Supporting Transgender Individuals in Libraries: Developing Responsive Policies

Author - Alejandro Marquez, M.L.S.
Instruction/Reference Librarian
Fort Lewis College
aemarquez at fortlewis dot edu
amarquez628 at gmail dot com

One of the American Library Association’s Core Values of Librarianship is diversity. The document states: “We value our nation's diversity and strive to reflect that diversity by providing a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve” (American Library Association). The library welcomes individuals from many different walks of life ethnic and racial backgrounds, young and old, and different sexual orientations. As members of society have gotten to know gay and lesbian individuals, one segment that people typically know little about is transgender individuals. A recent national survey of about 2,000 people by the Public Religion Research Institute found that thirty percent of Americans did not know how to define the term “transgender.”

Defining Terms

Librarians are no different than the general public even though there is a common perception that librarians are socially liberal. David Brooks, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, found that political donations by librarians in the 2004 election overwhelmingly skewed toward the Democratic party and "the ratio of Kerry to Bush donations was a whopping 223 to 1." In contrast, the corresponding ratio for those in higher education was 11 to 1. Generally speaking, there is an openness to the gay rights movement on the left side of the political spectrum.However, the gay rights movement is based on sexual orientation while the transgender rights movement is based on gender identity. Transgender individuals are frequently grouped with the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community as a sign of inclusion and solidarity in the equality movement. Likewise, there is a commitment and willingness from librarians to work with under-represented communities. That said, Cal Gough and Ellen Greenblatt point out “librarians must examine their own personal feelings, biases, and stereotypes and they must minimize them when working with patrons” (169).

The gender and sexuality spectrum has expanded in recent years from narrow and familiar designations into an alphabet soup of words and acronyms. Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Two Spirit, Asexual Androgynous (IQQ2AA) are only a few of the ways library patrons self-identify their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The American Psychological Association defines “transgender as an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.” Transgender may include crossdressers (transvestites), transsexuals, and others who do not fit into the traditional binary system of man/woman and male/female. “Sex” refers to biological sex (male/female) and “gender” to a range of physical, mental, and behavioral characteristics (masculine/feminine). Additionally, some individuals may not use the term transgender when referring to themselves as they believe the term does not match their life experience and personal values even though others may classify them under this definition. Transgender is meant to be an inclusive term to refer to individuals who have physically altered their bodies and those who have not. Conversely, “cisgender” refers to individuals whose gender identity matches their perceived gender--in other words, an individual who agrees with their assigned birth sex. Not all transgender individuals desire or have sexual reassignment surgery commonly referred to as a sex change. Conversely, they may decide to alter their physical appearance, body, legally changing their name and/or gender on official documents. Gary Gates of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates that there are about 700,000 transgender adults in the United States, or 0.3 percent of the population. Others estimate that this population may range from 3 million to as many as 9 million individuals (Olyslager and Conway). However, it is difficult to estimate this minority population due to there being no official reporting mechanisms. Population size varies greatly depending on the definition of transgender, and many choose not to self-identify for personal and safety reasons.

Approaches to Transgender Issues in Libraries

There is not a significant amount of library research about transgender individuals. Often, the information is anecdotal, and the transgender community often gets lumped into the broader Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) research category. Although the information presented within the articles is inclusive, transgender individuals face contexts outside of sexual orientation and gender that at times more narrowly defines the GLBT movement.

A major area of research focuses on library collections and the representation of transgender literary characters, mainly in children and young adult literature. Talya Sokoll, an information and systems librarian, looks at the representations of transgender youth in young adult literature and finds many characters “bend / break the rules of gender and blur the boundaries but who do not necessarily identify as transgender.” She finds that most core titles are not readily available within library holdings because they are not reviewed in mainstream publications, not present in the library collection nor accessible through ILL, and are mainly available through an author’s website.   Likewise, researchers in the field of school libraries investigated if young adults have access through school libraries to LGBTQ-themed literature. They found that the average number of LGBTQ-themed titles held by these school libraries was 0.4 percent while LGBTQ teens are estimated to make up 5.9 percent of the students in American high schools. There are not enough materials to meet the population size (Hughes-Hassell, Overberg, and Harris).

