By now, many of you may know that earlier this week, a library in Smithtown, New York pulled a Pride Display in the children’s room. For a library to be the point of removing a children’s book display – a violation of the American Library Association’s policy on intellectual freedom – is a travesty. The Board of Trustees was also out of line when involving themselves in displays and collections. The library board should be concerned with financial budget and policy; let us trained professionals do our work when it comes to collections.
Last night, the Smithtown Board of Trustees held an emergency public meeting to discuss the backlash. The Zoom meeting room capped out at about 1000 attendees; luckily, a colleague was able to get in and let my colleagues here at Corona listen in via a Facebook call. As expected, there was a lot of “I have LGBTQ friends in my personal life, I have no prejudices against LGBTQ or – to quote one trustee – “a transgender” – people, BUT…” mealymouthed foolishness that we’ve come to expect when these kinds of people are exposed to the light. Marie Gergenti, the trustee who was behind the move to remove the display, said this was not a politically motivated decision but done out of a need to “protect the children” and that the material was “over the top”. Ms. Gergenti is also a parent who has attempted to have the learning tool BrainPop, feeling it was “biased against conservative viewpoints”.
The decision was ultimately overturned, and the Pride displays will be restored to the libraries. One member of the board reversed his decision; one abstained; two firmly stuck to their “I’m not a bigot, but…” defenses. My friends, we have so much work to do.
I’ll say it again: if you do not like books you see at your library, you are free to walk by them. You are free to counsel your young children that you do not like those books. You do NOT have license to tell other parents and other children, not yours, what they can read. Objectionable? Inappropriate for children? These are children’s books written by children’s authors for children. Your children aren’t the only children using the library. What may not apply to you may apply to many, many other children and families using the library. Why would you deny other families the chance to see themselves in books and materials? Why would you believe yours is the only point of view that matters?
A few months ago, a tween approached me and asked for any “LGBTQAI books I can read”. She took such time and care to make sure she communicated this; it clearly meant a lot to her. I told her I would go through some of our collection with her and talk to her about books I was familiar with, and walked through the middle grade collection, booktalking and pointing out authors as I went. She took a few books and went over to a table to look them over, absolutely delighted. Two weeks later, she returned and asked, “Do you have any more books like the ones you showed me?” Did I! We discussed the books that she liked, what else she was interested in reading, and we walked through the fiction section again, finding more to read.
Yesterday, a middle schooler admired the Pride display that our general librarian created, comprised of YA fiction and nonfiction, adult fiction and nonfiction, movies and documentaries, and asked if she could borrow a book on the display. How wonderful is it that our display spoke to a middle schooler and that they felt comfortable enough to talk to us about our collection.
THAT is the importance of Pride Month. THAT is the importance of libraries. THAT is the importance of Pride displays.