In recent months, there have been a concerning amount of reports of far-right groups entering public libraries in Ireland and objecting to youth having access to LGBTQ+ books. Library workers have been subjected to intimidation, attacks, slurs, and videos of them being recorded without their consent.
Most recently, on July 13, anti-LGBTQ+ protesters barged into a Kerry library during drag storytime event, aggressively pushed a person out of their way, and shouted that it was “immoral to read filth to children”. In another episode that took place at Swords Library in Dublin 11, witnesses said that the organising groups were escorted into the library by Gardaí.
Cork hosted a solidarity march last week, and many libraries have issued protocols for dealing with protestors, but there is also probable cause to believe that some libraries are implementing new policies in the wake of these attacks which make young adults ineligible to access LGBTQ+ YA books in some branches.
GCN conducted a library catalogue search for children’s and YA LGBTQ+ themed books in Ireland and found that several titles written for young adult audiences have been re-classified as ‘Adult’ content. This means that even with the proper permissions, young adults cannot access certain LGBTQ+ books tailored for their age group because they have been labelled as 18+.
One of the books that has been subjected to this re-classification is This Book is Gay written by trans author and advocate Juno Dawson. It has received an enormous amount of attention recently because of anti-LGBTQ+ groups who object to the availability of this title and others.
The book talks about sex in an age-appropriate way, and in a message addressing her readers, Dawson emphasises that she wrote the book to fill the gaps that were lacking in her own sex education, especially about LGBTQ+ identities.
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While This Book is Gay is a young adult text written for young adult audiences, it is now classified as an ‘Adult’ text at several locations across Ireland.
At the time of writing, after searching all Ireland libraries that currently have This Book is Gay, 176 library branches classify it as a Young Adult text compared to 125 that classify it as an adult text. It’s worth noting that only 10 of the Adult books are currently on loan, compared to 50+ of those listed as Young Adult.
We spoke with press offices and library staff members about the collection discrepancies. While some libraries, including the Mayo branches, acknowledged and corrected the error after we reached out, Kildare County Libraries explained that the decision to classify LGBTQ+ young adult library books as 18+ was made based on the Healthy Ireland book lists.
Healthy Ireland is a book collection which includes books with wellness topics “specially evaluated nationally to provide individuals and families with reliable, accessible information to manage their general health and wellbeing.”
The Kildare Press Office told us, “All books included on the Healthy Ireland [list]…are catalogued as adult non-fiction and shelved together in Kildare Libraries under the Healthy Ireland branding.” However, the official Healthy Ireland website specifies that its collection includes books for children and young adults, and over 70 libraries list the book as Young Adult within the Healthy Ireland collection.
In this screenshot from the Healthy Ireland list, a whole section of books are clearly categorised as “Young Adult,” including This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson.
The Kildare Naas branch has This Book is Gay listed as Adult Non-Fiction in the Healthy Ireland category, while The Teenage Guide to Life Online, which also appears in the Healthy Ireland collection, is listed as Young Adult:
When asked for clarification about the discrepancy, the Kildare office noted that “…It is possible that a few copies of these titles on the Healthy Ireland list could have been missed at the cataloguing stage and were catalogued as Young Adult through human error.”
In addition to these re-classification efforts, GCN spoke exclusively with a library staff member about a new policy that limits what content teens can access. Our source explained how the procedure impacts teens who wish to check out books in their age category, how these new procedures are being implemented, and what impact they are having on the staff. Here’s what we learned.
Libraries in Ireland classify books using the following age categories:
- 0-11, child
- 12-14, young adult
- 15-17, young adult
- 18+, adult
Our source says that earlier this year, library staff were issued with a new order requiring staff to obtain, “…written consent from parents before we allow young readers to advance to the Young Adult 12-14 years or the Young Adult 15-17 years borrowing categories when they reach the appropriate birthdays.”
Historically, the library borrowing system updated cards when children aged into these categories, but the newly issued procedure requires parental consent for each age change. This prevents teenagers aged 13-17 from checking out any books written for audiences over 12 without signed parental consent.
In other words, if a 17-year-old registers for their first library card, they will only be eligible to check out books from the children’s section (age 0-11) unless they have signed parental consent to check out books in the young adult categories (12-17).
The library staff member we spoke with said, “Previously if say a 17-year-old joined for the first time they would be issued with 15-17 card. Now we’re being told to issue them a 0-11 borrowing card unless a parent gives signed consent for the appropriate card to be issued.”
Our source clarified that the Library Press Office is describing this policy as if it was already in place, but they insist that previously, the child’s date of birth was saved in the system, and staff would simply issue them a new borrowing card and privileges when they turned 12 or 15. They also shared that the policy is described as a “new procedure” in the official announcement.
Even with parental consent, with the updated categorisation as mentioned above, young adult readers are not eligible to check out some YA LGBTQ+ texts from their local libraries.
Our source shared that roughly one year ago, the library staff received training about how to provide young LGBTQ+ people with information and support. Now, this staff member feels that the library policy is restricting the same supportive material.
Another anonymous source from a different library branch had this to say about the re-classification of young adult books as adult: “It is utterly galling that some Irish libraries have decided to capitulate to what amounts to terror tactics, and in a way that creates a hostile working environment to all LGBT staff who now have to work under these conditions, and are told they are not allowed to talk about it.”
While some libraries are restricting access to queer books, many branches in Ireland continue to stand up against intimidation efforts. Cork Library, for example, has vowed to keep LGBTQ+ books on its shelves despite pressure from local protestors.
The first batches of replacement books for the libraries of Ireland. LOADS more on the way. Any I have left will be donated to LGBTQ+ support organisations.
#transisbeautifull #TransRights #transrightsreadathon pic.twitter.com/7W4SBkfWIQ
— zOz 🏳️⚧️ (@zozimus) April 8, 2023
Peter James Nugent, Drogheda LGBTQI Support Manager, said, “Libraries are a vital resource, they are warm and welcoming places for all members of the community to meet and share in activities and benefit from resources such as books and computers. Most importantly, a library is a free space in a town where everyone is invited to engage with culture and literature.
“It is deeply concerning that there is an attempt by certain fringe groups to hijack these community spaces for their agendas of division. Libraries are safe spaces for children and adults, and protests which alienate LGBTQ+ members of our community should be condemned in the strongest terms.
“We stand in absolute solidarity with all our community, and resist an attempt by a small group to sow seeds of chaos and undermine the safety and inclusivity of our libraries. We are confident these views are not shared by the people of Drogheda and that our library will remain the inclusive space of learning and culture it always has been.”
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