Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections of LGBTQ-Themed Literature?

Amy Jessica McMillan
INFO 266
March 29, 2016

Hughes-Hassell, S., Overberg, E., & Harris, S. (2013). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ)-Themed Literature for Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections? School Library Research, 1-18.

To read the whole report, go to the American Library Association's link here.

Summary: Researchers Hughes-Hassell, Overberg, and Harris set out to discover whether school libraries maintained adequate collections of lesbian, gay, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ)-related titles. According to the authors of the study, a typical high school's LGBTQ population is about 5.9 percent of the total population. Therefore, there should be at least that percentage of LGBTQ-related books in a school library collection. However, researchers found that LGBTQ-themed titles made up an average of only .4 percent of the collections studied. This was true for literature, as a well as nonfiction. Reasons given for this discrepancy included possible biases held by librarians or fears of repercussions by communities perceived to be "anti-gay."

Hughes-Hassell et al., endorsed increasing LGBTQ-related collections in school libraries, citing Article V of the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights, which states, "A person's right to use the library shall not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background or views." They also cited several studies in which LGBTQ-themed books were found to have positive impacts on readers in the midst of the "identity formation" stage of adolescence. 

Ultimately, while Hughes-Hassell et al. acknowledged the barriers to building LGBTQ-related school library collections, they encouraged librarians to equip themselves with the "courage, honesty, and fortitude" necessary to do so anyway. In their view, a robust and diverse collection will "open up a world of understanding to other students, teachers, and administrators," who may soon become "allies and advocates."

Evaluation and Analysis: One aspect of this study that I found very interesting was the authors' use of LGBTQ book lists for teenagers, particularly from the book Webber's (2010) Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning Teen Literature. I recommend opening the link to this study in order to see the books the researchers recommend. I noticed the study was published shortly after California's FAIR Education Act (2011), which mandated the inclusion of LGBTQ-related content into the curriculum. In California at least, the situation may be improving in response to that legislation. Finally, as a middle school teacher, I wonder what LGBTQ-related titles are appropriate for younger adolescents. This study focused solely on high school students, and I would argue that middle school students have different needs than older teenagers.

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