I haven’t left for my road trip yet, but I did do a little pre-roadtrip library-browsing in Ohio, while visiting my brother who lives in Oberlin. While there, I visited four local libraries: the Oberlin Public Library, the Lorain Public Library, the Avon Lake Public Library, and the Herrick Public Library in Wellington. As outlined before, I’m checking out their teen rooms, seeing what types of programming they were offering, and reviewing their titles to determine how their collection represented LGBT teens. I’m not looking in these libraries’ OPACs to see if these books might be checked out, or checking to see if they are part of a larger consortium of libraries that might contain these titles; I’m only looking at books that are currently on the shelf.
I’m approaching this project as if I were a teen going into my local town library searching for these titles, without any knowledge of how to find them besides looking on the shelf. Obviously, some teens would employ other strategies if they were unable to find certain titles (Interlibrary Loan etc.), but I wanted to experience what most teens would encounter when seeking books for immediate availability.
I’m mostly interested in smaller public libraries because they tend to skew closer to school libraries, where I work, despite the budgetary differences, and the larger target audience. Small town libraries and local branches are where many people obtain library materials. I realize that many people use Interlibrary Loan programs to access materials, so I cannot assume that the libraries in these towns are the only place for patrons to access library items. But I can assume they are the first place they will go, and depending on what they find, they may or may not become discouraged.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in Ohio, although I’m somewhat familiar with the town of Oberlin. I was aware that they are considered a liberal town and would be likely to contain LGBT titles for teens. Additionally, all of these towns have at least one high school specifically for that town – as opposed to a regional high school – which means there are teens in each town that could be involved in, and benefit from, their library’s programming. I won’t get into all the ways teens can benefit from library programming and collections that are aimed at them, but I will say that, especially in regards LGBT teens, having material and people available to talk with and learn from is crucial to seeing themselves as vital members of society. When teens realize that they are not alone and that there are other people like them, even if they can only find them in books, it can lessen their sense of isolation. I’m happy to report that all four libraries have specific teen sections, one of which was next to the children’s section (Lorain), while others were distinctly separate (WPL, OPL, Avon Lake).
But even in the libraries where the teen section was next to the children’s section, the teen books were clearly labeled so teens could easily find them. Additionally, all of the libraries had at least a few titles available for LGBT teens. None of the libraries had teen librarians available when I was there, but I was told that Avon Lake does have a dedicated teen librarian who does the majority of the collection development. All the collections contained other materials besides print books (â€œteen DVDs,â€ teen periodicals, graphic novels, and manga) as well as fliers and posters offering specific teen programming.
Of these four, I felt Avon Lake, by far, had the nicest teen section, with computers specifically for teen use, comfortable seating, a fireplace, lots of signage and a librarian at a desk situated nearby. Both the OPL and the LPL had specific shelves reserved for the teen section, with signs indicating that information and fliers, and other teen materials, were nearby. The Wellington Public Library teen section was up a flight of stairs in its own little alcove, and while it was a small section with a lot of older titles, the fact that it was very distinct and separate made it really appealing. When I visited, this library had the most actual teens looking at materials and doing work, and the library director spent a significant amount of time speaking with me and showing me around the library.
As far as the LGBT YA collections for each library, they all had at least three titles. The Oberlin Public Library included the most titles, at least 22, including 5 books that focused on transgender teens or their families (Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, Luna by Julie Anne Peters, I am J by Cris Beam, Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis , and Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde). Lorain had the second highest amount and also included a few titles with transgender teens; Wellington had a few, but this might be attributed to the fact that the overall collection skewed more towards middle grade than young adult; and Avon Lake, the library with the nicest teen section, had the fewest titles, with the majority of the titles available only as e-books (I broke my own rule here and searched the catalog because I was surprised at the lack of LGBT YA titles on the shelf, even though the teen section was nice and cozy and had so many new titles).
Again, I am not accounting for books that are checked out or books that could be accessed through ILL, just what I noticed on the shelf. However, I didn’t look at every book in the teen collection – I’m not a robot. But, having read countless LGBT YA titles in print, including pretty much every title that includes transgender, gender questioning, genderqueer, etc., I trust my ability to scan the shelves and notice the titles that are included. Also, I just had my glasses cleaned so my eyes were especially sharp!
While the amount of titles, and the diversity within titles that included LGBT YA teens differed among each library, I was delighted to see that all the libraries had at least something available. Hopefully, I will see similar results on the rest of my trip.