Promoting diversity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ young adults is a priority for two librarians at the Manhattan Public Library.
Rashael Apuya, teen services librarian, and Crystal Hicks, collections librarian, said they wanted to create a space that fosters inclusion and safety for the LGBTQ+ young adult community. They said one way they try to create space is through the young adult queer-book collection.
The diverse collection now includes four new books from The Rainbow Library initiative sponsored by the GLSEN Kansas chapter, and are on a wall display outside the Teen Zone on the second floor of the library.
According to the GLSEN website, the initiative, started by the non-profit’s Connecticut chapter, “provides LGBTQ+ affirming text sets to schools, teachers and libraries free of charge. Over half of our books are centered on queer people and characters of color and over a quarter of our books center on trans and nonbinary perspectives.”
Liz Hamor, director of the GLSEN Kansas chapter, said this is the first year Kansas has participated and the response was larger than expected.
“We were really excited by the turnout. … We now have a long waitlist that we’ll look at next year,” Hamor said.
Though the GLSEN Kansas chapter prioritized rural schools and libraries when making its selections, the Manhattan Public Library was one of the 158 chosen recipients for a set of ten books.
Apuya said she applied for the books because she wanted to create a display that would let the Manhattan community know the library is supportive of the Rainbow Library Initiative. She said diverse displays are prioritized because she is working to make the space safe and welcoming to queer youth.
“Luckily, thanks to Crystal, we have a very diverse collection,” Apuya said. “We only were missing four of [what] they sent us, so we were already doing pretty well.”
Hicks said she prioritizes purchasing books written by queer authors when the subject matter deals with the LGBTQ+ community because they are speaking from their own voice and those voices are important.
“The way I view it, I don’t know how much books help form identity,” Hicks said. “But I think that they give you permission to accept and feel empowered about whatever identity you have.”
Philip Nel, university distinguished English professor, said including these books is important because all children need to be seen and know that their stories matter.
“If you are one of the underrepresented, the moment of seeing yourself in a movie, on a television show, in a book, in a comic, in a song is extremely powerful and affirming and uplifting,” Nel said.
Apuya said she wants to expose people to diverse literature so they are prepared when they step foot in the world.
“I know that the presence and visibility of queer books helps make it a welcoming space,” Apuya said. “I’ve had teens in other libraries tell me that just seeing that we carry books by a certain author or diverse books, it makes them feel safe in the library and that’s what’s important.”
Naomi Wood, undergraduate English director, said having books available for kids to pick up, read and put down, if they feel like it — or take home with them if they feel like it — is going to make it safer to be curious, to investigate and to find out what maps they want to follow.
Hicks said exposure for those from rural areas who may not know members of the LGBTQ+ community may help break down stereotypes.
“If you see all these different stories about them that are so diverse, so many different types of stories — happy, sad stories, they run the gamut — then it helps build them up as actual people and it’s harder to be prejudice against them; and so, I think it’s very beneficial for them,” she said.
Maddy Ogle, head of community engagement for the library, said community response to the Rainbow Library books is largely positive and people have shared it on social media, letting those that do not normally interact with the library see that it is a safe space in the community.
All three library representatives encourage all Kansas State students to come in and check out the collection, get a library card and enjoy the public library as a resource.