A current trend for researchers is investigating the barriers to access. Transgender individuals experience higher levels of violence, homelessness, depression, suicide, and substance abuse which might have an impact on their library use. Fiona Jardine, MLIS student from the University of Maryland, finds that ”it is essential that trans* [a more inclusive term for transgender] feel welcome to enter the library, that the right resources are available, and that they are able to find the information they are seeking.“ Her article offers practical ways these barriers can be eliminated so that transgender patrons can get the information and insights they want and need. Additionally, Susann Schaller advocates for more accessibility and promotion of services, while maintaining a patron’s strong desire for privacy and confidentiality for LGBTQ college students.

Providing Transgender-Friendly Bathrooms

In public spaces such as libraries, a lot of our interactions are directly influenced by the concepts of sex and gender. One area that is difficult for both cisgender and transgender individuals revolves around the bathroom issue. The bathroom remains to this day one of the last gender segregated spaces. The bathroom for many individuals brings up issues of privacy and safety. Many transgender individuals report a high rate of laughing and teasing leading up to physical assaults while using the bathroom due to their transgender status. A 2011 study from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that “people who identify as transgender were 28% more likely to experience physical violence than those who are gender normative” (19). Despite the concern of personal safety, “there have been gender identity protection laws covering public accommodations since the 1970s without any sort of increase in violence” (Lambda Legal). Many libraries provide "unisex" or "family" restrooms, primarily to benefit families with children and individuals with disabilities who might have an attendant. Providing these individual bathrooms is a creative solution as long as transgender individuals are not required to use them.

There have been many laws around the country that make this issue difficult to navigate. The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund states that “16 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of legal protections for transgender individuals” (Frosh). Opponents of legal protections such as Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council believe that “no government should be so irresponsible as to deliberately compromise its citizenry's safety and wellbeing in order to appease minority demands based on personal sexual preferences.” They believe that these “bathroom bills” are a form of sexual deception and present safety issues. That being said, courts around the country have often ruled that discrimination against transgender individuals is akin to sex discrimination.

Libraries, like many public institutions such as schools, walk a fine line between public accommodation and potentially discriminatory practices. In school settings, research has shown that enumerated laws and policies provide greater protections across the board (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network). The Supreme Court of the United States noted in Romer v. Evans that “enumeration is the essential device used to make the duty not to discriminate concrete and to provide guidance for those who must comply.” In 2013, Coy Mathis, a six year old who was born biologically male, was told that she could no longer use the girls’ bathroom but could instead use a gender-neutral restroom in her school. Her family filed a complaint that tested Colorado’s anti-discrimination law (Frosh). She ultimately won her complaint. On April 29, 2014, the Office for Civil Rights of the U. S. Department of Education announced that schools have legal obligation to protect transgender students from discrimination under Title IX.

All individuals regardless of their gender status have the right to use the bathroom, and a public policy helps to insure that right. A first step is adding gender identity/expression to the common anti-discrimination policy statement found in many libraries across the nation. A sample nondiscrimation policy from The Gay & Lesbian Fund of Colorado offers a more detailed statement:

   This policy states [Organization Name]’s position on discrimination. This policy applies to all [Organization Name] employees, volunteers, members, clients, and contractors.

   [Organization Name] follows an equal opportunity employment policy and employs personnel without regard to race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, height, weight, disability status, veteran status, military obligations, and marital status.

   This policy also applies to internal promotions, training, opportunities for advancement, terminations, outside vendors, members and customers, service clients, use of contractors and consultants, and dealings with the general public.

Beyond Bathrooms

Another way to raise awareness is to require or strongly encourage staff members to attend a training on transgender issues. These awareness building sessions help dispel common myths and stereotypes. They help make staff aware of all the patrons they serve. Additionally, libraries should use inclusive language in their promotional literature by replacing man and/or woman with gender neutral language such customer, client, or patron. Similarly, this literature should use gender neutral pronouns such as they and their.

Patrons asked to fill out paperwork that have the designations of Mr. or Mrs. may feel disregarded and with no means to self-identify as they see fit. This designation of gender may force individuals to reveal their gender identity and possibly subject them to further discrimination. Moreover, an individual’s name/appearance/perceived gender may not correspond to their legal photo ID. Inclusive library policies and procedures are important to individuals navigating this personal and legal issue.

