Sunday, January 14, 2007

Just Because I'm Paranoid Doesn't Mean People Aren't Out to Get Me

I was interested/disturbed by the results of a new study by the University of Central Arkansas on the availability of gay titles in school and public libraries, especially since one of the books used in the survey was one of my own, Geography Club.

Nutshell? In a conservative state like Arkansas, gay teen titles aren't available.

At all.
We all know that some level of self-censorship takes place in libraries when it comes to gay-themed books. But how bad is it in a Southern conservative state like Arkansas? About 21 percent of public libraries, nearly five percent of university libraries, and a shocking less than one percent of school libraries have books containing controversial themes and characters in their collections, says a survey by the University of Central Arkansas.

“It surprised me the most at universities because the books were so overwhelmingly not there,” says Jeff Whittingham, assistant professor of middle/secondary education and instructional technologies, who conducted the study with colleague Wendy Rickman.

The two researchers spent the summer and fall of 2006 surveying media specialists and checking the online catalogs of public and university libraries for 21 of the most popular gay-, bisexual-, lesbian-, and transgender-themed books published between 1999 and 2005. They included titles such as Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys (S & S, 2001), Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club (HarperTeen, 2003), and David Levithan’s award-winning Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003). Each book they searched was described as a coming-of-age story or labeled as juvenile or young adult fiction by the publisher.

Although only 37 out of 499 media specialists statewide responded to the survey, it still gives a somewhat accurate picture of the missing titles in school libraries because those who failed to respond “were probably turned off” by the questionnaire and more likely to have fewer books about sexual orientation in their collections, says Whittingham.
Indeed. If these appalling results are from only the librarians who felt comfortable enough to respond, how bad must the situation actually be?

Needless to say, every library and every school has the right to buy the individual books that they feel are right for their community. But to have no gay books? After all, gay folks are a part of every school and every community. Gay teen lit is a vibrant and important part of contemporary teen literature. So something very different than individual librarian discretion is going on here.

I've argued for a long time that there is a strong and ongoing instituational bias against gay books, and that a sort of preemptive censorship is occurring in libraries all across the country. The results of this study suggest that that is almost certainly the case.


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