The ERC Belongs to You and Me

by Cherise T.

On your next journey to the Central Branch, promise you will climb to the top floor and venture beyond the computers to the Equity Resource Center, established in 2021. The ERC is a place for community events and a treasure trove of classic and cutting-edge books, audiobooks, movies, television series, and music. A collection of materials you’ve always wanted to read, watch, and discuss. 

Book shelves at the Equity Resource Center, with art to borrow resting on top. Photo also shows swirled-patterned carpet and wood.

Recently, I had the opportunity to shift the positioning of ERC materials. I was up to my elbows and down on my knees handling the books, CDs, and DVDs. This is a librarian’s paradise, being among new copies of books I’ve read and can barely wait to read. I wanted to open almost every book and peruse the first pages. This was a physical task, however; the goal was moving and organizing, not intellectualizing. Just as when I’m shelving materials or directing a customer to a topic area, my job at that moment is not to indulge my interests but to engage others’ curiosity. It’s rough, though, staying focused in the ERC when I’m surrounded by all the intriguing titles, many that have been past favorites, shelves of those that I’ve heard others rave about, and new publications that I’m excited to discover. 

Honestly, I’m continually surprised by the ERC. The diversity of voices and perspectives in the works seems impossible. While the classic titles attest to the reality that marginalized communities with strong voices have always existed, the scope and depth of contemporary publications feels like hope. Publishers are expanding their willingness to broadcast unique perspectives, and exploring these materials in one place collapses time, as if we have always been privileged to share in each other’s experiences and dreams. 

Undesign the Redline

The ERC fills me with gratitude. I am thankful to be alive at a time when I can work and live in a place where the library system offers such wonders to all who choose to enter the doors. I am thankful when I realize how many of the DVDs are multi-award-winning, popular films and that so many of the books are past and current best sellers. These works offer engagement, information, and entertainment to those whose experiences are worlds apart from the authors’. They provide a shared experience for those who want to feel they are not alone. The creators of these artistic riches are of different races and classes. They come from many countries, practice a spectrum of religions, view the world from differently-abled perspectives, and live with distinctive gender identity and sexual orientation. The materials challenge stereotypes, open our minds, provoke strong opinions. 

Visual characteristics that are plain for all to see do not define who we are or how we should be treated. We wouldn’t want to, nor should we have to, wear signs identifying the people we are or are not. No person or artist owes us their story. Nevertheless, history and narrative have been abundantly gifted to us in the ERC, presenting opportunities to read, watch, listen, and learn. The fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, exist to be soaked up, broaden world views, and spread inclusive perspectives. 

Times may seem grim with two steps back for every one step forward. Sometimes I despair for the health of our children, our planet, and our marginalized communities. The ERC, though, attests to the fact that despite the pain in the world, forward strides have been accomplished. The sanctuary of the ERC may be in the back of the top floor of the Central Branch, but it is not distant. It is accessible and evolving as we speak.  

Welcome to the library, the community gathering place you know, and the oasis of ideas and opportunities beyond what you’ve imagined. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

Informed Citizens are Engaged Voters

A green background that says, Because informed citizens are engaged voters." From the American Library

by Christie L.

The most important right we have as Americans is the right to vote. From the Howard County Board of Elections to the U.S. Congress, you have a voice. Everyone can vote for some of the local races, such as Board of Education. But with so many choices on the ballot, where to begin? 

For Federal seats, step away from the echo chambers of social media and check the facts at FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocate for voters that helps to, “monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.” You can also visit Politifact, a fact-checking website with a rigorous and transparent process used to scrutinize claims independently by political officials, candidates, campaigns, and media. 

For state races, visit Vote411.org for a personalized ballot based on your address. Click a candidate icon to find more information about the candidate. To weigh two candidates, click the “compare” button. 

For Howard County races, use the resources from the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. Read the 2022 Primary Voters Guide and/or watch the Primary Candidates Forum.  

County Executive: Fast forward to 2 minutes, 50 seconds. 

