Supporting the Transgender Community in Libraries

This post was submitted by Laurel Scheinfeld, Health Sciences Librarian at Stony Brook University Libraries.

As the mother of a transgender teenager, I was drawn to the webinar titled “Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Inclusion in Libraries”. Krista McCracken, an archivist at Algoma University’s Arthur A. Wishart Library in Canada offered many useful and practical solutions for making all kinds of libraries more gender inclusive, but it was two particular ideas that especially struck me as I watched the recorded webinar that I’d like to share here.

One of Krista’s initial slides listed reasons why gender inclusion matters. The first reason listed was “Trans people are everywhere”. That’s a simple and true statement. Many of us know transgender library patrons and some of us have transgender colleagues. I hope that we would agree it’s vitally important to welcome them and make sure they are valued. In addition to the people you know, there are likely many more that you are not aware of. Some may have transitioned before you met them and choose not to disclose the information. There are also people struggling with their gender identity who may not have come out yet. A welcoming space benefits more people than meets the eye. Our efforts at gender inclusivity also have effects beyond the patrons and coworkers within our walls who are transgender. Library staff and patrons have family members and friends who are transgender. You wouldn’t know by looking at me that I have a transgender son, and yet working in a gender inclusive environment is supportive to me as well. I’m more at ease and more productive in an environment where I know my son would be comfortable and safe, even though he doesn’t spend time at my workplace. I’m sure many of our patrons and colleagues have a transgender child, grandchild, parent, spouse, sibling, cousin, or neighbor, and feel better in inclusive spaces. We have the opportunity to support many more people than we may realize by celebrating gender diversity in our libraries.

Krista also discussed the use of preferred pronouns. I’ve attended many library meetings and webinars in recent years where all participants are asked to state their pronouns as part of their introduction, either verbally or written on name tags. I thought this was considered a best practice. Krista explained that although this is a well-meaning gesture towards inclusivity, there are people who may be struggling with their gender identity and this requirement could cause them discomfort if they are not ready to disclose or not completely sure yet. It could lead to people avoiding participation, which is the opposite of what was intended. This hadn’t occurred to me, and I think it’s important to share. A solution the speaker suggested is to suggest that people provide their pronouns “if desired”. Another possible solution is for the meeting host to announce their pronouns while introducing themselves, which would signal to participants that they are also welcome to provide their pronouns, without the verbal instruction that everyone is expected to do this. With one of these slightly more nuanced approaches, someone’s journey may be made a little easier.

You will also find practical ideas and advice in this webinar on displays, collections, programs, signage, and using preferred names, which will help you improve your library’s inclusiveness toward people who are transgender and gender non-conforming. The presenter encouraged participants to reach out any time with questions. The contact information of this knowledgeable librarian is another wonderful resource to put in your toolkit as well. Thank you to SILC for providing the 2020 Recap Resource List. I’m looking forward to diving into more of these webinars.

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