Friday, January 24, 2014

ALA Midwinter Update

24 January 2014
Frigid Tundra (Philadelphia)

After an arduous journey by amtrak-coach during which all possible indignities were thoroughly experienced (a seat partner in the last third of the trip!  A power outage-caused hour-plus delay!  Old jerk bonhomie train conversation!  Blatant hat-head!), I made it to New-York City and thence, this morning, to Old Philadelphia, where ALA is holding its midwinter hibernation stretch.  A much-needed Indian supper was had at Reading Terminal Market before I plunged into the conference...

...where the session I was aiming for was canceled, the exhibit floor doesn't open 'til 5:30, and these young librarians playing Librarians Against Humanity don't seem open to outsiders inviting themselves in.

So I made my way down to the ALA store, where, after a few glimpses through some indexes to determine the quality of the publications (thanks, Dr. Nesset!), I noticed something distressing.

Very few of the books published by ALA and available right now have anything to say about the experiences of LGBT patrons and employees.  Indeed, by my best estimate, not a single book available at the ALA store is focused primarily on this demographic.

Now, did I look through the index of every book in the room?  No.  Nor, I'm sure, did I see the title, spine or cover of every available publication.  I very well could have missed something.

And there were a couple of signs of LGBT presence in our professional thought processes.  Two books on kids and young adult services, admirably, possessed some glancing mention of LGBT needs.  So there's that.

But all these things serve to underscore several points that are rather unfortunate:

1.  ALA (and by extension, librarians) are still thinking primarily in terms of LGBT youth when they think about LGBT people at all, ignoring millions of people with critical needs and wants.

2. If there are more books on this subject currently available, the ALA store at this conference did not do a good job featuring them; none of the out-facing books had anything to do with writings on the LGBT experience.

3.  As a publisher, ALA displays a lack of consistency in classifying and indexing LGBT-focused passages, which may have led to my missing any more such passages than I found; in the books that did feature some indexing on the subject, they were indexed under different terms, with less than exhaustive cross referencing in all cases.

4.  Assuming I didn't miss anything due to (2) and (3), few ALA writers are interested in addressing this demographic's service needs in a long-form format.

I point no fingers; a publishing concern can't control the topics submitted by its writers in more than a rudimentary way, and convention staff can't feature products that aren't there.  There could be more control exerted in indexing standards (how hard would it be to adopt a consistent form across ALA publications?), but if there isn't huge interest among the professional body to address these topics in book form, there won't be any published products.

Which means those of us librarians so concerned need to address this lack.

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