New Diversity in the Library: Polyamory

A recent ruling by the U.S. District Court in Utah has repercussions for how libraries serve teenagers. As a result of the ruling striking down portions of an anti-polyamory law, and the growing public acceptance of polyamory, we librarians have a new diversity to incorporate into our public services.

Polyamory–meaning “many loves”– is a non-monogamous relationship type, wherein individuals may choose to romantically commit themselves to more than one person, rather than two people dedicating themselves solely to each other. Polyamory is practiced in many forms, from poly fidelity (a closed group of polyamorous people, not accepting new relationships into the current structure) to poly hierarchical (newer, secondary relationships bowing to longer-established, primary relationships) to poly anarchy (no strictures applied to any relationship or partner). Polyamory is inclusive of all sexualities and religions, and exists in all American socio-economic, age, and racial strata.

Though polyamory has existed for centuries, the term polyamory (as opposed to the gender-limiting polygyny and polyandry) was first introduced in 1990 and did not gain entry into the Oxford English Dictionary until 2006 (Poly in the Media, Jan 6 2007).’ Polyamory began gaining significant notice in the American cultural conversation in 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court decriminalized sodomy in favor of the privacy of “certain intimate conduct” in the case Lawrence v. Texas (NY Times, Dec 15 2013). Today, polyamory features positively in reality TV shows (Showtime, TLC), newspaper columns (Dear Abby, Savage Love), lifestyle segments (Salom, Slate, Redbook, Newsweek), works of fiction, and as special segment pieces in other media (National Public Radio, TED talks).

What brought the relationship structure to my attention as a new diversity to be served in libraries was the U.S. District Court case Brown v. Buhman. Judge Clark Waddoups’s decision can be read in full here. In brief, the decision ruled that while an individual can only be legally married to one person at a time, polyamorous Americans may co-habitate, raise families, build businesses, and practice extralegal marriage with multiple partners, without interference from the government. Poly activists have further legal challenges planned for the near future, primarily centered around what they perceive as discrimination under the law (Psychology Today, Jan 18 2014) and in broader society (Reddit, Monogamous Privilege).

With polyamory socially and legally recognized, it is important to incorporate this family and romantic structure into our inclusive library services. Meaning, books and other resources featuring polyamory should be a part of our displays, recommendations, and programs; library cards, permission slips, and other forms for minors should accommodate contacts for more than two parents/guardians; and we should inform ourselves of polyamory so that when curious teenagers ask us about it, we can answer as knowledgeably and neutrally as we would about other relationship types.

If you’d like to learn more about polyamory, check out this bibliography from the Kinsey Institute (Kinsey Institute) or, for less technical reading, I would suggest the titles below.

  • “Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships” by Tristan Taormino (ISBN: 157344295X)
  • “The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families” by Elisabeth Sheff (ISBN: 1442222956)
  • “Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners” by Deborah Anapol (ISBN: 1442200227)

About Jacqui Taylor

Jacqui Taylor is the head of Youth Services at a small Ohio library. She participated in the 2011 YALSA Mentoring Program, and served on YALSA's Baker and Taylor Award Jury and Indiana's Children and Youth Professional Development Division.
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9 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post! As a poly librarian I was pleasantly surprised to see it 🙂 Hoping that poly relationships will start to pop up more and more in fictional literature for all ages.

  2. Here’s my descriptive list of the 37 nonfiction books published on polyamory since 1984, in English, in a printed edition. I’m pretty certain that it’s complete as of right now:

    http://polyinthemedia.blogspot.com/2012/12/book-about-polyamory-all-31-since-1992.html

  3. Thanks for your comment, Erin! I read one estimate that there are between 1.2 and 2.4 million Americans actively engaged in nonmonogamous relationships–there’s bound to be librarians in that midst! I look forward to seeing how polyamory becomes a part of our cultural conversation at ALA and in broader American society.

  4. Hi Jacqui,

    Thanks for this post! I wonder if you’re aware of the new book on polyamory coming out September 2, 2014, called More Than Two: A practical guide to ethical polyamory. It’s a much more concrete, down-to-Earth guide than Opening Up or Polyamory in the 21st Century. If you’re interested, I can send you an e-book copy for review. Send your email address to eve@morethantwo.com.

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21955937-more-than-two

    Thanks!

    Eve

  5. Kenenth R. Haslam MD

    Thanks for such a truthful article on Polyamory. I am pleased that information about this option for relationships will now be more easily available in libraries.

  6. maria pallotta-chiarolli

    Thanx so much Jacqui. I do hope our Australian youth/school library services follow suit. I wrote a Young Adult novel on bisexuality and polyamory in 2008, “Love You Two” and it is being read by many young people in Australia, UK and UK, particularly recommended by polyparents who want their children to have material.

    But the publisher, Random House, had to place a “PG” label on the back, “Parental Guidance: this book contains adult themes”. Of course, in some ways, this increased the readership as some young people were intrigued to read the “naughty bits” 🙂

    Maria
    xxx

  7. Thank you for this.

    I cannot tell you how vital this subject is to the happiness of many. I personally have a friend who had tensions run high with his wife and divorced. They still love one another very much but remain separate because he remarried posthaste. The wife and the ex-wife would be best friends if they knew one another, and he misses his ex-wife. I think polyamory is the fix in this case but that’s a notion that is foreign to many, and so not acceptable because it feels “weird.” By making literature on this subject available, and even including fiction with polyamory stitched into storylines, I think it could increase happiness among people in similar situations. In my personal experience, decent men are hard to come by, and it seems silly that we should socially (and arbitrarily) place limits on what people can consent to in the name of love.

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