In my experience, gender identity can be an intensely complicated and misunderstood thing. There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding people who identify as transgender and the process they may go through to match their body to their identity. As librarians, we are dedicated to serving everyone in the community. We are bound by ethics to provide information freely, and in order to share that information we must know it or at least where to find it.
Transfolk often get lumped into the Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay community, but as information consumers, their needs are quite different. As promised in my previous post I will provide a brief overview of the Oak Park Public Library’s self-evaluation statement and the steps they have taken to better serve the transgender community.*
*My statements are paraphrased and/or summarized from the Oak Park Transgender Resource webpage.
Their process began in 2005 with a “Diversity in the collection evaluation statement:”
“We have begun the process by targeting nine groups of people for consideration:
African-Americans; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender persons; Latinos; Asian-Americans; people with disabilities; senior citizens; poor people; and men. We have chosen key parts of the OPPL collection to examine. For each location, we are looking at adult print and audiovisual materials, children’s print and audiovisual materials, and the young adult collection.
For each category of materials, we are asking the following questions:
- Is this collection welcoming to people within the population group? Does it reflect them? Are there materials by authors (or directors, actors, musicians, etc.) who belong to this group? Are there titles, subjects, and content that represent the population group?
- What issues, concerns, or trends are particularly important or relevant to people within this population group? Do we have materials on these subjects?
- Is the age of this collection an issue? Are there outdated and offensive references, illustrations, use of language?
- Is there a canon of literature to use as a measuring stick for this collection? Are there any helpful checklists? How does this collection measure up?
- What are our goals and aspirations for this collection? What should it be?”
I thought it was very interesting that the first step in their process was Education, rather than Evaluation. The library recognized that it needed to learn more about gender identity and information needs of the transgender community before it could fairly evaluate itself.
Step 1 – Education
In order to learn about issues, interests, and trends relevant to transgender people, the Service Focus Committee obtained and read information that defined the populations and communicated the populations’ issues and needs. Information was also sought that discussed needs of transgender people as library users, although what was found was narrow in scope or included lesbian, bisexual, and gay library users. The committee also made use of transgender resources in the Library’s collection to better understand all segments of the transgender population.
The Library hired an outside facilitator in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity to conduct staff awareness workshops. Staff members learned a great deal of information and increased their knowledge of gender and gender identity issues through these workshops. Moreover the workshops were opportunities to observe staff reactions to and engagement in this subject. At the advanced workshop there was opportunity for further discussion of library specific scenarios that might arise as related to serving and employing people who are transgender.
Step 2 – Evaluation
The Service Focus Committee divided the Library into 8 parts and structured 41 questions to aid in identifying barriers as well as ways the Library could be better welcome, reflect, serve, and employ transgender people. To answer these questions committee members engaged in discussion with other library staff; walked through the library buildings; continued to learn via print, video, and online resources; and, searched for best practices at libraries and in other fields.
Step 3 – Recommendations
Based on the evaluation in step 2 and discovery of best practices, the Service Focus Committee discussed and recommended changes to remove barriers and make the Library more welcoming.
With the addition of Transgender Resource Collection materials, the Library’s collection of print and non-print material accomplishes all three objectives of welcoming, reflecting, and serving transgender library users. The inclusion of materials by and about transgender people is an important element of welcoming them to the Library. The library catalog has the potential to be a barrier to any library user. This is being addressed with this collection by the addition of “Transgender Resource Collection” as a unifying heading in addition to all the appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Staff will also address this barrier by creating various finding tools such as bibliographies, pathfinders/subject guides, bookmarks, etc. in both obvious and discreet places.
Workshops and professional development:
Restrooms can be a very dangerous place for Transfolk, and The Oak Park library observed a need to make changes to their restroom facilities. The Library had women’s restrooms and men’s restrooms with locking stalls. Also had 2 single use restrooms currently labels as “girls” and “boys.” It was recommended that both be signed as unisex to facilitate safe and comfortable for transgender individuals.
Staff were educated and made aware of gender stereotypes. Promotion materials were recommended to include images of multiple people on anything to be inclusive
It was recommend that the gender binary Mr. /Ms salutation on automated emails and on the application form be removed.
Removal of gender binary terms in employee handbook
Instead of checkbox option for gender on library card application, the application was replaced with “Gender: __________”
Gender exclusive category labels (eg. “royalty” instead of “Princess”) were removed along with the removal of gender exclusive grouping for children
It was proposed to offer resources for employers with a staff member going through transition
The Oak Park Website contains many resources for libraries, and anyone interested in the subject including
- Selected titles from the Transgender Resource Collection
- LGBTQ books for Teens
- Non traditional gender roles for children
- $200 Transgender bookshelf—a suggested starting point for libraries wanting to build more inclusiveness into their library
Other online resources include:
Where’s the “T”?: Improving Library Service to Community Members who are Transgender-Identified by Kelly Thompson http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=bsides
ALA. 2004. ―ALA | Access to Library Resources and Services Regardless of Sex, Gender Identity, or Sexual Orientation. http://www.ala.org/Template.cfmSection=interpretations&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=103205.
ALA GLBTRT. 2008. ―TRANScending Identities: A Bibliography of Resources on Transgender and Intersex Topics. http://www.ala.org/glbtrt/sites/ala.org.glbtrt/files/content/popularresources/glbtrt_trans_08.pdf.
ALA GLBTRT. 2010. ―GLBTRT Resources | American Library Association. http://www.ala.org/glbtrt/popularresources.
National Center for Transgender Equality: Resources http://transequality.org/Resources/index.html.
PFLAG. 2011. ―PFLAG: Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. http://community.pflag.org/page.aspx?pid=380.