How Libraries Turn LGBTQ+ Readers into Ghosts

Notice anything about the above list? It’s the list of book categories in my local library. Yup, that’s right. No LGBTQ+ section.

That’s not to say there aren’t LGBTQ+ books. There are—just not many of them, and they’re also hard to find. Type in “lesbian” in the library’s online catalogue and you get a list of four books. Four. Three of them are great lesbian fiction, the fourth is a travelogue that happens to include “lesbian geisha girls” in its description.

I live in a regional part of Queensland, Australia, three hours’ drive from the nearest major city. My local town is a friendly, happy place of less than 20,000 people. It has good facilities and a medium-sized library that is a great community resource and centre. The town is small-town conservative in many ways, but it’s laid-back and the majority of people follow a live-and-let live attitude. My marriage equality bumper sticker gets more thumbs up than frowns.

But this sort of casual acceptance can sometimes translate into casual homophobia. “I have no problem with marriage equality—but my daughter better not bring home a girlfriend.” I overheard that in a pub the other week. It’s no wonder rural queer kids have a harder time of it than their city counterparts.

Young and questioning – the invisible kids

Libraries are therefore important for many of these kids. Where else can they read about people like themselves? Sure, there’s the internet, but that can come with parental filters, and well-meaning teachers and parents checking the browser history. Small communities can be stifling for people who don’t fit the perceived norm. It can be hard to figure out your identity in the spotlight of cozy community concern. But a library… Sit, browse, read, borrow. Discover yourself. Or you can if your rural library has books for you, and a section where you might be able to find them with ease.

Recently, I donated some Ylva books to my local library. The library took them with thanks and, sure enough, they appeared in the catalogue and eventually onto the shelves. But they’re not listed as lesbian books. They’re listed in general fiction with no description, nothing that screams Queer Books Here!

I searched the catalogue again, looking for mainstream lesbian writers. Jeanette Winterson, Sarah Waters, and Rita Mae Brown are there. There’s even a copy of The Well of Loneliness. But if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, you won’t find them. Want something by any one of the hundreds of excellent authors writing contemporary queer romance? Apart from the Ylva ones I donated, you’re out of luck.

Community blues – the ghosts of LGBTQ+

So once again, we’re invisible, hidden away, tucked into the metaphorical corner, unsearchable and mostly unfindable. It’s not good enough. Maybe it’s different in our capital cities—I know that in many parts of Europe, every library has an LGBTQ+ section. When I dropped off the donations to my library, I told the women that they all belonged in the LGBTQ+ section. She gave me a sideways look, and didn’t comment.

When they finally meandered their way through the library system to the shelves, I hunted them down. The romances are categorised as “Erotic Fiction” and the Young Adult books simply jammed in the uncategorised General Fiction, as if lesbian fiction is risqué and daring, not something that your granny might want to read with her cup of tea and a Tim Tam. Certainly not something your fourteen-year-old daughter should read.

Take a look at that category list again. Apparently, more people want to read ghost stories than queer stories. I feel pretty ghostly and not quite-there in my library these days. Invisible. Someone who should creep out at night under the cover of darkness.

I’ll take more books to my library in a few months, and once again, I’ll suggest that they put them in the LGBTQ+ section. I’ll do it for the queer kids of rural Queensland. If even one kid finds a book about them, it’s worth it.

Cheyenne Blue is the author of the “Girl Meets Girl” series, three standalone Ylva novels with interconnecting characters, Never-Tied Nora, Not-So-Straight Sue, and Fenced-In Felix. Her latest book, Party Wall, came out this year. Cheyenne has lived in the UK, Ireland, the United States, and Switzerland, but now writes, runs, makes bread and cheese, and drinks wine by the beach in Queensland, Australia.

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  1. Lov2laf October 22, 2017 at 18:21 - Reply

    Library books are so important and, you’re right, LGBTIA fiction is terribly neglected. Two decades ago I sought out anything I could at my libraries for “lesbian fiction” and was left with a dreary and odd set of books slammed between the incest and mental illness sections.

    I’m glad there’s so much more fiction available today but the library catalogue is still pitiful and doesn’t make the Lesbian fiction books easy to find.

    Is there some way to help?

    • Cheyenne Blue October 23, 2017 at 10:02 - Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Lov2laf, and it’s so great that you want to help. An easy way promote visibility is to go up to the desk in your local library (or any library!) and ask them to point you toward the LGBTQ+ section. If they’ve got one, that’s great. If not, ask them to recommend books or help you navigate the catalog to find them. If enough people did that, or filled in a comment card requesting a LGBTQ+ section, it may encourage a change. Or if there’s anywhere to request a book that isn’t stocked. Libraries seem to turn over books quite regularly (the rack of $1 ex-library books in my local library is a magical place), so if they perceive a demand, they may act. Let’s hope so. 🙂

  2. Hannah October 22, 2017 at 19:56 - Reply

    This!!! As a high school student, I was an assistant librarian, tidying the shelves everyday in my lunch break. When I began to realize I was queer, I went looking for YA LGBT books. There was no individual section. While scouring the shelves I found Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and Ash by Malinda Lo. Two books. In five years. And it wasn’t until after I left school that I dared to read them, anyway.

    Thank you for looking after queer kids in your part of the world.

    • Cheyenne Blue October 23, 2017 at 10:10 - Reply

      It’s years since I’ve been in a school library (and I’m willing to be that in my day there would have been a bit fat zero queer books there), but I’m not surprised that many libraries have no individual section. Schools seem to suffer from more controls these days. The crapola surrounding the Safe Schools program in Oz is an example. Your comment about not daring to read the queer books you did find until after you left is exactly why we need more queer books in the more anonymous public libraries.

      Thank you for your comment. 🙂

  3. William Fariss October 22, 2017 at 19:57 - Reply

    What were the excuses when you complained to the head librarian?

    • Cheyenne Blue October 23, 2017 at 10:15 - Reply

      To be honest, I didn’t complain the first time. That was my first time donating Ylva books to this particular library, and I was more concerned with getting them accepted into the catalog. It’s not a given that libraries (at least here) accept any books that are donated–even books from local authors. I have another few books for them though, and I will again suggest they put them in the LGBTQ+ section. This time, though, I’ll be bolder and ask more about that. I’ll also suggest that the romances be classified as romance rather than erotica.–the previous time, I left it up to them. One of the books I have ready to donate is Jae’s new asexual romance. Surely, they won’t classify that as erotica!

  4. Karen October 22, 2017 at 20:09 - Reply

    My local library branch used to have a large selection of lesbian books in the Naiad and Spinster Ink days. There were hundreds of books. Since then, the branch downsized and moved into a much smaller building. It’s basically a children’s library now with no LGBTQ literature at all. I guess the kids in this diverse city in the San Francisco Bay Area now have to be protected from us. It’s sad to see the change.

    • Cheyenne Blue October 23, 2017 at 10:19 - Reply

      Wow! I’m impressed they had a large selection in the first place, but how sad that things have gone backward rather than forward, especially in San Francisco.

  5. Cheyenne Blue October 23, 2017 at 10:21 - Reply

    BTW, Ylva are massive supporters of getting queer books into local libraries. Every time I get my author copies from Ylva, there’s always a few other books in the box specifically for me to try and get them on the shelves in libraries in my rural area.

    Kudos, Ylva!

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