Howard County Council: 

  • District 1: Fast forward to 20 minutes 
  • District 2: No attendees 
  • District 3: Fast forward to 34 minutes 
  • District 4: Fast forward to 40 minutes 
  • District 5: Fast forward to 59 minutes 

State’s Attorney: Fast forward to 1 hour, 5 minutes 

Clerk of Circuit Court: Fast forward to 1 hour, 11 minutes 

Register of Wills: Fast forward to 1 hour, 14 minutes 

Sheriff: Fast forward to 1 hour, 17 minutes 

Judge of Orphan’s Court: Fast forward to 1 hour, 23 minutes 

Board of Education: Fast forward to 1 hour, 36 minutes 

MD House of Delegates: 

  • District 13: Fast forward to 2 hours, 20 minutes 
  • District 12A: Fast forward to 2 hours, 57 minutes 
  • District 9B: Fast forward to 3 hours 
  • District 9A: Fast forward to 3 hours, 8 minutes 

MD Senate: 

  • District 13: No attendees 
  • District 12: Fast forward to 3 hours, 37 minutes 
  • District 9: Fast forward to 3 hours, 52 minutes 

Judge of Circuit Court: Fast forward to 3 hours, 56 minutes 

Now that you’re ready to cast your vote, visit the State Board of Elections or Howard County Board of Elections to find your polling place and get answers to frequently asked questions. Or, enter the address where you are registered to vote to find your polling place: https://gettothepolls.com 

Polls are open from 7 am to 8 pm on Tuesday, July 19.

And once you vote, learn more about voting history with this curated list of books and films in our collection.  

Whether you vote by mail, by drop box, or in person, educate yourself about the candidates and issues and VOTE!  

Christie Lassen is the Director of Communication and Partnerships for Howard County Library System. She loves walking through the network of pathways in Columbia, sitting on the beach, and cheering for the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Aggies football team.

I always thought the ‘90’s were cool 

The cover shows a handheld landline phone with a beige stretchy spiral cord; since the casing is clear plastic, all the inner mechanical parts are visible, in shades of turquoise, pink, orange, and yellow.

By Eric L.

Although, I’ve become more confident recently.  

The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman is written in an extremely entertaining, journalistic style, a look back at the decade that has become so “in,” it’s “out.” Although, like Klosterman, I am almost a “caricature” of a “Gen X” caricature, so this book is a bit of an easy sell to someone like me. This is one of those time periods when something culturally progressive was happening, and to some extent, I’m a product of that. The art I experienced played a part, but perhaps I had a predilection for this sort of thing.  

However, this book is not just for aging hipsters like me. Klosterman successfully argues that what we remember from the decade, the stereotypes, may be quite different from the reality. He alludes to the fact that we always misremember things, or rely on the stereotypes of decades to classify them easily in our minds.  

Klosterman does an excellent job of highlighting all the things that I personally remember as positive for society, but the anecdotes and examples made me realize we have similar taste and beliefs. The films and the music were a considerable influence on my taste and my social awareness. He also mentions that art about the lives of Black people was consumed by white audiences like never before. The independent films and music were different than most things I had experienced before. Klosterman makes the remarkably interesting argument that the local video rental store, and later the chains, gave birth to the working-class auteur. In short, they could browse and watch films (e.g. Citizen Kane, Chinatown) multiple times which may have been only previously shown at an art house theatre. 

That said, Klosterman points out that Titanic was the biggest movie of the decade, and this hardly qualifies as progressive art. Moreover, Tupac sold more records than Nirvana, and Garth Brooks sold more than both put together (and really birthed new country). So why is it that balding guys with cowboy hats and tight jeans are not proffered as 1990’s stereotypes? 

The extremely high approval rating for a “liberal” President who was a serial philanderer and predator does not jibe with the ethos of 2020. Klosterman even asks the question many now ask: if the Democratic Party is worse off because of the Clintons. I was particularly interested in the discussion of the most successful third-party candidate in a century. The fact that Ross Perot received 19 percent of the vote almost seems unfathomable now. How the United States kind of “meddled” in the 1996 Russian democratic election is also an interesting sidebar. 

There are too many interesting sidebars to mention, but many are things we may have forgotten. For example, Michael Jordan, the most successful basketball player ever, decided to play minor league baseball, primarily because he was bored and tired. It came as a shock to America that baseball players and cyclists were using performance enhancing drugs to put on superhuman performances. 

These things may seem like minutiae to some, but I feel as though these events help us understand current America just a little bit better. 

One of the most important chapters is “CTRL + ALT + DELETE” – extremely interesting in that it describes the way people, mostly tech people or insiders, viewed the internet in the 1990s. It reads like people selling a dream that became a nightmare, sadly. Academic careers are, and will be, built on how computers and the internet altered society, as we have only begun to appreciate the changes in our behavior. One of the most salient points Klosterman makes in the book is to consider the differences in America from 1960 to 1990, and then consider the differences in America from 1990 until 2020. Imagine disembarking from a time machine in 2020 from the year 1990. He discusses how some of us recall how the world worked before widespread computer and internet use and I’m obviously among these folks. To be sure, I appreciate all the things that have improved in my life, but I do long for the good ol’ days, too! 

