With Pride just a few weeks away, it’s time for library workers to start thinking about the where, how, when, and what of their book displays. We know that queer books remain among the most targeted in the current book
ban ~curation~ wave and we also know that Pride displays have historically been among the catalysts for book banners to come out against the library. Groups like CatholicVote are planning their “Hide the Pride” agendas, which — unfortunately — are extremely successful, even in communities unused to seeing book challenges or bans.
It is impossible to completely safeguard against what will happen in any library when it comes to Pride displays. But, knowing about the tactics used by
book banners ~parental rights activists~ and knowing where and how to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ books — and people — help in preparing for the best, most effective library pride displays.
Among the suggestions below you’ll have easy-to-implement and manage ideas, alongside some that will likely need to be done more subversively. Maybe subversively isn’t the word, honestly. Perhaps a better way to phrase it is that some of these suggestions may bring direct activism into the picture in a way that has not always been common in public libraries.
But in today’s highly political library world, sitting back quietly is not an option.
1. Take photos of your display and/or track the books being put on them
There are a lot of practical reasons for tracking what is going on a Pride display. It’s useful to see and ensure good representation of your collection and community. It’s also helpful in the wake of Hide the Pride style campaigns — if books go “missing” en masse, you’ll have recorded what all of those books had in common.
2. Use QR Codes/Images of Book Covers for Displays
Because these displays are popular, both with readers and with bigots, consider having images of the books on display printed with a QR code or tinyurl link to their catalog entry. This will let your readers request titles that might not be on display and/or can be useful for if those titles go wandering. If you are in a library with little or no display space, use these as a display on the ends of your bookshelf, on a window space, or any other surface where patrons can see them.
3. Encourage Engagement
A book display is awesome because generally, people know they’ll find books at the library. But you can make your display even more engaging in a few ways.
- Add reader’s advisory materials. This could be as simple as bookmarks or fliers with more LGBTQ+ books on them or a sign holder with a QR code to a curated list of queer books in your catalog.
- Include fliers and information for local LGBTQ+ inclusive support groups and community organizations. This might be cards for local queer-friendly churches or bakeries, for local GSA groups, etc. If the library is a community resource, help spread the word about additional resources that are welcoming and supportive in the community.
- Either of the above would be an opportunity to create a “donate to” call to action. You could have a sign reading “Want to support local LGBTQ+ youth? Scan the QR code to donate to our local chapter of PFLAG.” Whether or not you help raise money is not as vital as making it clear you have supportive spaces that you want people to know about.
- Encourage library users to provide feedback on the display, and do it right at the display. I know, saying QR codes makes it sound like I’m in 2009. But a QR code to an online form or even a box with some golf pencils and paper that asks people to share their thoughts on the types of books and programs the library offers can go miles in helping you find your local supporters…and detractors.
- How about a sign saying “Did you know you can request books for us to purchase?” with a call to action telling your patrons you’d love to expand your LGBTQ+ books and if they want to suggest any, do so via the print/online form. If they include their name, they’ll be first to know about the book’s arrival if purchased.
- If your library is blessed with the space, create an opportunity for patrons to make a DIY LGBTQ+ display. Have a blank space with a sign saying “Share your favorite LGBTQ+ books here,” and invite folks to grab a favorite and put it on display. Bonus: this is some easy and fun passive programming, and if you worry about the books being checked out — a good worry, probably — offer some art supplies for folks to draw the cover of their favorite LGBTQ+ book.
4. Track Your Stats
Remember the part about keeping tabs on what books are on display? You’ll want to look at your checkout rates on those books sometime in mid or late July and see how circulation of those titles compared to the previous months. Chances are, it’ll be higher. That right there is worth sharing with your community and with your boards and other community stakeholders. Once people know you have the books, they want to read them.
5. Be Frank About Intellectual Freedom and the Library
Even if you don’t have the physical space for it, you should connect with your patrons digitally to keep them aware of book bans — and the LGBTQ+ books under fire — across the country. Let patrons and visitors know there are incredible resources out there talking about First Amendment rights and intellectual freedom. Include a handout and/or link on your website/social media to sources such as: Get Ready Stay Ready, PEN America’s report on the state of book bans in America (and additional resources on free expression), EveryLibrary, to Penguin Random House’s Book Ban Resource Hub, and to our own Literary Activism newsletter.
If you have a local group doing anti-censorship work, highlight them. If you don’t, share resources on how to begin an anti-censorship group.
