiction. I have my thoughts about why this is, but I’d rather hear what you all have to say. Feel free to speculate in the comments.

Manga collection at the Round Rock Public LIbrary

Manga collection at the Round Rock Public Library

Despite the warning that Round Rock is considered a conservative town, the public library had one of the largest collections of LGBT YA fiction I saw on my entire trip. They also had 15+ nonfiction titles in the regular nonfiction section and a bulletin board at the front entrance labelled “Just for Teens.” Now, the population of Round Rock is over 100k, so that is a huge city (whereas Taylor is only 16k), which might account for the awesomeness that was the library — they have more people, therefore need a bigger library collection. ‘ But I still feel like they went above and beyond in their teen services. They had summer reading contests, game nights, and surveys for teens to provide feedback to the library. The teen room has computers specifically for teens, as well as comfy rocking chairs on the floor, two big shelves of manga at the front of the room, teen DVDs, a massive collection of teen audiobooks and a huge collection (25+ titles) of LGBT YA fiction. I was very happy with this library, but my happiness increased when later on, I saw on their teen website they had book recommendations by topic, and under Love and Romance they included Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez. In fact, the Round Rock library had one of the best collections I have ever seen of LGBT YA lit.

So far on my trip I have seen a lot of great teen rooms and a lot of libraries with queer fiction collections. What will I encounter on my drive home? Will it be just as awesome? Will I survive my twelve-mile walk on highway 58 in Ohio for ice cream (spoiler alert: yes). Tune in for the next blog post!

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