Standing Up to Bullies | Editorial

Libraries cannot second-guess patron motives or impose barriers based on subject matter. I suggest that the best response is to turn the letter of the law back on attempted saboteurs.

You take one? We’ll buy two

Meredith Schwartz head shotMalicious compliance, strictly obeying the letter of the law to be obstructive, is often a valuable tool for those with less power. Unfortunately, it’s not restricted to use by marginalized groups—it can also be used against them. Last month, the organization Catholic Vote launched a campaign called Hide the Pride, urging anti-LGBTQIA+ patrons to check out all queer materials they see in public libraries to prevent children from seeing those titles.

While patron privacy protections mean we won’t have much insight into how often this happens, we know it’s been done at least once, because Frederick County, MD, Board of Education candidate Heather Fletcher said she checked out all 20 titles from her library’s Pride display to protect her children’s “innocence.”

Of course, public libraries can’t limit collections or displays to only what some parents want their kids to see. One parent’s innocence-destroying spectacle is another’s existence-affirming celebration. Parents have the right to tell their own kids what to check out. They don’t have the right to stop other parents from choosing differently.

However, it’s tricky to effectively counter this tactic. Libraries cannot second-guess patron motives or impose barriers based on subject matter. Limiting large numbers of simultaneous checkouts might work, but it hurts circulation, and could make things harder for those with other reasons to check out many books at once: classroom teachers, researchers, large families, and voracious readers.

I suggest that the best response is to turn the letter of the law back on these attempted saboteurs. Libraries buy more copies of books that circulate well. Since these checkouts show that LGBTQIA+ titles are in demand, public libraries should buy more—ideally, as many more as needed to ensure one for every reader who wants it. If that’s not feasible, libraries could designate copies for in-library use only, or license electronic copies with unlimited checkouts. Publishers of targeted titles can help by offering such terms, as well as affordable print replacements.

According to NPD Group, such additional copies will be appreciated by readers: print sales for LGBTQIA+ kids’, YA, and adult fiction doubled from 2020 to 2021, and have gone up another 39 percent from 2021 to the end of May 2022.

In the short term this may result in more resources than anticipated being spent on this category. I think it’s worth it to defend the principle of the right to read. But if materials budgets are too strained to support a game of checkout chicken, I suspect queer rights and freedom of expression advocates would be happy to contribute to a fund for copies, administered through one of the many organizations leading this fight. And if too many copies come back and some need to be weeded, they could serve as book club picks, summer reading prizes, or stock for Little Free Libraries.

Sadly, Hide the Pride is not the only attempt to strong-arm libraries into abandoning their support for Pride and the queer community. In mid-June a group of Proud Boys disrupted Drag Queen storytime at the San Lorenzo branch of the Alameda County Library, harassing and threatening the performer in front of the children. The library’s and the performer’s response was to refuse to be stopped. They finished the storytime once law enforcement dealt with the intruders—and Alameda County Supervisor Dave Brown offered to sponsor a monthly Pride program at the library for the next year.

I am heartened by Director Cindy Chadwick’s call “to not back down or be intimidated by this…. We have to do so safely, and keep the safety of the staff and the public top of mind. But we can do that.”

It won’t be easy, and individual library workers and performers may need to prioritize their own safety by removing themselves from situations that cause them harm—see Lisa Peet’s report on Urban Librarians Unite’s findings on library workers’ trauma and the need for more robust supports in the workplace. But I believe it is possible to hold space for and support staff members and their boundaries around safety and well-being, while collectively holding the line on diverse programming and content.

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Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

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