Libraries as Safe Spaces, by Jenny Betz, GLSEN

I read this article in the Spring 2012 issue of ALA’s GLBT Round Table newsletter. I just think it is so fantastic, I had to share. It consists, or a list of statistics, and other reasons why it is so important that libraries, partocually school libraries, are ALWAYS a spafe space for everyone. Please note that this is an American article.

Whether you are school-based or at a community library, you’ve probably observed young people who find safety and solace among the stacks. They sit and read during lunch and do their homework after school. They may come to the library to escape the taunting of peers or disapproval of their parents. They may come to the library to be safe. But that’s just the start of it. With your help, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth can use your library to enrich their lives as they search the web, read and explore your collection to learn about themselves and the world around them.
Our nation’s schools continue to be hostile environments for LGBT youth in middle and high school. According to GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey (NSCS), 85% experience harassment based on their sexual orientation and 65% based on their gender expression each year. One third of LGBT students missed at least of day of school in the last month because they felt unsafe. The name-calling, bullying, harassment and assault that LGBT students experience also lead to lowered academic achievement and educational aspirations, and poorer psychological well-being.
Our research shows that in order to provide safe and inclusive environments for LGBT students, schools should work to provide: Gay Straight Alliances and other student clubs, LGBT-inclusive curriculum (including library materials), supportive educators (including librarians), and comprehensive bullying/harassment policies.
GLSEN has always seen librarians as partners in ensuring safe, inclusive and respectful spaces for all youth. In fact, while overall the percentage of students with access to LGBT-related information in school has not changed dramatically over the past 10 years, there is one exception. The percentage of students with access to inclusive library resources continues to grow each year. Still, only about half of LGBT high school and 20% of LGBT middle school students report having access to LGBT-related library materials at school.
You have a unique opportunity to be an ally to LGBT students. You can ensure that your library carries materials with positive representations of LGBT history, themes and events. And, you can be there for students when they most need adult support. For that, LGBT youth need to know they can talk to you. Unfortunately, less than 30% of LGBT student reported feeling comfortable talking to librarians about LGBT issues and only 15% actual have.
So, what type of environment are you creating in your library?

  •  Do your library rules include respect for all visitors and are those rules posted where everyone can see them?
  • Do you intervene when you see name-calling or bullying in-person or online?
  •  Does your collection include books, periodicals and media with LGBT-related themes for all age levels?
  • Do you display books and hang posters with diverse faces and families?
  •  Do you ensure access to LGBT-related content on the internet (you’d be surprised how many schools and libraries can’t access or other LGBT organizations and resources)?
  • Do you celebrate LGBT-related events, such as LGBT History Month (October), LGBT Pride Month (June), No Name-Calling Week (January), Day of Silence (April)?
  • Do you incorporate LGBT-related materials into other events, such as Banned Books Week (September), Read Across America (March), Women’s History Month (March), Black History Month (February), Holocaust Remembrance Day (January)?
  • Are your library accommodations (restroom, etc.) safe and accessible for all patrons, including transgender youth?
  • Do you provide space for Gay Straight Alliances or local LGBT youth organizations?

I suspect that most of you will answer “yes” to most of these questions. We know that librarians have often been strong advocates and allies to LGBT youth. And, for those areas in which you see room for growth at your library, connect with one of our 36 local chapters around the country, visit, find us on, or follow us at
In particular, I encourage you to check out our free online resources:

  • No Name-Calling Week: An annual week of educational activities aimed at ending name-calling of all kinds, inspired by James Howe’s “The Misfits”. Free lesson plans, tips to prevent bullying, resource and book lists, etc.
  • GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit : A guide to being and ally to LGBT youth. Includes book recommendations, tips on responding to “that’s so gay” and other anti-LGBT language, a guide to supporting youth who come out to you, etc. Free to download or purchase a hard copy for your collection.
  • Unheard Voices: A free LGBT history resource created by GLSEN, the Anti-Defamation League and StoryCorps. Download oral history clips, discussion guides, biographical and historical resources, lesson plans and activities.
  • Ready, Set, Respect!: GLSEN’s Elementary School Toolkit, focused on name-calling, gender roles and family diversity. Includes tip sheets, book and resource lists and lesson plans. Free to download or purchase a hard copy for your collection.

GLSEN has provided groundbreaking research, resources and programs for over 20 years, envisioning a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. ALA, the GLBTRT and individual school and local librarians continue to be our partners in working towards this vision.
In a country where most LGBT students report facing harassment, fewer than half say their school has a GSA, less than 20% report that their school has comprehensive and enumerated bullying/harassment policies, and where only 12% have been taught positive representations about LGBT people, history or events in their classes, your help is crucial.
Make your library safe and inclusive. Be an ally to LGBT youth.

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