Lastly, libraries can create programming that addresses the needs of the transgender community. They can partner with a local organizations to bring a transgender speaker into the library. Additionally, they can allow and promote the use the meeting rooms to local community organizations.

Being an ally means to be joined with another for a common purpose. Libraries can be hospitable to transgendered individuals by providing appropriate bathroom facilities and creating inclusive policies to better serve them. Policy statements provide expectations and guidelines of behavior that are acceptable from both patrons and staff. Such policies are supportive of their institutions’ mission of diversity and serving the community. Improved policies will improve the community’s experience, and having staff members who understand their patrons’ concerns will make the patrons feel like they matter. At its most basic level, being an ally means developing an understanding of the issues surrounding the transgender community. An ally should expect to make mistakes but does not give up on creating an open and supportive environment. Finally, an ally takes action when appropriate. The adoption of policies is not a brief process. Rather it is a reminder that library professionals should make a constant commitment to the ALA’s core values of diversity and of making libraries more hospitable to all patrons.

Works Cited

American Library Association. Core Values of Librarianship. ALA, 2004. Web. 15 June 2014.

American Psychological Association. What does Transgender Mean? APA, 2014. Web. 15 June 2014.

Brooks, David. "Ruling Class War." The New York Times 11 Sept. 2004. Web. 15 June 2014.

Frosh, Dan. “Dispute on Transgender Rights Unfolds at a Colorado School.” The NewYork Times, 17 March 2013. Web. 15 June 2014.

Gates, Gary J. How Many People are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender? Williams Institute, 2011. Web 15 June 2014.

Gay & Lesbian Fund of Colorado. Nondiscrimination Policy Requirements and Sample. Gill Foundation, 2014. Web. 15 June 2014.

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. Enumeration. GLSEN. Web. 15 June 2014.

Gough, Cal and Ellen Greenblatt. “Barriers to Selecting Materials about Sexual and Gender Diversity.” Serving LGBTIQ Library and Archives Users :Essays on Outreach, Service, Collections and Access. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011, 165-173. Print.

Hughes-Hassell, Sandra, Elizabeth Overberg, and Shannon Harris. "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, And Questioning (LGBTQ)-Themed Literature For Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections?." School Library Research 16 (2013): 1-18. Print.

Jardine, Fiona "Inclusive Information For Trans* Persons." Public Library Quarterly 32.3 (2013): 240-262. Print.

Lambda Legal. FAQ About Restrooms & What to Do If You’re Hassled. Web. 15 June 2014.

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV - affected Communities In the United States in 2011. NCVAP, 2012.  Web. 15 June 2014.

Olyslager, Femke and Lynn Conway. “On the Calculation of the Prevalence of Transsexualism.” WPATH 20th International Symposium, September 5-8, 2007. Chicago, Illinois. Web.

Public Religion Research Institute. Strong Majorities of Americans Favor Rights and Legal Protections for Transgender People. PRBI, 2011. Web. 15 June 2014.

Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996). Web. 15 June 2014.

Schaller, Susann. "Information Needs Of LGBTQ College Students." Libri: International Journal Of Libraries & Information Services 61.2 (2011): 100-115. Print.

Sokoll, Talya. "Representations Of Trans* Youth In Young Adult Literature: A Report And A Suggestion." Young Adult Library Services 11.4 (2013): 23-26. Print.

Sprigg, Peter. "Gender Identity" Protections ("Bathroom Bills"). Family Research Council, 2014. Web. 15 June 2014.

United States. Dept. of Education. Office of Civil Rights. Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence. April 2014. Web. 15 June 2014.

Marketing Your Library’s Brand on a Shoestring Budget

Author: Bethany Messersmith
MLS/MA Journalism
Information Literacy Librarian/College Liaison
Southwest Baptist University Libraries
bmessersmith @ sbuniv dot edu

Television is fraught with advertising promoting one trademarked brand or another - from insurance commercials by Progressive, GEICO, and State Farm to food commercials for ACTIVIA, Ocean Spray, and Jimmy Dean. These companies spend exorbitant amounts of money annually, in an effort to deliver a brand that is familiar to consumers and instills confidence in purchasing a time-tested product. According to an online survey of academic libraries on outreach efforts a few years ago, survey data revealed that the size of one’s academic library does not necessarily dictate the budget available for outreach (Carter & Seaman 167). Although many libraries do not have the financial means to engage in branding efforts comparable to the for-profit sector, most can capitalize on readily available resources to develop and market a brand that resonates with library users.

