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Rule #1

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Hi, friends. I know I’ve been MIA so long that we’ve had two new presidents since I last posted, and wow, has the field ever gone through some interesting times. I’m not here with book or rhyme suggestions. I just dropped in to do what I’m best at–run my mouth.

This week I served on a panel of experienced storytime presenters at a one-day training for librarians new to storytiming. Because the pandemic has caused so much turnover and kept storytimes to a minimum for a couple of years now, we’re seeing an uptick in new staff who have not done storytimes before. Often, especially in small libraries, these staff don’t get guidance or training on best practices, which the training addressed. The panel portion gave attendees a chance to ask experience presenters any burning questions they had.

An audience member asked a question that stuck with me. She wanted to know how she could confidently use picture books that featured LGBTQ+ representation in a time when book challenges have risen. What if an adult complains?

One of my colleagues on the panel shared a story of nearly getting fired for using And Tango Makes Three in a program, adding that representation is crucial and sometimes, we have to fight these battles.

Another colleague suggested using books that show same-sex parents, for example, but don’t focus on them. I don’t think this idea is much less likely to upset patrons. If they’re homophobic enough that you’re worried, any queer rep could offend them, end of story.

I shared some practical thoughts, and I’m going to share again here in case anyone needs it.

Rule #1: Don’t get fired.

When you want to include content you know might trigger complaints, first go to your manager or your admin and find out if they will support you or sacrifice you. I know what my admin will and will not support. If I read a story with two dads and a caregiver objects, my library admin will tell them that we support all families. They will not scapegoat me. You need to find out whether the same is true of your situation. If admin will not support you, then you have a whole different problem to solve before you use that content.

How do you solve it? First, refer to Rule #1. Remain calm and professional at all times. Build a case for including the diverse content you know your audience needs. Use your librarian skills: do your research, find statistics, point to best practices in other libraries. If your admin says “But the taxpayers,” resist the urge to come back with, “I’m pretty sure gay people pay taxes, too.” You will get frustrated. So frustrated. Breathe through it. Your admin are probably adhering to Rule #1 as best they can. Keep trying to make progress when the opportunities arise. You may not gain the ground you want, but you can lay a foundation.

And if it doesn’t work, and you gain no ground? Two things. 1. Administrations don’t last forever. I have seen a regime change in every single library job I’ve had. Someday your director or manager will leave or retire. You will get a new one. You might even be the new one. If you have to, hold out for that day. 2. If you don’t get anywhere and you don’t want to wait, you decide you need to live those values right now, then the world is full of libraries. Find a better fit. And what will make finding a new job easier? Not getting fired from the one you have now. Even if you can afford to die on that hill, who’s going to advocate for all of your families if you get canned and replaced with someone more biddable? No one.

Remember: Be as wise as serpents, as gentle as doves.

Also remember: Rule #1.

About Miss Jacki

Book reviewer/blogger, library staffer, dog rescuer, avalanche bar maker, competitive reader, bicyclist, Pokemon player, herb gardener... Just trying to find my way in the world.

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