Sunday, June 27, 2010

Teen blogger raises library shit storm on LGBT books

When I first read this story, I said, Gay Teen, Shmay-Teen. I was pissed that this kid was whining about his school librarian and that he did nothing to fix the problem. Except complain. And anyone who complains without contributing to a solution is a waste of my time.

So as a complainer, I don't give a crap about the "gay teen" because he couldn't find any book with LGBT characters in his school library. But I care that the librarian told him those books were "inappropriate" because it was a stupid thing to say, especially today, when anyone can make a Facebook page to harass your ass back into the stone age.

The librarian didn't handle it right, and I have my own solution down at the bottom.

I am not a librarian in a Middle School. And I don't even know what middle school is, but Brent, the former middle school student, who, and get this, has been labeled "Gay Teen" in pretty much every news story, even though he does have an actual name, is a gay teen. It makes me think that the next headline about President Obama will read, Black Man Angry at Big Oil.

But I remember being an 8th-grader and wondering if I might be gay. Seriously. No girls liked me and I wondered if any ever would. And so I thought, What if I'm gay? And I looked around at my classmates and got really sad because all the guys in my class were UGLY. Which meant I wasn't attracted to any of them, so problem solved.

So I don't know what a typical middle school library buying policy is or what their budget might be.

But I am a librarian in a public library. So I know a little about that. Now HERE IS THE BIG QUESTION YOU HAVE GOT TO ASK YOURSELF:

What is the role of MY library? And this has nothing to do with LGBT books. Although this was the case for Brent.

Is there demand for these books? How can I anticipate demand when all I have is one kid who requested some genre books? I don't even know about this subject, so where I do start?

One answer is, "It's the librarian's job to find out which books the library should get." Okay, but if someone came into my library and asked for Mexican Romance Novels, I would answer truthfully and say, "I don't know what this." Are they romances set in Mexico, or with Mexican characters or in Spanish or in English or American romance novels translated into Spanish or novelizations of Latin "telenovelas" or what? And if a computer search didn't help, I would ask the patron for some authors so I could search better. Because at that point, I need an expert, and it ain't me.

Getting back to Brent, his librarian didn't do that with him. She may have done it a half hour later when she asked another adult about it, but Brent left the library a little pissed off. And again, I am not a middle school librarian and I don't know any middle school aged kids, so I don't know just how likely it is that 14-year-olds already know they are gay and that it would be in the school library's interest to carry books on that subject.

If a school carries, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret., they could probably carry, Are You There, Rock Hudson? It's Me, Brent. (sorry, is that in bad taste? fuck you.)

But if the answer is "very likely" or even "pretty likely" that there is demand, then middle school libraries need to rethink what is "inappropriate" for their students to read.

I'd like to imagine that this would be how I would have responded to Brent.

BRENT: "I'm looking for some books with lesbian or gay characters."

ME: "Dude, you got me. Which books are you looking for? You think I read this crap? I just shelve what they send me. I wouldn't know if there was a gay character in any of these books. What about that guy who wears all that black leather? No, that's Batman. Name some authors and let me see what I can find."

[after a fruitless search - I won't even acknowledge whether there might be a pun there]

ME: Look, kid. This is a school library, in middle school. It's hard enough for adults to accept that there are gay kids in high school, do you think the school board really wants to piss off the parents by having gay-themed books in the 6th and 7th grade collection? But if you can prove to me that there's a need, that there are other kids who would read these books and check them out from here, then I will order them and if anyone wants to know why, I will tell them that there's a need. Okay?

Now, in a different article, Brent says, "A librarian isn't going to buy a book for a small group of students. They want books that'll appeal to a lot of people."

So he understands our situation. So don't be so hard on the librarian who denied his request because the books were "inappropriate." You've seen the stories about school libraries and parents. We don't know how much shit this librarian may have dealt with already regarding what's appropriate for kids in her school.

But yeah, if your middle school library carries books about gangs and drugs, but you tell a kid that his request for a gay character book is inappropriate, then maybe the appropriate thing to do is to call for the National Guard because that school is totally fucked up.