How to Run a Gay-Straight Alliance in Your Library

When we think about diversity, it’s easy to confine the discussion to diversity within the collection or within YA literature more broadly. And there are great conversations going on there, from tumblr to Twitter, with YA authors and librarians and readers talking about representation and privilege and our responsibility to serve all teens.

But what about diversity within your library programs?

The library is often an attractive meeting space for groups that otherwise have very little to do with the library. In my district, the library hosts town employee benefit fairs, career morning panels, nursing presentations and many other outside groups simply because the town doesn’t have much in the way of dedicated meeting space. The library also closes early once a month for faculty meetings largely because there’s nowhere else to put the entire faculty at once.

Similarly, the library became the home for the Gay-Straight Alliance more or less out of convenience. I moved both of the extra-curricular groups I advise–the yearbook and GSA–into the library so that I could attend meetings and still more or less keep an eye on the after-school crowd in the library. Holding GSA meetings and events in the library for five years, though, has taught me how well-suited the two are for each other.

1. Built-in meeting space.

We meet every week in a small room within the library, but we usually don’t close the door. At first I thought this might inhibit the students and keep them from talking about anything really personal, but in reality the open door means other students are more likely to poke a head in and see what we’re doing. Just last week the GSA students hollered at a senior and invited him to sit with us, which led to an amazing conversation about what it means to be out and whether we should be reaching out more to students who might not think they “need” a GSA.

2. Supplies!
This might sound silly, but not having to scrounge up supplies when you want to make posters or draft an announcement can be huge. My desk in the library is a treasure trove of arts and crafts supplies, and we have banks of computers and printers (including a wireless printer) that make it easy for us to design and create. Sadly I don’t have a color printer, and my photocopier bit the dust months ago, but it’s a good start.

3. Building relationships.
GSA students have become some of my best customers in the library, but before they started attending meetings regularly I never saw them checking out books at all. One of them has started a bit of a Dune trend, and they recommend titles to other all the time now. Unfortunately a lot of teens have had bad experiences with libraries and librarians (cough overduefines cough), but having a more casual, human interaction with the librarian can go a long way toward repairing that relationship.

4. Being there without being overbearing.
In previous years we tried to give students the reins completely when it came to running meetings and setting up events, but that didn’t always work. This year we meet every week, whether we have a big agenda or not, and sometimes if the conversation seems to be dying down I leave the room for a bit to see what happens. Some of our best ideas have come out of those moments, and having me nearby but not necessarily in the room means the students will tell me about the great conversation they just had as they leave the library.

5. Holding events in the heart of the building.
We just had a party on Friday–pizza, board games and music–and a GSA advisor from another school remarked on how great it was to have an event like that in the library. Too often GSA events get hidden away in a tiny meeting room or an advisor’s classroom. Ours are held in the library with huge windows, the first thing you see when you walk into the building. That tells students that not only is the library a place for parties, but that the GSA has a true home in the library.

Do you run a GSA in your library?

About mk Eagle

I’m the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school’s yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.

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