Tips on LGBTQ Resources & Welcoming Environments
Librarians are huge proponents of the ALA mission, which includes the call to “enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” We offer excellent services for diverse backgrounds, age ranges, education levels and more.
With the increased media attention on the LGBTQ+ community in the last few years, librarians across the country are working to ensure they are inviting this community into their spaces and providing LGBTQ resources.
Here are my top 10 suggestions on how to make that happen in your library:
1. Be Welcoming
Wear a rainbow sticker on your name badge as a small nod. To take it up a level and indicate that you are really solid when it comes to discussing sexuality or gender issues, add your pronouns. “My name is Jessica; I use she/her” is the clearest and most direct way to let library users know you are aware and an ally. Address people the way they want to be addressed.
2. Educate Yourself
Get to know the local chapter of PFLAG, order a Safe Space Kit from GLSEN, and find out what local gay and lesbian or gender health centers your community has. You can also talk to local high schools to see if they have a gay-straight alliance.
3. Develop Your Collection
Having LGBTQ+ materials is essential to serving this community. Use resources like the Stonewall Book Awards as a starting place. Sometimes literature may be the only thing people feel ready to access; they may not be ready to come to an LGBTQ program, but they can take home books or, better yet, e-books!
Offering these materials gives people space for self-discovery and lets them know they aren’t alone. Collection development leads to staff development, as staff will help shelve, locate and check the materials out. You can also create a display of these materials, allowing you to advertise acceptance in a very low-key way. People can see the display and recognize that the materials are available without having to ask for them.
4. Train Your Staff
Contact a location gay/lesbian resource center or gender health center to have someone train your staff on Gender 101. Ensure your staff allows patrons to use the bathroom they identify with, and if someone complains, “there’s a man in the ladies room,” have a plan of what you will say.
For example, you can ask if the person complaining was being harassed or if there was a situation that occurred. Don’t assume anyone is wrong, but let the person know you will look into it. And, ultimately, remember that we all just have to go potty.
5. Change Your Policies
Offer a preferred name on a library card if the person’s gender identity does not match a state-issued ID. Ensure you have at least one accessible restroom without gender indicators, if possible. Consider what else you could do to make your services more accessible.
6. Offer LGBTQ+ Programs
A rainbow storytime is a great place to start. See if you can connect with a local LGBTQ+ parenting group. People will drive a long way to find a storytime that is specifically inclusive for their family. Also, make a point to learn the holidays:
- June: Pride Month
- October: GLBT History Month
- March 31: Transgender Day of Visibility
- October 11: National Coming Out Day
- April 21, 2017: GLSEN Day of Silence
To celebrate these special days, invite authors or filmmakers to discuss their work. Search for existing local programs or groups that you could host for a library night. People love to donate their time and services to the library. And if you can’t find a guest speaker …
7. Go to Where People Already Are
Be present. Talk to people. Let people see and get to know your face. Show up at a Pride event, and be part of your community. Get the library into existing events and programs, and offer the resources you have that serve their needs. Don’t come in with an agenda; come in with support for that organization. Agree to interviews, guest spots or panels. Say yes.
8. Build Community Investment, Internally and Externally
Educate yourself and know how to speak to the value of offering LGBTQ+ library programming and how it fills a community gap. Look for solutions if you’re just getting started; there is almost always something easy you can start with.
Your library doesn’t offer any LGBTQ+ programs? Start by suggesting specific programs and consider how you deliver the message. Some coworkers or supervisors will respond well to, “I have an idea.” Others will respond to, “We have a hole in our programming, and here is the solution I suggest.”
You can also hold a focus group or meet with local organizations (we are not always the experts). Ask members what they are interested in seeing, hearing and doing. Ask “What programs do you want? How can we make the library accessible?” Then do it.
9. Develop Your Cultural Confidence
Be aware of your personal culture (how you feel), the prevailing culture (how the community feels) and the proposed culture (how you want your audience to feel). Provide respectful and helpful service. Offer inclusion and affirmation.
How do you get cultural confidence? You will have already done your research (see #2), so you will be ready to move boldly forward.
10. Have Fun
This is an exciting opportunity to bring new users into your library and to support current library users who are looking for information to support who they are.