As a ‘90’s hipster, I do feel that the idea of physical place is something that is particularly important to a stable democratic society. And I want to let you know we offer this at the library. A young lady borrowing numerous films said “hey” to me as if she knew me, and I’d forgotten that we had a brief discussion about films. She is likely Gen Z, but had a very ‘90’s look. She was borrowing a stack again, including some Wes Anderson, and I said, “Have you ever seen his first film, Bottle Rocket?” She had not. I said, “I think it’s his best, or my favorite, we have it over there.” Borrow it. I had never seen another film like it in 1995. 

Lastly, The Nineties: A Book is on our adult summer reading list (and also available in eBook and eAudiobook format via OverDrive/Libby). Another great reason to come by the branch and see us for our complete adult summer reading suggestions!

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

Celebrating Juneteenth

Juneteenth: Freedom Day appears inside a yellow square atop swashes of color in red, black, green, and yellow.

by Brandon B.

Juneteenth is considered one of the longest-running African American holidays. Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) is the day in 1865 that federal troops traveled to Galveston, Texas to free all enslaved people living in the state. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in U.S. states that were part of the union. While other citizens were freed from bondage and captivity, the citizens of Texas endured continued hardship and pain. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden established Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

We should not look at Juneteenth as simply a day off from work, but a celebration of freedom, peace, and a continued fight for social equity and equality. Though Juneteenth is a day in which we recognize the end of slavery in the U.S., we must also recognize other injustices and freedoms that are worth fighting for. Racism has been a pervasive and powerful tool in preventing minorities from advancing to elite status and higher growth in society. It took one hundred years after Juneteenth to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed people of color the franchise. Even now, gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts seek to prevent people of color from exercising their right to vote. We continue to witness violence against minorities through law enforcement and vigilantism.

We must answer these questions: Are people really free? Has America freed all its citizens from inequality or are we just repeating history? In order to make progress, we must study our dark past. We can change laws and policies, but America has to first change its heart through empathy and understanding.

A great place to visit and study subject matters like Juneteenth is your public library. HCLS has a variety of books and audio-visual materials in our new Equity Resource Center located at the Central Branch. The Equity Resource Center highlights the contributions of individuals from different cultures and select social groups. Let’s continue to serve others and show empathy towards the less fortunate. Happy Juneteenth, America!

Brandon is a Customer Service Specialist at Central Branch who loves reading, football, and taking nice long walks around his neighborhood.

Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar

On a pale blue background, a young gril with long dark hair sits amid flowers gesturing toward small figures of people in boats.

by JP Landolt

Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le, immediately touched my heart because the title reminded me of my dad. My father was a Filipino immigrant who left everything behind and made a life on the U.S. territory of Guam. We lived that first/second generation immigrant life in the Marianas. IYKYK. Dad had quite the sweet tooth. He would always put a spoonful of sugar into a mug of milk and drink it. Needless to say, it took me a while to stomach plain milk without a little bit of sugar.

In this story, a young girl immigrates stateside to live with her Auntie and Uncle. She feels lonely and misses her family and friends back home and just doesn’t feel like she belongs. Her Auntie takes her for a walk one day and tells her a story about a man who leads a group of people forced from their homes in the ancient land of Persia.

They build boats, cross the sea, and end up at the shores of India, seeking refuge from the king. Unfortunately, the king doesn’t think he can help. He reasons that he doesn’t know anything about these folks. They look different and speak a language he can’t understand, and he believes his kingdom is already crowded. The king goes to the seashore to make the refugees leave. And because they do not speak the same language, the king attempts to communicate that there is no room in his kingdom by filling a cup to the brim with milk. The leader of the Persians responds by carefully stirring in a spoonful of sugar from his sack. This illustrates a promise that their people would live peacefully together and would “sweeten” the lives of those in the kingdom. The king is delighted by this spoonful of sugar and welcomes them into his kingdom with a hug.

The young girl reflects on this story as she walks home with her Auntie. She smiles and says hello to passersby and receives kindness in turn. She feels better about being in America and decides to keep a sugar packet in her pocket thereafter to remind herself “to make things sweeter wherever she wandered.” 

