Queer libraries

Libraries are incredibly queer spaces. I don’t mean queer in the sense that they’re LGBT, but in the sense that they challenge the normative structures of society: A library is simulatenously radical and queer in its nature. Situated in the cities, towns and villages across the country, the library’s free resources are a promise to the citizenry: Come here, and you will have access to information and knowledge — the things needed to live a free, liberal life. For this reason, libraries don’t just stock books, but also DVDs and CDs (remember those?), newspapers, magazines — and increasingly, online resources.

I’m reminded of a story I once read on the Internet. (That, by itself, should clue you in that it’s probably made up and it’s not worth sourcing.) It told of the reaction of a Silicon Valley-type “tech bro” who had never been to a library before and was shocked by its services. He’d assumed that, after he paid for a library card, he’d have to pay each time he rented out a book or a movie — and the idea that all these services were offered for free were astounding to him.

The story resonates because it seems like something that could be true. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were entire groups of people who had never stepped into a library, and had projected our society’s pervasive capitalistic structures into its spaces.

Within the fantasy of the library as a democratic third space, librarians are tasked with being objective civil servants, a notion that rankles many in the field. In library school, “a lot of us get fed the line that libraries are neutral, which is a very dangerous and inaccurate piece of rhetoric to give librarians,” said Ingrid Conley-Abrams, a school librarian who previously worked at the Brooklyn Public Library for over seven years. “Every program we offer or don’t offer, every book we shelve or don’t shelve, is a stance. So this notion that libraries are neutral is hurtful nonsense. Libraries, as long as they are run by human beings, will always have some sort of mission.”

BuzzFeed News, “Some Libraries Are Facing Backlash Against LGBT Programs — And Holding Their Ground”, November 15, 2018, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/mitchellkuga/librarians-drag-queen-story-hour-lgbt-safe-spaces

Let’s keep libraries going.