Reviewed By: Corin Balkovek, Helen Cate, Juliann Hilton, Garrett Purchio
Link to article: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1012828.pdf
For this assignment, we chose to examine the article, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ)-Themed Literature for Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections?”, published in 2013 in the School Library Research Journal of the American Association of School Libraries. The study outlined in this article focuses on the prevalence of LGBTQ works (both fiction and nonfiction) in today’s public high schools. With the rise of LGBTQ rights and issues within current society, the issue of representation within public schools is an important and at times polarizing topic.
This study sought to determine if LGBTQ high school youth have access to LGBTQ materials in their school libraries. The study analyzed the collection of 125 high school school libraries in an undisclosed state of the United States to see if LGBTQ resources were available to students. The authors provided background information on LGBTQ resources and cited previous studies on LGBTQ youth in which the results showed that having access to relevant, useful resources helped this group of people. The data gathered from the searches was presented in four charts, as were two lists of prominent LGBTQ-themed literature. The authors concluded that these schools were lacking sufficient LGBTQ-themed literature in their collectives, which could prove harmful to LGBTQ youth. The authors acknowledged that even though librarians may face opposition and other assorted challenges related to serving LGBTQ youth, they must attempt to provide these resources to this group given how valuable these resources can be.
The study was conducted by using the online catalogs of the selected libraries to look for LGBTQ materials using four different search terms: “homosexuality”, “gay men,” “lesbians”, and “transsexualism”. Each item that turned up in each of the searches was tallied. Additionally, searches were conducted for highly recommended materials from a prominent LGBTQ literature collection.
Findings of the study showed that, overwhelmingly, public schools within the state that was studied were under-serving the teenage LGBTQ population. In regards to LGBTQ-themed works- including fiction, non-fiction and biographies – half of the schools studied held fewer than 31 titles. The number of titles held by these schools ranged from 1 to 157. The average number of LGBTQ-themed titles held was 35.7, and on average made up 0.4% of their collections. The authors also studied the inclusion of a highly-recommended core collection of LGBTQ-themed literature, as laid out in Webber’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teen Literature: A Guide to Reading Interests. Of titles from Webber’s collection, 65.3% of schools held fewer than five of the fiction titles, the most commonly held title being The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and 19.3% of the schools held none of the titles at all. Schools held even fewer of the recommended nonfiction young adult works, which focus on LGBTQ history and various issues like coming-out and safe sex practices.
There are a few questions that remain unanswered through the course of this study, many of which could be resolved by increasing the scope and depth of the study. This study was constructed from research done on a handful of schools from one state in the southern part of the U.S.; while the results are a good look at the LGBTQ curriculum found in high school of this particular state, to extrapolate this information as being representative of the entire country would weaken its case. However, if a large sample size was taken from throughout the country, the results of this larger study would be a stronger representation of what the national outlook of LGBTQ literature in high school libraries.
In addition to expanding the scope of the study in terms of sample size, looking into other extenuating factors that could lead to the development (or lack thereof) of LGBTQ literature in high schools could work to answer questions and concerns regarding the methodology of the study. For example, the authors of the study list out the number of LGBTQ books each library held, but did not mention what percentage of the total library’s collection those books entailed. By focusing on the actual percentage of LGBTQ books within a collection rather than the number, the researchers would create a metric that would be universal despite the size of the library being studied. While only having 31 books focusing on LGBTQ themes and issues is low, is it 31 books out of a collection of 1,000 (which would be 3.1% of the total collection), or out of 10,000 (which would be .31% of the total collection)?
The authors of the study touched on another underlying issue that possibly affected their results: the variance in cataloging practices between the schools that were studied. The researchers searched the OPAC of high school libraries using the Sears subject headings “homosexuality”, “gay men,” “lesbians”, and “transsexualism”. As they discovered during their work, there were many times where a book in one school would be cataloged using one of these search terms, but in another school would not. These differences in cataloging practices create a certain margin of error on the results of the study: just because a book didn’t come up while using these search terms in the OPAC, doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t in the collection. Additionally, some youth may not feel comfortable coming to ask a librarian for a list of LGBTQ works; how might they find the collection of works when the cataloguing system might not include everything, or include works that should necessarily be labeled as such? Perhaps if the recommended books on the lists came with suggested cataloguing headings, there would be more consistency and that would make searching for LGBTQ works somewhat easier. By working to find other ways to determine the LGBTQ collections that circumnavigate these cataloging differences and issues – for example, requesting a list of LGBTQ works directly from library staff who may know of works that aren’t tagged using the subject headings above – researchers may be able to get a clearer picture of high school library collections.
Another remaining question concerns the biases of librarians, teachers, and administrators. Are those that purchasing the books for collections allowing their own beliefs, thoughts, and feelings on the matter effect which LGBTQ books they buy and how many? If so, how might this be overcome or minimized? The possibility that lack of variety and low level of purchases of LGBTQ works comes from personal biases can’t be completely dismissed. At times, there is pressure (real or imagined) from an outside source that affects choices in library collection development.
All in all, the study works to highlight a serious issue facing diversity in modern high school libraries. By first discovering the weak spots in library collection development in terms of LGBTQ literature, steps can be made to improve the situation and work to ensure that the libraries held in today’s high school are inclusive for all students.
Hughes-Hassell, S., Overberg, E., & Harris, S. (2013). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ)-Themed Literature for Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections?. School Library Research, 16.