In 2012, librarians and staff at Southwest Baptist University Libraries undertook efforts to develop a more consistent brand; this was an initiative inspired by focus group sessions with students during the spring semester. When asked how the University Libraries might serve its primary users better, students indicated that they wanted a multipurpose facility and a collection that met their academic and personal interests. It quickly became apparent that while students were able to identify with the libraries’ current brand, further cultivation was crucial. Without any funds designated to accomplish these strategic initiatives during the 2011-2012 fiscal year, a newly formed library marketing committee looked for opportunities to develop strategic partnerships across campus to enhance students’ brand experience going forward.

There is some ambiguity as to what is meant by the term brand today in comparison to how it has been defined in the past. In his book A New Brand World: 8 Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the 21st Century, Scott Bedbury argues that The Random House English Dictionary’s definition of a brand as something tangible, such as a word or image that can be trademarked is not entirely consistent with all that it embodies in the twenty-first century. He writes that while brands embrace some physical qualities manifested by “products, places, and people,” they possess many intangible qualities (11-14). In B2B Brand Management, Philip Kotler and Waldemar Pfoertsch concur with the notion of a brand possessing certain intangible attributes. They write that it is “the totality of perceptions – everything you see, hear, read, know, feel, think, etc. – about a product, service, or business,” maintaining that brands “hold a distinctive position in customer’s [sic] minds based on past experiences, associations and future expectations” (Kotler & Pfoertsch 5).

The first part of the branding remodel at Southwest Baptist University Libraries involved the creation of a new logo. Without any funding for this initiative, the libraries’ marketing committee recruited the assistance of students enrolled in a graphic design class on campus. Students were tasked with developing a logo that they felt best embodied the University Libraries. Upon reviewing the first batch of designs, the committee quickly discovered that many of the logos that were created revolved around books, indicating that students still view libraries as repositories. As a result, a book logo was selected and modified to convey a sense of energy and movement consistent with that of a twenty-first century library.

Due to budgetary concerns, quite a few libraries develop logos in-house or solicit the skill sets of art students enrolled at a local university. In 2009, the New York Public Library decided to design its new logo in-house, so as not to spend taxpayer dollars on the project (Armin Vit). Last year “The San Diego Public Library staff collaborated with San Diego State art students to create a new logo for the library” (“Art Students Design New Public Library Logo”). During the spring 2014 semester, Central Connecticut State University’s Elihu Burritt Library invited all students enrolled at the university to submit potential logo designs, offering a Kindle Fire and a certificate to the artist whose logo design was selected (“Library Logo Contest”).

The second part of the branding phase at Southwest Baptist University Libraries involved the development of logo-consistent advertising. With a new logo in hand, the University Libraries set aside a modest sum of money for the development of two new t-shirt lines in 2013. The first was a polo t-shirt for library faculty and staff, while the second was a t-shirt designed specifically for student giveaways.

1-Student T-Shirt Line

A partnership with the University’s Art Department was forged during the Fall 2013 semester, with the recruitment of an unpaid graphic design intern who agreed to develop advertising for the University Libraries in exchange for the experience. The intern created logo-consistent advertising for student-preferred communication mediums, such as Facebook, posters, website stories, campus monitors, etc. Although the current intern did not develop the libraries’ logo, in a recent e-mail interview she wrote that including it on all advertising mediums “provides more credibility because it gives a more professional feel to the advertising to have each piece branded with the Library logo” (Graphic Design Intern). The intern’s skill sets have made it possible for the University Libraries to do a better job of marketing its brand more uniformly and appealing to library users in the 17 to 20-something age bracket.

