About

Background

Libraries are widely recognized as a key source of information for the LGBTQIA community, and for transgender patrons in particular. Libraries are often seen as a safe place to seek information about community and medical resources for trans people, especially in rural and socially conservative areas. Much of the focus of recent research and case studies on serving LGBTQIA patrons has been on collection development, with the recognition that “librarians must examine their own personal feelings, biases, and stereotypes and they must minimize them when working with patrons” (Gough & Greenblatt, 2011, 169). This self-reflection becomes even more crucial in public services settings in which librarians’ biases or lack of understanding may have a negative impact on the patron service experience of transgender patrons.

Article V of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights “mandates that library services, materials, and programs be available to all members of the community the library serves, without regard to sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation” (ALA, 2008). However, recent legislation seeking to control access to gendered restrooms (e.g. H.B. No. 1748 which was considered by the Texas Legislature in 2015, and the failure of Proposition 1 in Houston after a virulently transphobic campaign) has the potential to hamper librarians’ ability to serve this community, and may have a negative impact on transgender persons’ perceptions of libraries as a safe space. Lack of awareness on the part of patron service providers, and a perceived hostile social climate can exacerbate anxieties trans people may experience in attempting to access public resources. As Urban Studies scholar Petra Doan has argued, gender-nonconforming people “experience the gendered division of space as a special kind of tyranny” (Doan, 2010); this study seeks to help alleviate that negative experience in libraries and ensure that librarians have the resources to meet the needs of this patron population. As more transgender patrons “come out,” especially in high school and college settings, the need for awareness among librarians increases.

The Project

The TX-Gender Project for Libraries seeks to develop a research-based resource for librarians on how to provide excellent patron services to transgender persons. Print and web-based resources will be made available to every library in Texas (approximately 10,000 according to Texas Library Association statistics). These resources will be designed to address gaps in librarians’ knowledge, as well as the expectations of the trans community in terms of patron services and information resource needs. This one-year project will be conducted by staff at the University of North Texas Libraries, with the support and cooperation of the UNT Pride Alliance, and the Texas Library Association GLBT Roundtable.

Parallel surveys will be conducted, one to assess librarians’ understanding of issues facing transgender patrons, and one which assesses transgender patrons expectations of libraries. The librarian survey will be disseminated via the TLA and Cross Timbers Library Collaborative listservs. We will work with community organizations to distribute the trans survey to the target population, and to identify potential focus group participants and interviewees. Some research has been done to address the needs of trans patrons, and the challenges facing librarians seeking to meet those needs, but they have largely been either locally focused (Beiriger & Jackson, 2007), broad and conceptual (Taylor, 2002), or anecdotal (Hill, 2007). These studies have also focused more on the information seeking needs of LGBTQIA patrons, and not on the information and professional development needs of library service providers. This study seeks to balance both areas of inquiry to provide a more nuanced and richly detailed examination of the intersection of these topics. As such, it is essential that we conduct detailed and sophisticated analysis of the data, and ensure that the information derived from both surveys is interrelated enough to inform the development of the desired informatics resources.

These surveys, along with sentiment analysis of the results of targeted focus groups and interviews, will be used to develop web and print resources for public service librarians in school, public, and university libraries. The website will include a white paper detailing the results of the surveys, infographics derived from the literature review and the survey data, and downloadable resources for use at library patron service desks. The survey instruments and complete data sets of survey results, and all infographics and other research products will be made public via the UNT Scholarly Works and Data Repositories in addition to the project website.

The print resources will include key information for patron service providers such as: appropriate terminology to use when discussing gender, the use of gender neutral language in patron transactions, and state and national resources available for transgender patrons including advocacy organizations, suicide hotlines, etc. The resources will be peer-reviewed by experts in transgender advocacy and library public service not affiliated with the project or the TLA. The print resources will be mailed free of charge to every public and academic library in the state of Texas (approximately 1,000 libraries, including branches of publics). Because of the potential for these materials to be perceived as sensitive, school libraries will have the option of requesting the print resource (again free of charge), or to download and print their own copies of the resource from the website. TLA list-serves will be used to disseminate information on the project and promote the resources to constituent libraries.

The resource will be launched at a panel at the 2016 Texas Library Association Conference in Houston titled “Transforming Services for Transgender Patrons” sponsored by the TLA GLBT, CULD, and Reference Roundtables. The panel will feature K. R. Roberto, a trans activist and co-editor of Radical Cataloguing; Kathleen Hobson, Director of UNT’s Pride Alliance; and Spencer Keralis and Julie Leuzinger of the UNT Libraries. Keralis and Leuzinger will present the results of the surveys and introduce the web and print resource to conference attendees.