This weekend saw victims of assault in the kid lit world coming forth to name the individuals who’ve harmed them. While no public forum like the comments on an SLJ article — one which fails to mention my work on this topic and fails to link to the work Anne Ursu was undertaking at the same time — will solve the issue, it’s a start. And like all starts, it’s rife with problems. It’s not victims alone coming forth to put voice to their experiences. It’s many on the sidelines sharing hearsay, which does more harm than good. In early instances in the SLJ comments, those individuals were told they were taking away from the voices of actual victims.
Over the last few days, a question has popped up in my inboxes, as well as across social media. What can teachers and librarians do now, knowing that they have seen names of authors and knowing they can’t ignore them?
This is tricky, but here are some options, and I hope this short, quick guide at least provides an opportunity to engage critically with your collection development, reader advisory, or teaching habits, as well as a pathway to navigating this unfamiliar terrain. Although timely in the wake of sexual assault victims speaking up, know this also applies to authors who’ve been engaging in racist and other behaviors which are inappropriate.
- So you own books by those named…keep them on your shelves if they’re circulating or readers are picking them up. Do not toss them. That is censorship. But perhaps this is an opportunity to do some weeding. Pull up your circulation records of all books and following the CREW or other preferred methods of ridding materials from your collection, weed. If books by authors named haven’t moved in the same time frame that others being removed haven’t, then they can go. But to pull otherwise would be silent censorship.
- So you own the books by those named and you’re keeping them on shelf…you’re under no obligation to promote them. Keep them on the shelf, but don’t put them on displays, on end caps, or in your book talks. Instead, use this as an opportunity to talk and share the books that are by other authors, especially those who are from marginalized groups. This is an opportunity to expand your own reading and your own skills, rather than relying on old habits which can be hard to kick.
- So the books are in your classroom library…see above. No need to pull them unless they don’t move. Don’t judge your readers who choose to pick them up. But, perhaps, if your reader approaches you about the book’s content or about wanting to know more about the book, this is your chance to make a choice: do you have an honest conversation with them? Do you use it as an opportunity to have a wider conversation with your classroom? Or do you provide the basic information and encourage your students to engage in their own research odyssey? Only you can decide that based on your students and/or your patrons.
- So the author has a new book coming out….do you buy it or pretend you don’t see it? This one is about going back to basics. Use the trade reviews. It’s so easy to auto-buy books by well-known authors or those who’ve had acclaim before. But why? It’s taking the easy route. Read the trade reviews, and if the reviews are positive, then you buy the book. If they’re middling to poor, consider your community. If it’s a community that would want the book, buy it. If not, then don’t. And if you do buy the book, either on good reviews or because your community would want it, buy another book or two, too, that has excellent reviews that you may have otherwise overlooked. Put in the work. For those without access to the trade review journals, know that many review excerpts show up on major retail sites, and that some sites, like Kirkus, offer their reviews for free online.
- So you use the book in your classroom as a discussion title…why can’t you change it? If it’s your choice, use your choice. Pick another title. If it’s a title which is mandated by a department, bring the situation up to your department. It might not change the requirement, but staying silent when you know there’s a possible issue is worse. It’s tricky, of course, but speaking your truth will often make your voice shake. And that’s okay. You can use this experience when, if you are still required to teach the book, you teach the book.
- So you don’t have the book in your library but someone asks for it…if it’s an older book, see if you can acquire it elsewhere, either via interlibrary loans, system holds, or track down a borrowed or used copy from another person. This ensures legality but also ensures money isn’t exchanged. If it’s a new book, you might need to buy the book. Use the same standards you’d use in any other collection development situation — if you buy all books people ask for, you need to buy it. But, like noted above, you are in no way required to promote it. Serve your patrons. Get them what it is they are asking for. Feel no other requirement but that when it comes to that book.
- So what are some other things I can do…if you’re part of a planning committee for author visits or events, speak up if someone who is being talked about as a possibility is someone you’d feel uncomfortable with. Use your voice. If you see an all-male or all-white panel at an event, speak up. Get it changed. The same goes for purchasing. For writing book lists. For book talking. Work on inclusion at every turn, and keep your ears to the ground. If something makes you feel uncomfortable, trust that instinct. And, as has been said over and over, if you hear a first-hand story, if someone tells you something about being a victim (a student, a patron, a colleague, a professional), believe them.
If librarians or educators have any more questions not addressed here about what to do in light of what we’re learning, please reach out. Drop them in the comments here, and Kimberly, me, or our fantastically thoughtful readers can hop in and offer some thoughts. Remember that you have all the tools you need at your disposal. It’s a matter of remembering to turn back to those and rely on them as means to help you through.