On July 28, 2018, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, in an official Declaration of Love Loud Day in Utah, proclaimed that “we must cultivate a climate of inclusion” for all people, noting the need to “encourage relevant and vital conversations about what it means to love each other unconditionally, understand our differences and include support for LGBTQ+ friends and family members.”
Utah’s public libraries share the values of inclusion that the governor so eloquently stated, as well as the power and importance of having relevant and vital conversations in our communities that promote awareness, respect and understanding. While these values are core to the important role that public libraries play in our civic society every day, the recent banning of an LGBTQ display and buttons at the Washington County Library fell short.
In an Aug. 10 interview with Good4Utah, WCL director Joel Tucker explained that LGBTQ displays and buttons were banned in his library because he had received complaints from a county commissioner about a previous LGBTQ display. Tucker expressed concern that the display might “(push) away a segment of our society,” “give rise to disagreement,” be perceived as an endorsement by the library and otherwise upset patrons or cause controversy.
It’s true that displaying library materials does not constitute endorsement. But by not allowing the display, and by not allowing library staff to wear buttons inviting inquiry and dialogue, WCL is missing a critical opportunity to cultivate a climate of inclusion. By supporting the display, WCL would have encouraged a vital community conversation that can lead to greater awareness, empathy and understanding of all members of the community.
To effectively serve diverse communities, libraries routinely address challenges to books and exhibits. We navigate these challenges by relying on a set of core values, including intellectual freedom, lifelong learning, access, diversity and the public good. Librarians promote an open marketplace of ideas where our communities have access to a wide variety of viewpoints and ideas.
The Library Bill of Rights, a foundational document of the American Library Association, states that “library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background or views of those contributing to their creation,” and that “(m)aterials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” The practice of librarianship relies upon many values, but avoiding controversy at all costs is not one of them.
It is not uncommon for those who work in public libraries to hear from patrons who share how the library was (or is) a safe haven for them, or even to hear “the library saved my life.” LGBTQ youth have higher rates of mental health challenges and risk of suicide, which research shows is driven by social isolation and exclusion. Considering that 86 percent of LGBTQ youth report harassment and bullying at school, and that suicide is the leading cause of death among Utah youths ages 10-17, it becomes clear that displays of LGBTQ materials that promote education, awareness and respectful dialogue can help support positive health outcomes for our youths and our community.
The Washington County Library website affirms that they strive to "provide open, non-judgmental access to collections and services," “advocate and support the First Amendment Rights and the Library Bill of Rights,” and "serve the total community by providing free and open access to the ideas and information available on all subjects." We invite Washington County to reflect on the application of these principles and to revisit the decision to ban LGBTQ displays and buttons in light of these values.