Response from Scholarship Recipient Ellie O’Keefe

I work as Teen Librarian for Pueblo City-County Library District, and I was heartbroken at a recent meeting to see a report that included some staggering statistics about teen suicide. Our city’s teen suicide rate is twice that of the state-wide reported rate. In a survey used in our public high schools, one in two teens who report identifying as LGBTQ+ also report “having seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months.” Only 50.7% of these teens report that they have an adult to talk to. As a community, we are working on a mental health stigma reduction campaign, anti-bullying training and other efforts to help educate and protect our youth. This work takes time and money, though, and there are other things that we can do in the meantime to help these youth.
I’m sure everyone has seen the emphasis on #ownvoices and the call for more diversity in YA books. Included in this is the push for more LGBTQ+ representation. We have seen the reports that show the importance of seeing ourselves reflected in the books that we read, or at least seeing that representation on bookshelves. I was so excited to attend the opening session of CATS, where Robin Kurz, PhD, of Emporia State University spoke on “Librarian Censorship of GLBTQ Youth Titles.” A September 2016 School Library Journal article included the results of a survey it sent out regarding censorship, and to mixed reviews, noted that the amount of self-censorship reported by librarians had increased since their previous survey in 2008. Kurz designed and completed a study of over 500 public libraries in the United States that investigated whether the libraries’ collections included 26 award-winning YA titles that have LGBTQ+ representation. She explained that although she could not definitely point to self-censorship as the cause for the absence of certain titles, she did her best to control for other variables. She considered libraries’ budgets and the size of the population served. Even after considering these factors, she was not able to find a bell curve in her data. There simply were some libraries that held the books and some libraries that didn’t. Many libraries were noticeably missing an award-winning book with LGBTQ+ representation despite having that same author’s other books. Unfortunately, the only trend seemed to be that many of the books were not offered at many of the libraries included in the study.

The message of the presentation was simple: be aware of your collection. Make sure that your Collection Policy mentions awards lists and a variety of booklists; many of the books with LGBTQ+ representation are winning awards and making prominent booklists, so this inclusion can help protect your purchase decisions. Beyond making sure that these books are available, give them the attention that you give other note-worthy books. Include them in your displays and include them in reader’s advisory suggestions. Remember that libraries are meant to serve a wide variety of people, and this includes LGBTQ+ teens. They may ask for these books outright, or they may just want to know that they are an option. Either way, everyone benefits from having a broader array of experiences represented in our collections.

Ellie O’Keefe

Teen Librarian, PCCLD

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