Libraries Northern Ireland defends stocking LGBTQ+ children's books following complaints

Libraries NI responded to complaints about LGBTQ+ children books, saying its catalogue needs to reflect “the diversity of the population”.

This article is about libraries in Northern Ireland. In the photo, some LGBTQ+ books on a table, including one titled
Image: Via Shutterstock - Morumotto

Chief Executive of Libraries NI (Northern Ireland) Jim O’Hagan and the chairperson of the Library Board Bonnie Anley have released a statement to defend the presence of LGBTQ+ children’s books in their catalogue. In the statement, they argued that libraries should “meet the needs of the entire community” and the material on offer must reflect “the diversity of the population”.

As reported by the Belfast Telegraph, the statement comes after Communities Minister Gordon Lyons requested a meeting with the Libraries NI chiefs to discuss the children’s books dealing with LGBTQ+ and trans themes available in their library branches. The issue arose after the presence of certain titles was brought to the DUP Minister’s attention by Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister.

The books in question feature characters exploring gender identity and expression, including one in which a child is told by his mother that boys should not wear dresses, and another where teddy bears change their gender.

Minister Lyons said that having these books as part of the catalogue was “concerning”, adding that “parents should not need to worry” about whether the titles their kids can find in the libraries are age appropriate or not.

To this, O’Hagan and Anley responded: “Libraries NI is required to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for persons living, working or studying in Northern Ireland and in doing so provides a range of library materials and resources reflecting the diversity of the population and library customers.

“The approach to book selection taken by Libraries NI is outlined in its Stock Policy,” the statement continued.

“The policy states that Libraries NI provides access to a wide range of quality resources to meet the needs of the entire community. This requires Libraries NI to provide books for a wide range of subject matters and across multiple formats.”

After it was released, Mr Allister called on Minister Lyons to investigate further, saying that parents should be able to “leave young children to make choices of books without fear of them being exposed to the trans agenda.”

Allister continued saying that he had been shocked to find that “thousands of pounds has been spent on books promoting the trans agenda, with toddlers no less”.

Responding to these comments, Sinn Fein MLA Colm Gildernew accused the TUV leader of “an unwarranted and disgraceful attack on an entire section of our children”.

A senior social services source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Belfast Telegraph that library officials must not censor books and exclude entire sections of the community. Moreover, they added that, for the most part, parents choose books for their children when using library services.

Gender Born, Gender Made author Diane Ehrensaft also commented, saying: “In a society that pushes you to conform to heteronormativity, there are kids who express their gender fluidity as young as three years old. (My book) offers parents guidance, support and a framework to follow when supporting their child.”

Attacks on LGBTQ+ books for children in libraries have increased in the last few years in Ireland. Since March 2022, there have been numerous reports of far-right protesters attempting to enter libraries and bookstores across the country and have LGBTQ+ books removed from their catalogues, with staff members subjected to intimidation, harassment and verbal abuse.

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