In the interest of full disclosure, I am a librarian, so I am perhaps the teensiest bit biased when it comes to books about librarians. But hear me out – I’m a Librarian really is a fantastic board book, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.
In fact, the American Library Association’s GLBT Roundtable included I’m a Librarian on their most recent Rainbow List, which celebrates the best in LGBTQ+representation in books for young people (and which we mentioned briefly in our most recent Dog-Eared post).
So why is I’m a Librarian such a fantastic board book?
I’m a Librarian stars a male librarian, or a guybrarian, if you will. Librarianship is a heavily female dominated profession (entirely by intention – the father of modern librarianship, Melvil Dewey, knew that “the modern libraries he needed would require cheap, eager labor—and the generation’s few professional women, who were determined to prove themselves in a male-dominated world, were the perfect fit”. He was also a relentless sexual harasser who was ultimately forced out of the very organization he founded – the American Library Association. Sexual harassment in libraries has a long and deeply unsettling history. But I digress). Men wanting to enter this field have traditionally been looked at askance – why would a man want to do a woman’s job? Of course, as we all know, there’s no such thing as a man’s job or a woman’s job – some people are simply better suited to certain jobs, regardless of their gender identity. So it’s wonderfully refreshing to see a male librarian featured in a book for children.
I’m a Librarian also features a gay couple. Our guybrarian star has a male partner and a family of furry babies. It’s an entirely unprofessional response, I heartily admit to it, but the next time someone complains that gay marriage is too “mature” a topic to be included in books for young children I am going to throw a copy of I am a Librarian at them*. If you are comfortable showing a mummy and a daddy waking up fully clothed in bed beside each other (as countless picture books do, often with child protagonists jumping on their bed in the morning to wake them), you can handle a man and a man or a woman and a woman in a similar scenario. That’s all there is to it. Gay marriage is not a “mature” topic that needs to be handled “sensitively” when “children are ready”. It’s a simple reality of life for countless loving families in our communities, who deserve to be represented in their libraries.
The cherry on top is the deft way in which I’m a Librarian handles its diversity. The simple text makes no mention of its guybrarian’s gender or sexual identity. After all, the book isn’t about being gay or about being a man. It’s about being a librarian! It’s about helping people find information, and taking care of books, and reading stories, and being an important member of the community. The character’s sexual identity and gender are complete non-issues, as they should be – it’s simply accepted as fact that a gay male can be a librarian. This is the kind of “everyday diversity” that we so desperately need in our children’s books, particularly books for the very young. We need books that shatter gender norms and challenge heteronormative assumptions by presenting an entirely natural world in which differences are real and important and valuable, but aren’t seen as the entirety of a person’s identity. You can be a boy, and gay, and in a romantic (and potentially though not necessarily sexual) relationship and be a librarian, all at the same time.
The Tinyville series as a whole is pretty great in terms of gender diversity, featuring a female construction worker and a female police officer. I haven’t read the entire series, but I do wish there was more diversity in terms of cultural and physical diversity – how awesome would it be to showcase a mayor in a wheelchair, for example? There are a variety of skin tones, but they could still add some darker skin colours for greater representation. Still, as I said, I haven’t read the entire series, so there could be characters I haven’t met yet.
If you’re looking to increase the LGBTQ+ representation in your library, are building a “community helpers” collection, or just want to share a sweet board book with little readers, pick up I’m a Librarian today!
* Author’s Note: I probably won’t throw a copy of the book at them, simply because I love books too much, but I will likely bore them to tears with a lengthy and enthusiastic rant about LGBTQ+ representation in children’s literature and the importance of diverse library collections that embrace and celebrate all gender and sexual identities.