I’m not a young adult librarian, but I’m a longtime reader of young adult fiction, particularly stories that feature lesbian characters. As a reader, I can confirm that we’ve come a long way since the days of having to (as recently described by Mary at Queer Books Please) scour mainstream books for some hint of queer content. My coming of age and coming out was largely done in pre-internet days, when often the best you could do was manufacture your own subtext. Although it’s still inconsistent and problematic, YA fiction is increasingly diverse. According to the book Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens, five to six percent of American teens identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and eighty percent of teens know someone who does. For questioning teens, the public library should be a safe space in which they can to find stories and resources to help them articulate their identities.

Unfortunately, librarians have not always made it easy to find information. Censorship–in the form of simply not purchasing materials that might be considered “controversial”–has always been a problem. People often take it upon themselves to challenge books with any queer content in the name of protecting “the children,” which can bring negative publicity to a library. In addition, catalogers have the option to make items more or less discoverable in a library catalog, depending on the subject headings they choose to add to an item’s record. For teens, who are among the least likely to approach a librarian, being able to find books for themselves is extremely important. Items having to do with sex and sexuality are often among those that are used (not to mention stolen) anonymously at the library–read clandestinely and not necessarily checked out.

I don’t mean to sound as if the situation is dire and there are no LGBTQ resources to be found in most libraries. However, I do believe that there is more that librarians AND library patrons can do to improve the quantity and visibility of these materials in library collections.

For everyone:

  • Use your local library!

  • Request materials. Let your librarians know–through purchase requests, in-person recommendations, or even through the items that you are getting via interlibrary loan–that there is a demand for these materials.

  • Donate your old, unwanted, and duplicate copies of LGBTQ fiction and other materials.

  • Give someone a gift by donating a book to the library in their name. A friend of mine donated a copy of Leah Petersen’s book Fighting Gravity to my library to thank me for something I had helped her with. You can support both the library and worthy authors this way.

  • Participate in library events, such as the summer reading program.

  • Support your library if and when it becomes involved in a public book challenge. Write an editorial to your local newspaper, if you have to!


For librarians:


  • Order those materials! There are plenty of well-reviewed, award-winning books that you can purchase for the library. Purchase items to meet a variety of needs and interests, even if you haven’t seen any evidence of them. These teens may not speak up, but they exist in your community, and the materials should be there when they look for them.

  • Create displays that showcase the items in your collection, making it clear that the library is a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ teens. Actively solicit suggestions for purchases of new materials.

  • Read some of these books! If you don’t have the time to read, check out reviews here at Gay YA or at other sites like I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?, Queer YA, and Rainbow Books. Be prepared to offer recommendations.

  • Have your policies and your Request for Reconsideration form ready to meet any challenges. Train your staff on how to respond to complaints. Preparation and justification is the best defense in a challenge situation.

Public librarians have a professional responsibility to make these materials available to everyone, not just the at-risk teens who need them the most. Community members with an interest in having these materials available to teens have a responsibility to let the library know that they’re wanted and needed in the library. Together we can make it happen!

Anna Mickelsen is a public librarian and enthusiastic reader. You can find her on Twitter (@helgagrace) or at her blog, Title and Statement of Responsibility. She also reviews lesbian fiction at The Lesbrary.