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Where there’s always a place at a table

'I'm Mrs. Lonely' photo (c) 2007, the Italian voice - license: those kids in Ohio, the choir room may be the softest place to land.  But for many others, even those who really can sing, the library is the sweet and soft spot.

When I read Suzie Day’s guest post, Being queer friendly in your library, in the GayYA blog last week, I was touched. (Suzie is a library student in Western Australia.)

Her post continues to resonate.  Suzie writes:

Not long ago, I asked a room full of about 30 queer youth, most in their early twenties, to raise their hand if they were bullied at school. Almost everyone did. I then asked those who had been bullied if they had taken refuge in their school library. About 75% of the room raised their hand.

For LGBTQ youth, school can be one of the most dangerous places to be, with 89% of queer youth in Australia reporting that they had been harassed on school grounds (Hillier, Turner, & Mitchell, 2007). For many of those affected by bullying, their library is a safe space, where there is a teacher always present, shelves where they can hide, and books they can escape into . . .

Libraries are in the unique position where we can give hope to some of society’s most at-risk youth. Little things, such as making sure you have a selection of LGBTQ-themed books in your library can go a long way for a closeted teenager, afraid to tell anyone his greatest secret .  . .

Your library is a safe place, where you will not be judged, based on the books you read . . .

Above all, you are welcome in your library.

Suzie got me thinking about those fuzzier functions we serve. The ones we don’t generally point to in our annual reports.  We have no metric to describe this impact.  But we are havens.  We are safe places.  We are soft spots to land for kids of all shapes and sizes.

I started remembering how many kids have found a home in our/their library over the years.  We host the Gay Straight Alliance, Students for Feminism, Book Club, Literary Magazine, the school newspaper, Interact, and a bunch of other student interest groups.

We host the popular, the happily adjusted.  We host the nerds.  And we also host the loners, some of whom discover the information they need, a caring adult, as well as each other in their library.

For some, the cafeteria is a scary place.  Many prefer to skip the drama of table choice.  The girl/boyfriend drama.  The drama of competition. And simply the drama of not fitting in.

For them, and for many others, library is a third place, the place between home and school/work.  (See Doug Johnson’s post from 2009.)

Library is a place where there is a table for everyone.  Where it is okay to sit alone with a book or a laptop or your thoughts.  We feed so many in so many ways. We smile.  We greet so many who enter our doors by name.

As a profession, I suspect we especially love those kiddos, and perhaps we make the greatest difference for, the kids who don’t have a table.

“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging, “When in doubt, go to the library. Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Doug Johnson says

    Thanks for writing this, Joyce. It’s too important a topic to be ignored. I have often wondered if some of the students who have created violent acts at school would have done so had they felt included in a social group – and if the library might have helped provide such groups.

    BTW, a heartfelt congratulations on your blogging award. Highly, highly deserved!

    Happy holidays to you and Dennis,


  2. Esther K Eash says

    Thank you, Joyce. This is the most articulate and focused piece I’ve seen on this topic.
    The welcoming environment we provide in our libraries IS vital to student growth. In this era of using metrics to report impact, effort, or growth, it’s important for each of us to share the less measurable, but equally necessary services we provide every day. If we haven’t already, we must make the welcoming aspect a top priority. And if we have already created welcoming spaces, we need to break from our normally quiet selves and begin touting the broad merits of school libraries–including these vital intangibles. We need to make sure that every student AND adult knows that the library is where there’s ALWAYS a place at the table.

    (Congratulations on the EduBlog award — well deserved!)

  3. Thank you, Doug and Esther. I wish we did have some kind of metric for this use of our space and our practice. Esther, after reading your comment I felt that way even more. We do watch students grow, in ways a little different from their classroom teachers. Our relationship with the learners has a longitudinal aspect. We can observe and nurture and guide for periods of four, five, six years. I wonder how many groups of young adults would respond in the way Suzie’s group of thirty did. Maybe we need to figure out a way to ask them more formally.


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