Your Library, A Hub for Tolerance & Diversity
In my professional experience as a librarian, I’ve helped others of many backgrounds to learn and grow together. Librarians serve diverse groups nationwide and touch the lives of countless individuals, including members of the LQBTQIA community, people of all ages and races, and children and adults of varying ability levels.
Until recently, I never thought my personal life would intersect much with the lives of others whose preferences, racial backgrounds, education levels, or sexual orientations different greatly from my own. While having a great amount of tolerance and respect for all people, I simply did not expect that my life would lead me into close relationships with others who didn’t follow my preconceived ideas of concepts like gender.
However, life, as they say, is full of surprises. Early this summer, someone I was close to transitioned from male to female. While I was happy that this person had found the courage to be the person she wanted to be, I felt confused and as though I had lost my best friend. I also wanted to find other people with whom I could talk about my unexpected experience.
As with many different life experiences and difficult questions, the local library is somewhere all individuals can bring their stories and questions. Libraries provide numerous resources, in the form of materials, as well as opportunities to connect with others in group settings. By hearing the stories of others, we can find the understanding and acceptance we so desperately need in times when our world feels as though it has been turned upside down.
Being aware of why people transition (in terms of gender), knowing more about what the experience of being from another country is like, and hearing the stories of people from other races can help us to better understand the world around us. Some of this awareness and tolerance can be gleaned from the materials and potential interactions available from your library. Taking advantage of the ability to learn about others can also help you to feel more in control of your own life; after all, it is reassuring to have some of life’s questions answered.
As well as listening to others, I also believe that it’s important to speak about traumatic and confusing circumstances — whether you are a victim of racial injustice, religious intolerance, or some other form of prejudice. When we voice our concerns, fears, and frustrations, we allow others to give us the support and insight we need. Furthermore, if we do not speak up for ourselves, others will speak up for us.
Never let someone else tell your story.
Another interesting aspect of having the courage to light that candle in the darkness by bringing your questions to the library (for research or for camaraderie) is that you realize you were never alone. By expressing yourself and shining a light upon diversity, the dark void of confusion and rejection disappears. Suddenly, what was once darkness becomes a place of light, filled with other valuable and kind individuals who have felt uncertain as well. When we each speak out about life from our point of view, we encourage others to do the same and to let their own light shine upon their experience.
Libraries are excellent places to practice this courage and to celebrate the bravery, heritage, and life experiences of other people.
These invaluable community resources provide groups, workshops, storytimes, and materials that help us connect and learn. When we make these connections, we strengthen our communities, our families, and ourselves.
Here are just a few ways libraries help communities share and connect.
Adult Library Programs Bring Us Together
From gardening lessons to ancestry classes, libraries offer a wide variety of programs to the public. As we come together as community members with common interests and learn alongside each other, our differences are greatly diminished. Adult programs also impart a great deal of respect upon teachers from all walks of life, including those traveling down different paths than our own and individuals with fascinating histories and cultural perspectives.
Aside from general programming, libraries often offer programs intended to more directly increase tolerance, diminish stereotypes, and celebrate ethnic backgrounds. Try attending a book talk by an African American author to discover how her point of view influences her writing. Or participate in a salsa class at the library and have a blast while gaining a better appreciation of the Latin influences in your city.
Other library meetups tend to be even more conducive to individual and group conversations about diversity and tolerance. For example, a library support group can help an individual to prepare to “come out of the closet” — (or to “come out of the broom closet” if she is a witch or a Wiccan).
Young Adult and Children’s Services Raise the Bar for the Future
It’s never too early to teach your child to become a life-long reader. It’s also never too early to teach your child tolerance. One aspect of library storytimes that I love is that they help foster communication and equality for all young members of the community. What better way to teach your child that all humans have inherent value than to allow her to learn, play, and grow alongside peers of different races, religions, family styles, and ability levels?
When we teach our children early on to actively participate in a diverse, accepting world, we impart upon them skills they will use throughout a lifetime of an ever-evolving, increasingly tolerant world. As with adult library programs, some children’s programming is especially designed to foster tolerance and cultural appreciation.
In the past, local African American storytellers, such as Willa Brigham and Obakunle Akinlana (pictured below) have both helped my library to spread the magic of African culture to children in my community via song, dance, and traditional folktales. These programs are often just as much fun — and just as culturally illuminating — for adults in the community as well!
Inclusive Resources for All
Your library has a wealth of online resources to help promote cultural awareness, religious tolerance, and a better understanding of differing sexual orientations and gender norms. Check out your library’s website for language-learning apps, cultural seminars, inclusive children’s games, and many more resources!
Don’t forget about diversity-promoting books and magazines as well! Here are a few of my favorite fiction and non-fiction awareness-boosting reads.
Learning for Justice
(formerly Teaching Tolerance Magazine)
“Teaching Tolerance is one of the most engaging educational magazines I have encountered. It’s ambitious and fearless in that it is willing to deal with sensitive and critical social topics in a way that anybody could relate to regardless of whether it pertained directly to them or not. This publication is in a league of its own.”
-AAP REVERE Award judge
The Boy in the Dress
by David Williams (2009, Ages 12+)
“British comedian Walliams tells the story of Dennis, who lives in a dreary house with his depressed, working-class dad and older brother. He’s the star of his soccer team, but the thing that really gives Dennis’s life magic is his penchant for women’s fashion. An unlikely friendship with an older fashionista at school, the beautiful and popular Lisa, causes Dennis to impersonate a French exchange student — a female one, complete with dress, high heels and makeup, all of which he simply adores wearing. Readers may think he’s about to come out, but it turns out he’s just a boy who loves to wear ladies’ clothing.”
The Danish Girl
by David Ebershoff (2000, Adult Fiction)
Note: this title has been adapted into a film; ask your library about renting the DVD!
“[Ebershoff’s] book is based on the real-life story of Einar Wegener, a Danish artist who 70 years ago became the first man to be medically transformed into a woman — long before the much better-known case of Christine Jorgensen. Ebershoff has naturally changed some of the characters, giving Einar an American wife from his own native city of Pasadena, thereby introducing a New World perspective on the drama. For a very real drama it is. Einar struggles with his inclinations to become the woman he and his wife, Greta, refer to as Lili, seemingly more agonized about what the change would mean than Greta, who is deeply loving and amazingly supportive throughout Einar’s long ordeal.”
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survical, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand (2010, Adult Fiction)
This book is a story of people who hate others and attempt to strip them of their humanity. Ultimately, it is about the power of forgiveness and love.
– WORLD LITERATURE TODAY
The Blind Side
by Michael Lewis (2006, Adult Fiction)
Note: Check this title out as an audio book or ask your library to lend you the film adaptation!
When we first meet him, Michael Oher is one of thirteen children by a mother addicted to crack; he does not know his real name, his father, his birthday, or how to read or write. He takes up football, and school, after a rich, white, Evangelical family plucks him from the streets. Then two great forces alter Oher: the family’s love and the evolution of professional football itself into a game where the quarterback must be protected at any cost. Our protagonist becomes the priceless package of size, speed, and agility necessary to guard the quarterback’s greatest vulnerability, his blind side.
-W. W. NORTON & COMPANY
While I’ve recommended several library resources and services — and can recommend several more; please ask! — I believe that tolerance only matters when we put it into practice.
I’ve come to learn that, at least for me, the practice of loving and accepting others ultimately leads to the acceptance of the self.
However, we don’t have to fully understand another individual to love that person. In fact, we never truly know what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes, and it’s not our place to fill the shoes of another individual. Instead, let us celebrate the individual contributions each person brings to our world through his or her experiences and personality. Your local library is an awesome place to start!