Week Eight Readings

Many versus Few

Serving the public is always a balancing act, and it’s easy to get caught up serving the largest populations – or even the mythical average.  However, often those that don’t quite fit into the norm sometimes need extra attention, and that it’s in everyone’s bests interests that they get it.  Even more, when the topic is maintaining a library collection for tweens, it’s not always a question of competing needs, and I think this is the most important thing to remember.

When author Laurie Halse Anderson talks about the letters she has received from countless tween and teen readers about the impact her book, Speak, has had on their lives, she often makes a point to clarify that it’s not just girls who have been sexually assaulted that identify with Melinda; she talks about getting letters from boys that were raped as well, girls that have reasons other than Melinda’s for cutting, and even high school football players that are battling with depression.  Melinda speaks to all of them.

If you were to take everyone that fits the definition of “girls who were assaulted at an end of the year party by their crush” then you would certainly be left with outliers.  But if you expand that to include all the kinds of people that might potentially be helped by hearing Melinda’s story, then you are no longer talking about outliers.

Life is Not Multiple Choice

Spectrum and rainbows have been the emblems of gay pride and rights for several decades now, and while it’s mainly meant to symbolize that variety is beautiful, it can also be seen as a reference to Kinsey’s scale, in which sexuality is not a few check boxes, but a gradient of desires.

We like to sort people into groups because it makes them manageable, but of course the truth is much more complex and nuanced than our boxes could ever be.  As the fluidity of the tweens sexual identity in the Times article illustrates, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning or not always clear or exclusive categories.  Even when outliers clearly exist – such as tween runaways – there is still definitely an overlap between their situation and that of many other tweens whose families are homeless, whose homes are unsafe, who are often shifted from one guardian to another, who – well, you get the idea.

Outlier versus Other

If, instead of only talking about fictional Melinda or the real life Autumn, we decide that we want to talk about “kids whose families are experiencing economic hardship” or “kids who were sexually assaulted in some way” we are actually, depressingly, talking about large sections of the general population.  We could even be talking about the majority of the tweens our library serves, depending on the topic and the demographics of our area.

Even if we are only talking about a small – or even non-existent – segment of our service population, it’s imperative that we do talk about people that are different from us.  Or, rather, that we listen to what people who are not like us have to say as well.  This is the foundation of a healthy democracy.

I think many times when we talk about outliers we are actually, as Sara Ryan points out in What a Girl Wants #7, talking about The Other.  But The Other isn’t always a mathematical minority, and they certainly not always an outlier.  The Other is something constructed to divide the world into Us and Them, and libraries are not meant to serve Us or Them, they are meant to serve everyone.

One Last Note

We were asked to talk about gender and how boys were portrayed in the articles; the two things that I noticed most were that boys were rarely shown as vulnerable, and they were more often shown as threatening.  It think the former is the cause of much of the latter, as our inability to see or acknowledge boys’ vulnerability often gives them few options for how to survive – and one of the easiest options available to them in the short term is violence.

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