Include information about local elections and why they matter (and if you’re in a school or library, you can tie that neatly into how your institution is taxpayer funded and taxpayers have the right to elect individuals who work on behalf of a whole community, not just those with close ties to them). You can also include information about local school boards and why they’re vital, as well as information about how people can get involved in their library board.
6. Be Prepared for a Challenge — and Be Transparent About Patron Rights
Be prepared to potentially have a book challenged. In the current book banning climate, it’s possible your display will become a target to the small number of censors who think they speak on behalf of an entire community. But know, too, you can head it off by making sure your collection development policies are up-to-date and you can stand behind them. The more accessible the information, the more transparent you are, and the more censors cannot argue that you hinder their rights to demand books not be accessible to an entire community.
If there is currently a book ban happening locally, highlight that. Whether it is your institution or not, giving these displays a local angle is extremely important. Believing this is a red state or blue state thing is dangerous and disingenuous; people deserve to know that it is happening in their backyard because it IS happening in their backyard.
7. Do No Display At All and Explain Why
It might not be legal to highlight queer books in your state or community. It might be PERFECTLY legal and even encouraged.
But imagine for a moment what a book display draped in a black sheet might look like with a sign as simple as “these books are illegal to share.”
There are a lot of implications to this, including that those who are already suppressed continue to be suppressed and that this silencing plays right into it. But also know it might be extremely effective — what happens if during Pride month, every queer book in the library is put behind the desk or popped into storage and people cannot access them?
This is the reality in far too many places.
If you go this route, keep the focus on the people and not the books. This is where creating handouts and accompanying material to educate patrons about censorship and intellectual freedom can do wonders. The people we need to reach are not online and may likely have no idea what’s happening across the country or in their own backyard.
But perhaps this can be one step in educating and waking them up.
Again: proceed with caution here. You’ll know if it’s right for your community or not. It’ll make a hell of a statement, and if it makes people mad, maybe they’ll be ready to write those letters and show up to the board meetings, demanding those books be put back, be made accessible, and that queer voices deserve just as much space as every other voice — June and beyond.
Another take on this idea might be wrapping the books in brown paper bags or putting them into ziplock bags that create one extra step of annoyance to your patrons who want to borrow the titles. There’s your opportunity to talk about what book bans do.
Some additional resources for library Pride displays you might find useful include this guide to what to do when you see Pride displays in libraries (perfect for sharing on your library’s social media, as this is patron-facing) and recent stories of the fight for and over Pride displays in public libraries.
Book Censorship News: May 12, 2023
- I’m kicking off this week’s roundup with news that is not 100% book ban related but is closely tied to it: the politically-appointed disaster of a library director in Anchorage Public Library (AK) is gone. Here’s why this is good news.
- Absolutely, positively hate this for this school librarian, but Christine Knust of Plattsmouth, Nebraska, deserves applause for standing up for her values and against this draconian policy.
- Here is an incomplete list of the books being challenged in Plattsmouth, with a note that the books already pulled remain unknown.
- A look inside the 14 books pulled from Spotsylvania, Virginia, schools. Nothing new here, of course.
- I Am Billie Jean King is currently under review in Leon County, Florida schools. We wouldn’t want kids to have access to a book about the tennis legend. (It’s because she is queer and isn’t quiet about it).
- “Parents with students within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System [NC] have called on school board leaders to investigate, what they call, the encouragement for students to read books with ‘explicit’ material in them.” This is the same district that has been entertaining meetings from the local Bigots for Liberty group, who are trying to ram their book ratings into the schools.
- Two students at Gardner-Edgerton School District (KS) have filed formal complaints against the Bible being in the school. I usually find these moves to be silly, but it’s students doing it and their reasoning is right in line with the adults who are playing book crisis.
- Here’s an example of writing a positive letter to the paper in support of a public library board being ambushed by bigots and book banners (CO).
- I am paywalled, but Anderson 1 County Schools (SC) pulled a bunch of books, even amid the current ACLU lawsuit at another district in the state. One of the titles for sure under fire is The Handmaid’s Tale.
- “Forzani was referring to the first book banned. A second textbook, The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology, was called ‘trash’ and ‘not worthy of our consideration’ by one board member, and some took issue with the way it depicted the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2015. Some parents agree with the ban, saying that the book didn’t explain Brown’s size and the fact that he was wrestling with police.” No, this is the real reason why some folks are mad about a sociology book in New Jersey. They can’t insert their politics into the text.
- Central York (PA) students will be protesting every day until two books pulled from shelves are put back on shelves, even if it goes into next school year. I am paywalled from every article about this because the media is complicit, but this video is available and worth watching.
