Librarians are among my favorite people, so I’m delighted that I will be surrounded by them at the American Library Association’s annual conference this weekend, June 24—26, in Orlando, Florida.
My primary reason for attending ALA this year is to participate in Finding Yourself on the Shelves: Diversity in Ethnicity and Language For Your Teens on Saturday at 1 p.m. (OCCC, W205). Jen Schureman, a YA librarian in Gloucester County, N.J., will moderate the discussion with me and fellow panelists, fab writers Shveta Thakrar, Lamar Giles, Cindy Pon, Ellen Oh, and Meg Medina.
Like many people, Orlando has been in my thoughts and prayers a lot in the last two weeks. I was shocked by Christina Grimmie’s death, and horrified by the alligator attack that took the life of 2-year-old Lane Graves. But most of all, I have been preoccupied by the June 12 massacre at Pulse, and the names and faces of the 49 people who died. I’ve been thinking about what we must do to stop these horrible mass murders from happening over and over again — what I can do. And I realized that this panel is one, small way to help.
Today, it’s more vital than ever that we have diversity in media. Knowing, understanding, accepting, and loving those who live or love or worship or believe differently from, well, white, able-bodied, heterosexual men, will hopefully lead to fewer hate crimes like the Pulse nightclub shooting. This is oversimplifying a huge issue, but until we can prevent any random person from purchasing an assault weapon on a whim, education and empathy are all we have to fight back with.
It’s important for kids to see themselves represented in books, no matter what their backgrounds or circumstances. But kids also should be exposed to stories about those who aren’t exactly like them, so they can learn to see them as people first. Children and young adults who grow up knowing that everyone is a human being, no less worthy of life than they are, don’t typically buy guns with the intent of slaughtering dozens of innocent strangers.
We need more voices writing those books, more publishers printing them, and more libraries and schools making them available to young readers. And we need librarians to continue to help lead that change, because in many ways, they’re the front lines.
In recent years, libraries have served as an anchor for communities during times of social strife. In Ferguson, in Baltimore, libraries stayed open when the rest of the social network shut down — creating a safe space for young people and their communities to gather and discuss race and social justice, as well as comfort and connect with others. And now, in Orlando, the Orange County Library System and other local libraries have opened their doors and offered resources to help their community grieve, share information, and support each other. ALA is also planning a memorial and other activities at the conference.
All I have as a writer to make my mark on the world, to maybe help change it for the better, are my words. And I’m going to do my best to fill the world with positive, hopeful messages and stories that represent everyone who lives in it, and show life both as it is and as it should be.
Thank you, librarians, for sharing those stories and for all you do to help us feel safer and understand the world and make the future a little brighter. I look forward to seeing you and supporting your efforts this weekend.
Orlando Public Library
Ferguson Municipal Public Library
Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library