Creating a “Queer” Shelf in the School Library

How can librarians can support inclusive curricula?

January 26, 2020

Rae-Anne Montague
Rae-Anne Montague, assistant professor at Chicago State University’s department of Information Studies and chair-elect of ALA’s Rainbow Round Table Photo: Rebecca Lomax/American Libraries

While lawmakers and parents and Twitter users voice drastically divergent opinions regarding what’s appropriate for young readers, school librarians are living in the complex realities of the students and communities they serve. Rae-Anne Montague, an assistant professor at Chicago State University’s department of Information Studies and chair-elect of ALA’s Rainbow Round Table, led a session on January 26 designed to help school librarians navigate that reality.

“We are everywhere,” Montague said of the LGBT community. “That means, first of all, there are many potential curriculum connections, many ways we can be thinking about how to incorporate queer history and important people and events into the curriculum.”

She highlighted the role of mindful collection development in educating about LGBT issues, pointing to the Stonewall Awards and other resources (many available on the RRT’s site) for identifying relevant, age-appropriate titles. “We’re talking about transforming curriculum but in a lot of spaces we’re really lacking foundations. Levels of visibility are inconsistent. There is a lot of diversity in the community and not all voices have equitable representation, now or in the past,” she said. “There are well-known stories and lesser-known stories. Content is often missing, and sometimes misrepresented, and sometimes opposed.”

“There are a lot of perspectives,” Montague added, reflecting that attitudes and laws can vary dramatically from state to state. Illinois, for example, passed a bill in 2019 mandating inclusion of LGBT history in public school curricula, while a Drag Queen Storytime recently prompted a Missouri lawmaker to propose legislation designed to restrict access to LGBT materials (read ALA’s statement on the case). “In terms of having a climate that might welcome this sort of change and these curricular opportunities, there will definitely be challenges.”

While Illinois and other states adopt more inclusive policies, Montague said, “the legal, policy, and curricular changes we see emerging now really do not offer quick fixes. It’s part of an ongoing conversation. There’s a great opportunity for libraries here. Hopefully we can build up collections and produce other types of support more nimbly than what’s going on at the state level in terms of curricular reform.”

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