- In Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, the books pushing an anti-trans agenda, Irreversible Damage is being challenged. There’s a lot to unpack with this one. The book is anti-trans, but if this is a book that speaks to interests in the community, it should be on shelves. But displaying it as a staff pick is a whole other complication.
- I love that this new law in Tennessee lets anyone within a county challenge a book. No need to even have students in the schools.
- A book about Colin Kaepernick is being reviewed for potential removal from use in Mentor, Ohio, schools this week. Update: the book will not be removed.
- Seven books have been removed from Pender County Schools (NC) while dozens of others remain under review. Update: make that nine books.
- Klamath County Public Library (OR) is no longer allowed to have a social justice book club.
- Keene Memorial Library (NE) will keep This Book Is Gay on shelves. I hope this is the end of it for this library but I fear it won’t be.
- “He referred to last month’s reading during the board’s public comment period of a rape scene from The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and suggestion that it might be pornography. ‘That passage is not for the gratuitous enjoyment of sex … the value of that passage is the message to boys not to be rapists — don’t be that jerk,’ he said. Then Erikson said he wanted to read a passage from another school library book, Ezekiel 23:20, a passage of lust that compares body parts to animals. ‘You heard that right. The Blount County school library system has books alluding to bestiality for our children to read,’ he said, going on to explain that it is actually a use of simile and metaphor.” Biggest kudos to this high school senior speaking up against book banning at the Blount County school board meeting (TN).
- Autauga-Prattville Public Library (AL) had several books under review in their children’s section. The review committee determined all of the books were appropriate to stay where they were — though The Pronoun Book will be moved from the grammar section of the library (lol).
- I don’t think folks get how bad it is in Florida. Because teachers need to review every book in their classroom collections, some are just not going to bother with books in their rooms next year. Can you imagine a classroom without books? It’s the bigots’ dreams come true.
- Grinnell-Newburg Community School District (IA) will keep The Glass Castle in the 9th grade curriculum, with the alteration that permission slips will be sent home.
- Ace of Spades has been banned from Bay High School (FL).
- Natrona County School District (WY) will not be banning Crank or Fallout.
- Indiana teachers and librarians could now face felony charges for having “offensive” books in their collections, thanks to a new state law. Guns still welcome, though.
- You can check out 10 of the books that Ron DeSantis and his cronies consider pornography in school and public libraries in Florida.
- I’m paywalled, but in Tennessee, a teacher planned a Mother’s Day lesson and the Moms for Liberty crew showed up to tear it apart. Why? Because it depicted animal mothers. Update: here’s another article. Moms for Liberty did this because apparently animal homosexuality is not appropriate. Imagine having the time to spend this way.
- “London questioned Evans if she read any of the books, which Evans said she did not but had ‘detailed descriptions of what’s in the books.’ Kengersky asked this be talked about at Tuesday’s meeting because it seemed like it would be a ‘larger discussion.’” So she probably pulled the books up from BookLooks and played book crisis actor at Punxsutawney Public School Board (PA). Why are they being given legitimacy if they don’t go through the formal process? Or read the book?
- There has not been a final verdict on the fate of Flamer and Blankets in Newtown, Connecticut.
- Apparently, Catholic parents are mad about access that students have to the Epic app in parochial schools. Indoctrination and all.
- “‘I am not a bigot; I am not a racist,’ Blake said at the church forum. ‘I just don’t think the school board has any business in sex education or promoting a perverse, degenerate, demonic thing that’s from the devil because there is nothing right. You know, it’s a mental issue; it’s not anything that we should be dealing with in school.’” If you’re wondering why folks want this Canyon Independent School District (TX) board member to resign.
- Hempfield School District (PA) has now defined what sexually explicit means, which I am sure is going to go well. The new policy defines it as “material that encourages an excessive interest in sexual matters and graphically describes/illustrates sexual behavior or acts of any kinds.”
- Something is EXTREMELY fishy about this story of “pornography” in the El Centro Public Library (CA). Maybe starting with the fact that according to the library’s catalog NONE OF THESE BOOKS ARE IN THE LIBRARY.
- “I am unsure if their motive is sour grapes over losing the 2nd Amendment battle or if they genuinely desire to indoctrinate our children with pornographic books. Their efforts certainly go against the conservative nature of our county, which voted in four new county commissioners last November, to stand up against poor ideas (there must be a reason why no other county in Minnesota has undertaken such a proclamation).” I don’t like giving bad editorials space, but this is the first I’m hearing of It’s Perfectly Normal being challenged at Cambridge Public Library (MN).