2-Logo-Consistent Advertising (2) 4-Logo-Consistent Advertising

A third component of the branding phase, involved the promotion of the library as place. In addition to fostering a quiet study environment, the marketing committee began initiating conversations with staff and students in Student Activities, encouraging them to financially sponsor events in the library. During the spring 2013 semester, Student Activities approached the University Libraries again about hosting finals week festivities—offering to sponsor free popcorn, coffee, and cookies daily, bringing in food from Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A on select evenings. The partnership with Student Activities was a huge success, with foot traffic increasing most significantly from May 2012 to May 2013 (see table 1 below). A comparison between the spring 2012 and fall 2013 semesters still saw a percentage increase in traffic, largely due to the food available to students and a pet therapy event that the University Libraries sponsored.

Semester Comparisons Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
May 2012 vs. May 2013 Foot Traffic % Increase 139% 180% 33% 27% 37%
May 2012 vs. Dec. 2013 Foot Traffic % Increase 2.37% 56% 105% 17% 40%
Foot Traffic at Southwest Baptist University Libraries, table 1.

Finals week activities are becoming increasingly popular at many academic libraries. While many do not share the same tangible logo, they embrace certain intangible brand characteristics, such as diverse study spaces that foster learning. Students inevitably show up in greater numbers at their academic library towards the end of the semester to complete final projects and prepare for final exams, so this is a great way to embrace strong brand characteristics and heighten the student experience simultaneously. The Cushwa-Leighton Library at St. Mary’s College partnered with a massage therapist to offer students massages, while Campus Services sponsored refreshments over finals week (Karle 143). At Cornerstone University’s Miller Library, library staff collaborated with campus and community players to offer a special night of extended hours a few weeks before finals. The staff solicited beverage donations from a coffee shop and Pepsi. Additionally, the staff rounded up gift certificates from businesses in the area that were willing to sponsor giveaways for the evening (Van Den Broek 576-577). This year the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Memorial Library obtained coffee donations “courtesy of Einstein Bros., Espresso Royale, and Starbucks” (“Finals Week Extended Hours and Activities”).

Libraries naturally conjure up images in people’s minds of books, something that the art students at Southwest Baptist University pointed out to library faculty and staff early on in the logo redesign phase. Capitalizing on this perception/thought process, Southwest Baptist University Libraries utilized this natural brand element, marketing it more heavily. A fourth component of the branding process necessitated a monthly schedule of book displays on socially and academically current topics to increase students’ awareness of current holdings. In addition to scheduling monthly book displays, a running feed of new books to the collection was added to the University Libraries’ website. Over the past two years, book displays have led to a greater circulation of the collection. Students and faculty constantly stop to browse featured titles, making suggestions periodically as to additional titles that would enhance current holdings.

3-bestseller display v2

Southwest Baptist University Libraries embraced student-driven initiatives without a dime for marketing initially, because the committee looked for practical ways to build and better market its brand. While money unfortunately does not grow on trees, librarians are innovators and problem-solvers, naturally adept at forming partnerships and tapping resources on their campuses. Developing a brand is often viewed as an abstract concept that is perceived as out-of-reach due to funds, but with a vision and community support, anything is possible.

Works Cited

Armin Vit. “An Iconic Lion for an Iconic Institution.” BRAND NEW. Under Consideration, 16 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 May 2014.

“Art Students Design New Public Library Logo.” The Daily Aztec. San Diego State University, 13 May 2013. Web. 15 May 2014.

Bedbury, Scott. A New Brand World: 8 Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the 21st Century. New York: Penguin, 2002. Print.

Carter, Toni M., and Priscilla Seaman. “The Management and Support of Outreach in Academic Libraries.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 51.2 (2011): 73-81. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 May 2014.

“Finals Week Extended Hours and Activities.” University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 9 May 2014. Web. 15 May 2014.

Graphic Design Intern. “Re: Questions For an Article I’m Writing.” Message to the author. 6 May 2014. E-mail.

Karle, Elizabeth M. “Invigorating the Academic Library Experience: Creative Programming Ideas.” College & Research Libraries News 69.3 (2008): 141-144. Education Source. Web. 12 May 2014.

Kotler, Philip., & Pfoertsch, Waldemar. B2B Brand Management. Berlin: Springer, 2006. Print. “Library Logo Contest.” Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University, n.d. Web. 15 May 2014.

Van Den Broek, Rachel. “Late Night at Miller Library: A Success Story.” College & Research Libraries News 65.10 (2004): 576-577. Education Source. Web. 12 May 2014.