The Atlantic: “The Librarians Are Not Okay”
The line for the tattoo station at the annual conference of the New York Library Association in Saratoga Springs was already snaking through the hotel lobby, and I hadn’t even had my first morning cup of coffee yet. Harry Potter motifs, ghost dogs, angelic hearts, and, of course, books were just some of the tats of choice. These weren’t temporary tattoos or the kind that eventually fades away. These were the real deal. If getting inked seems an act of gritty rebellion more suited to a bikers’ rally than a librarians’ convention, it’s only because we haven’t been paying attention.
Across the country, Republican politicians and right-wing groups such as Moms for Liberty have been waging war against books—their battlefield: the shelves of libraries. “Book challenges”—attempts to ban or restrict titles—have hit a record high. In August 2022, Missouri passed Senate Bill 775, which made distributing “explicit sexual material” to minors illegal and resulted in the removal of nearly 300 titles from school libraries in the state. People everywhere are targeting books that deal with questions of race and sexual identity or expression.
Librarians who showcase books about underrepresented groups, including LGBTQ people, surely believe that these stories are valuable. But the librarians I spoke with insisted that they’re making these choices because an assessment determined that there was a patron need for these books, not to push some personal social agenda. Those controversial book displays? Many, [Cindy] Dudenhoffer [a former president of the Missouri Library Association] said, are a means of letting patrons know that material they might be too shy or embarrassed to ask for is in stock.
“It’s really unfair to characterize displays or programs as ‘woke,’” Dudenhoffer lamented. “That’s just such a terrible word to use right now. But it’s not about that. It’s about serving our community, and everyone in the community, to the best of our abilities.”
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.