“Our patrons are pretty conservative.”
“I think my manager might consider this too political.”
“I’m worried there might be complaints and I’ll get in trouble.”
You ever hear these things from your fellow employees when talking about creating LGBTQ+ friendly programming? Or maybe it was activism-themed programming. Or tough topics for teens. Maybe you thought this to yourself. And I get it. It’s hard to be brave. Pushing boundaries, especially when your library is situated in a conservative area, is pretty freaking scary, especially with news stories about Drag Queen Storytime protests, Neo-Nazis in library spaces, and popular teen books being challenged.
And you know what? Your safety comes first. Always. I want libraries to be welcoming spaces for all, and they should be, but if your library administration doesn’t have your back when things get scary, it is absolutely okay to put your physical safety and mental health first.
That said, if you can, be brave. Your patrons deserve to feel welcomed and safe, and that requires spaces that acknowledge their existence and affirm their right to use the library. After all, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” (This quote is often attributed to Desmond Tutu, but I can’t find a proper source. Anyone in the comments have a good source for this quote?)
My very first Brave Display was encouraged by my manager at the time. She was inspired by this article in School Library Journal, and asked me to create a Black Lives Matter display. Almost 5 years later, that display is still up, constantly being refilled from this goodreads shelf I made. It’s the most popular display I’ve ever done, and has never gotten one complaint, but has received tons of compliments. Now, I have an advantage here: my library is in a black neighborhood. This was fairly safe in terms of my patrons, and I had the advantage of it being my manager’s idea when it came to library administration. This little dip into Brave Displays was an inspiration for me as I went forward.
Below is a selection of Brave Displays I’ve done, starting with that Black Lives Matter display . Click the images for larger versions. I’ve never had a challenge, either from administration or patrons, but I do prepare myself every time I do something a little radical, readying my defense speech. So far, I’ve never had to use it.
All this too direct and scary for you? You can incorporate diversity and activism into displays that aren’t necessarily centered on that topic. Here’s some examples:
I hope this post gave you some ideas, and I invite you to steal indiscriminately (though credit is nice if you’re sharing online!) from my displays! If you make a display based on one of mine, please share it with me, I’d love to see it!
I leave you with this quote from Elie Wiesel from his 1986 Nobel Prize Acceptance speech:
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”