- Books for minors will be majorly restricted in Hillsborough County Public Library (FL). Remember: kids cannot get the books from the public library if they’re pulled from schools, much as some like to believe it.
- In Arkansas, Governor Huckabee Sanders has endorsed a school board candidate. These are nonpartisan races. In theory. Of course her endorsement is for a book banning bigot.
- Here’s the current update on book challenges in Catawba County, North Carolina. This one lays out the time and costs of the challenges, all perpetrated by one individual who is, of course, unhappy with how long the process takes.
- This story of how conservative board changed the face of a school in Colorado should further emphasize how important these local elections are.
- Despite how much power a small group of well-funded, misinformed, and bigoted people have had in getting books pulled from public libraries in Michigan — or shutting them down all together — most people in Michigan do not agree with book bans. The challenge remains: how do we get people to take their opinion to the board meetings and polls? Or is it simply because it sounds bad to say you support banning books so you lie?
- Gender Queer was removed from Galesburg, Michigan, schools, in violation of their own review policy.
- Thompson Public Library (GA) has moved 23 books from their “original placement” into the adult section. Surprising no one, they are almost all YA books, written for teens, and they are almost all LGBTQ+ in theme.
- “The new policy removes an entire section titled ‘Freedom to Read, View and Listen’ that emphasized an anti-censorship stance. The new policy is more neutral, but still endorses the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which champions First Amendment rights.” Neutrality in the public library is giving into a small number of vocal extremists, and in a community like Bonners Ferry, Idaho, this is still not a solution.
- The East Bonner County Library (ID) had to call the police over a threat they received about stocking “pedophilia material.”
- Pennridge School District (PA) has officially banned Looking for Alaska.
- The graphic novel about the Little Rock Nine has been removed from Wakulla Schools (FL). You need to read why and what the justification is. Then read it again. The book was in the library, not curriculum.
- I can’t make this one up: a parent is mad about a program at the Gardner Public Library (KS) where tweens and teens can read free advanced copies of books. This parent is all in on this being a leftist agenda.
- Brandon School Division in Manitoba, Canada, is now getting calls to remove sexual education books from shelves. Canadians know they’re being infiltrated by all of this, right?
- Corvallis-Benton County Public (OR) has rejected several book challenges over the last year.
- Davis School District (UT) is still reviewing the Bible to determine whether or not it stays in the school library.
- “Republican lawmakers are proposing to remove certain books from schools and prosecute school staff who allow students to access materials deemed inappropriate. A co-sponsorship memo entitled ‘Protect Childhood Innocence’ authored by Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) and Sen. Andre Jacque (R-DePere) began circulating Tuesday. One proposed bill removes protections of schools and their staff against prosecution for ‘obscene materials violation.’ The other bill prohibits a school district from using school library aid funds to purchase ‘any item that would be considered obscene material.’” What’s worth noting is that the Wisconsin voters made it very clear this is not their way of thinking or governing in the last election, so now right-wing lawmakers are grasping for anything while they believe they still have power. But even traditional conservatives do not believe in banning books.
- It did not pass, but on the table for the Alfred Dickey Public Library (ND) was closing the library for a week to review materials in the collection to determine whether or not they were inappropriate.
- In reflecting on the Windham-Raymond (ME) school board meetings, teachers talk about the chilling effect of adults in the community calling them pornographers and groomers.
- “I propose the Bible be offered as an elective in senior high schools for enriching students’ critical thinking skills and appreciation of the timeless literature-rich volume that it is.” Separation of church and state just doesn’t exist for these people.
Also In This Story Stream
2023 Right to Read Bills Under Consideration: Book Censorship News, May 5, 2023
The Next Generation United Daughters of the Confederacy: Book Censorship News, April 28, 2023
So, What Are Agents Seeing in the Era of Book Bans?: Book Censorship News, April 21, 2023
What 100-Year-Old Grace Linn Can Teach Us About Standing Up for the Freedom to Read: Book Censorship News, March 31, 2023
Are Literary Agents Seeing Changes in Publishing with Increased Book Bans (A Survey): Book Censorship News, March 24, 2023
I Asked ChatGPT Why Books Should Be Banned: Book Censorship News, March 17, 2023
Anti-Censorship Groups Across the US: Book Censorship News, March 10, 2023
Giving Up Is Not an Option: Book Censorship News, March 3, 2023
More Politicians Need To Address Book Bans: Book Censorship News, February 24, 2023