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

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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.


It's all cool,

Brent Hartinger 


My Books:

* Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies and Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies (coming in January 2007!)
* Grand & Humble
* The Order of the Poison Oak (now in paperback!)
* The Last Chance Texaco
* Geography Club

Explore "Brent's Brain"
See my anti-censorship blog, "AS IF! News"

whisper in my ear
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From:philled2thebrim
Date:January 15th, 2007 04:35 am (UTC)
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you know, i saw two of your books in the public library in bethesda, maryland. consequently i hate them for being cooler than my neck of the woods. =\
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From:brentsbrain
Date:January 16th, 2007 12:07 am (UTC)
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:-)
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From:iainpj
Date:January 15th, 2007 05:27 pm (UTC)
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Speaking as a university librarian, and only about university libraries, I'd have thought they'd have difficulty finding any juvenile and young adult titles in those collections. Depending on the type of education department programs a university or college has, and whether or not they have a library school with a school library media component, most colleges and universities would have minimal juvenile and young adult collections, at best. Finding gay-related titles would be made more difficult not only by the social context, but also because the libraries wouldn't collect much in that area as a matter of non-socially-related purchasing policy. Those books are also simply not necessarily in the collection for children to read; their presence may say nothing at all about whether or not any children or teenagers ever get to see them. (It does, however, say something about whether or not educators and media specialists are taught to think about those items, so it may be a sort of indirect censorship meant to have later results.)
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From:brentsbrain
Date:January 16th, 2007 12:04 am (UTC)
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Agreed about the university issue.

About whether media specialists are taught to think about these items, these days, with all the prominent gay titles, the only way a media specialist CAN'T be aware of them is if they're making a concerted attempt. When it comes to YA, these are very prominent titles. Any basic YA collection would include them...unless there was a reason they it didn't.
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From:jakemacalister
Date:January 16th, 2007 12:59 pm (UTC)
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When Ski and I presented the use of LGBTQI YA lit in helping questioning teens, the overwhelming statement from SCHOOL COUNSELORS was we would lose our jobs. I was happy with the honesty--they didn't start with talking about pleasing all of the stakeholders involved, right? But, the fact that they wouldn't even suggest a book to a teen shows an fear of the school systems and parental power. If LGBTQI community pays taxes right so why don't we have a say about what goes on in a public school? Why does having enrolled children give more rights to the parents? Why are we considered stakeholders our money funds it so we have a "stake" in it. Thoughts . . .
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From:brentsbrain
Date:January 16th, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC)
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Very VERY interesting. But not surprising.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 19th, 2007 07:02 am (UTC)
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alot of people don't know what these books mean to kids. they just think that "oh, it's just another book. if the want to read about romance, there is a whole section of it over there..." the books are more than just stories, they are a way to find out who we are(and not just what the stereotypes say), how life could be, and how amazing falling in-love actually is. I really don't know how many people need that but being one myself, i can say that they are more than just stories; they are our anonymous lifelines, small as they may be, they are still stronger than any one speech or parade because no one can stop us from loving and identifying with the characters.
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From:brentsbrain
Date:January 20th, 2007 08:10 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the perspective! I agree. :-)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 29th, 2007 01:47 am (UTC)

We've got 'em!

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As an education librarian at a university in Alabama, I'm pleased to brag a little on our Juvenile Literature Collection. Feel free to visit our library's site at http://www.mhsl.uab.edu and search our "Local Catalog" for these and related titles. I've been fortunate in having faculty who recommend titles like these for our collection, and sometimes we even have money to buy books for our library. I can also tell you that these books are extremely popular here. Keep up the good work, Brent! And if anyone has recommendations for titles we don't have, please holler.

--Jonathan H. Harwell, Reference Librarian for Education, Mervyn H. Sterne Library, University of Alabama at Birmingham, jharwell@uab.edu
http://www.bloglines.com/blog/mesoj
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From:brentsbrain
Date:January 29th, 2007 11:57 pm (UTC)

Re: We've got 'em!

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Fantastic! I just posted your comments on the main page too. :-)
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Date:November 3rd, 2007 11:55 pm (UTC)

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Date:November 11th, 2007 02:56 pm (UTC)

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(whisper in my ear)
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