The library’s cool approach to a burning issue
Lately, the news has featured stories about groups wanting to ban books — usually by or about black or LGBTQ people — from library shelves or school curricula.
The American Library Association (ALA) reported that two of the books most challenged by conservative groups are Gender Queeran illustrated memoir by Maia Kobabe, which discusses coming out as gender nonconforming, and The hate you givea young adult novel by Angie Thomas about a black teenager whose friend is shot by a police officer.
The Forest Park Public Library (FPPL) has several copies of The hate you give in various formats, and FPPL director Pilar Shaker was happy to explain why our library includes the book in its collection. She and her department heads met a few weeks ago and revealed a process that is uncontroversial because it is based on common sense, consistent with federal and state guidelines, and sensitive to local cultural values.
She noted that the FPPL follows the guidelines and recommendations of the Illinois State Library and the American Library Association. The ALA, for example, hailed The hate you giveusing language as “remarkable and pedagogically appropriate” in his published review.
FPPL selectors, as the staff responsible for purchasing new additions to the library’s collection are called, also pay attention to community demographics and values. Speaking on behalf of her department heads as well as herself, Shaker explained, “If a book like The hate you give is requested by our community, is well-reviewed, and aligns with our material selection policy guidelines, we will buy it.
Evidence that Forest Parkers wanted access to the book, Shaker said, is that to date it has been viewed more than a hundred times.
Selectors are also very aware of the racial/ethnic makeup of the village they serve. The 2020 census, for example, showed that African Americans make up 27.6% of the village’s population, but more importantly, District 91 reported that 51.4% of its student population identifies as black. . The hate you give was written for the age group found at Forest Park Middle School.
The rationale for buying the library The hate you give? “It’s an award-winning, well-reviewed book that offers readers an underrepresented perspective,” Shaker said. “In other words, it was purchased for our library because our community wanted it and because it adds depth to our collection in a way that is representative of our community. Also, because this title has worked so well with our customers, we will be purchasing similar titles to add to the collection.
The same goes for books written by and about the LGBTQ community. According to data recorded in 2013, Forest Park ranked number two in the state of Illinois for percentage of the population in a same-sex couple – 13.26/1000. Recognizing this large population, the FPPL has a copy of Gender Queer located in the Young Adult Graphic Novel section and also available digitally.
The FPPL also pays attention to what might be called “emerging” population groups. Hispanics make up 12.9% of our city neighbors, and the library has made strides in serving this cohort. Currently, the library has 764 Spanish children’s books, 99 Spanish adult books (part of a brand new pilot collection), and 13 Spanish young adult books.
Shaker said:[Books] can also give people the opportunity to see themselves reflected in characters who look, speak or live in a way that is familiar and representative of who they are. Seeing aspects of yourself reflected in books and stories can be very empowering and affirming for people.
At the same time, she argued, having a wide range of books and materials that focus on people who don’t look or talk like you is also healthy. “Reading about cultures and perspectives different from your own,” she explained, “can provide important insights and cause people to explore new avenues or look at their own life experiences from a new perspective.
“Our goal as a library is to assess the makeup of our community and work to build a collection that offers our patrons the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the materials we offer, as well as to discover new cultures and perspectives through our materials.”
She said librarians don’t have an ideological agenda, buying books they think are their neighbors should be reading.
“It is imperative that this collection be built for the community, which means we must be mindful of and respectful of the values and priorities of Forest Park residents.”
Many factors reviewers consider when purchasing materials are practical and non-controversial, such as an article’s cost, accuracy, readability, and availability in other libraries. Of the latter, Shaker noted, “Because we are part of a larger library lending community, we may choose not to add a book if there is no local demand and multiple copies exist within the cooperative lending community we participate in (SWAN).”
One factor in determining which books to put on library shelves has become critical in the age of the big lie: accuracy. Vladimir Putin’s account of the “special military operation” would have no chance of being dismissed by the FPPL.
Shaker acknowledged that sometimes a customer will be unhappy with something in the library’s collection, “but there seems to be an understanding in the community that the collection is there for everyone, which inherently means there will be things within it that do not attract an individual on occasion.