NOTE: Everything on this blog is an expression of my personal opinions and not those of my employer. It’s especially important to keep this in mind for this post.
Drag Queen Story Times in public libraries are causing quite a lot of controversy lately. The most important thing for me is to state as clearly as I can:
I am an ally.
I do not believe it’s legitimate to cancel these programs because of the prejudices of some members of a community. It’s discriminatory. Public libraries have an obligation to represent all members of our community, which includes LGBTQIA+ folk.
It also includes representing those people who are offended by the drag queen story times. But when you cancel one at the behest of the other, you’re de facto showing preference for the people who are offended.
Some people argue this the other way around: if you go through with a drag queen story time, are you not de facto showing preference for the queens over those who are offended by them?
I recently got to read an advance reading copy of Conversations from the Edge by Joy Ward, a collection of interviews she conducted for Galaxy’s Edge magazine since 2014. I spend a lot of time thinking about SF—what it is, how it works, why I love it (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). It’s wonderful to hear SF writers talk about the genre and how they see it.
There were two quotes about science fiction in this collection that particularly struck me: one from Nancy Kress and one from Connie Willis. (This is an ARC so apply the standard disclaimer that the accuracy and page numbers of quotes might change.)
From the interview with Nancy Kress in which she talks about how science fiction gives her a big canvas to work with:
Why didn’t I list storytelling as the characteristic that makes us unique?
Why did I end up with something as depressing as “we’re the only animals who sometimes hate ourselves?”
Storytelling is built into the most basic functioning of our brains. It’s how memory works. It’s how we make sense of the world. For something so deeply embedded in us, it can’t be something entirely unique to us—it must be based on antecedent mental abilities in the animal world. So, as with so many things, storytelling is a unique expression but not unique in its essential nature.
Justin Hoenke recently voiced the argument that public librarians need to be “everything to every community member.” This argument unleashed a lot of push back from librarians. Stephanie Chase posted a tweet thread in response to the push back and it’s worth reading.
Her essential argument responds to librarians who, as she perceives, don’t want libraries to be different than what they were in our romanticized youths.
HARD FACTS TIME: THE LIBRARY OF YOUR YOUTH DOESN’T EXIST ANYMORE.
I agree with this 100%. There are librarians who resist change because they don’t want the library to evolve. That’s a real problem. She also links to a recent LitHub article, “Stop. The library isn’t your private, childhood memory palace.” I love this article and I agree with it 100%. I tweeted it out myself when it was first posted online.
I came to libraries because they’re so adaptable. Because I’m excited to serve my community in a time of tremendous change. Because I relish the challenge of figuring out how to respond to changing needs and demographics. In his book, Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library, Wayne Wiegand points out public libraries have always adapted to changing needs and circumstances. There’s always been resistance to change, both internal and external. This is all to be expected.
Libraries should never be static entities—we need to be adaptable. The core of what we do is timeless—access, information, self-directed learning, self-directed entertainment—but of course our communities’ needs will change, and even the timeless needs will manifest differently, and technology will continue to alter how we access and consume information, sometimes in radical ways. This is good and healthy and exciting.
But I can’t completely agree that librarians need to be all things for all people. It’s not for the reasons Ms. Chase thinks. It starts with the following statement from her tweet thread:
I did it. 30 poems in 30 days. * It’s the most I’ve ever written in one stretch in my life. I didn’t write one poem per day—there were some days I wrote nothing and some days I wrote more than one—and I posted a couple out of order. But I wrote 30 poems in the month of April and each one was in response to the suggested prompts from NaPoWriMo.net.
I think some of what I wrote was pretty good. Some are clearly dead in the water. Most are somewhere in the middle—the seed of an idea, good to just have something written. The only one I think is really finished is the minimalist poem I wrote for the last day.
At this point, I should turn to revision. Work on the ones I think have potential, scuplt and polish them. But I won’t. I just don’t have the desire to do that work. I take satisfaction in the act of creating a poem but the work of finishing it isn’t something I find rewarding.
So I leave behind a scattered trail of creative but unfinished pieces. I’d say that’s lazy of me but it’s never been my intention to publish, so that’s OK.