There’s so much to appreciate about this story within a story. Umrigar’s retelling of the folklore of the Parsis (Zoroastrians) and her own immigration experience weaves through this beautifully illustrated children’s picture book. The end pages are particularly gorgeous with ornate cups filled with milk and flowers. Among my favorite illustrations is the hug between the leaders with a backdrop of peacocks. Their shared symbolic importance in Persian art and Hinduism culminates so respectfully. The birds are carried forward in the following pages, filling the sky where the young girl and her Auntie share a moment in the park by the water. The borders of the pages change throughout the story, emulating the feelings and changes happening therein. As the daughter of an immigrant, it’s easy for me to see the importance of stories like Sugar in Milk. It’s my hope that you do, too. This book is brimming with promises and perseverance. It’s a simple, sweet read for all ages with a universal message we all should be so lucky to receive: “You belong.”

JP has worked for HCLS since 2006. She enjoys gallivanting, Jollibee, and all the halo-halo she can eat.

Creating a safer space for LGBTQ+ students

The photograph shows an open hand holding a white ceramic heart, with a rainbow above on a dark background.

by Sarah C.

Here at HCLS, we try to make our spaces as welcoming and inclusive as possible, especially for our tweens and teens, as that age range can include a time of many changes, questions, issues, excitement, and experiences both good and bad. Do you remember middle school? Exactly, ugh! I sure do, and at age 42 I’m still slightly traumatized by some of those memories!

As June is LGBTQ+ Pride month, I’d like to touch on some things we do to create a safer space here at HCLS for our wonderful rainbow students.

Something as simple as wearing a rainbow button or bracelet, or having a “safe space” sticker on your office door can make a huge difference, especially if a student does not know you yet. It identifies you as a someone they can approach for LGBTQ+ books, ask about LGBTQ+ events and groups, or just someone who they can talk to who will listen and not judge them.

I am not subtle about my support of LGBTQ+ students. I visually identify myself as such with the above examples and am very vocal with all my students about respecting ALL people. That has been instrumental in our students feeling not just welcome here, but represented and celebrated. Our students of all ages know that some people and/or spaces are not LGBTQ+ friendly and have learned they need to be cautious. It’s not fair, but it is our reality, so please consider identifying yourself as a supportive person for them and help grow their circle of safety.

HCLS also hosts LGBTQ+ author visits, participates in community events such as HOCO Pride, assists with local SAGA/GSA school groups, helps with book clubs like the Rainbow Reads book club, and offers classes such as Make Your Own Pronoun Buttons and Let’s Talk About LGBTQ+ Issues in Education featuring Freestate Justice.

And of course, since we are a library system, we purchase and display many books written and/or illustrated by LGBTQ+ authors that feature LGBTQ+ main characters. We also have Rainbow Reading lists for adults, teens, and a new one for children! Grab a printed copy at your local branch or find other recommendations online. Check out the review of Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe on the library’s blog. The post talks about why books that represent all experiences are so vital.

Sarah is the Teens’ Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch, where she can be found geeking out over new graphic novels, spotting rainbows and drinking day-old coffee.

Film Femme Phenoms

An Oscar award statuette.

by Cherise T.

The Oscars. The Super Bowl for film lovers and stargazers. Since the 94th Academy Awards and Women’s History Month converge this year, let’s highlight Oscar-winning women. The accomplishments of women in the film industry grow each year as crews’ diversity increases and acting roles encompass a broadened range of realistic characters.

Front and center for many a bibliophile is screenwriting. In 2021 with Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell (also known as Camilla in The Crown) became the first woman in 13 years to win for Best Original Screenplay. Fennell also produced and directed. Then travel back to 2007 when Diablo Cody won for Juno. To date, nine women have won in this category, but only five as solo writers; the other three being Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation; Jane Campion, The Piano; and Callie Khouri, Thelma & Louise.

For Best Director, 2021 also brought an Oscar to a woman, Chloé Zhao, for Nomadland (also a book). Only one other woman has won in this category, Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker. Only seven women in total have even been nominated.

Best Costume Design boasts many female winners. Edith Head was nominated 35 times and won eight. For total Oscar nominations and victories, she is surpassed only by Walt Disney. Her winning films are The Heiress, Samson and Delilah, All About Eve, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Facts of Life (not available), and The Sting. For more recent winners in 2018 and 2019, check out the work of Ruth E. Carter in Black Panther and Jacqueline Durran in Little Women.

Best Supporting Actress has been won more than once by only two women: Dianne Wiest for Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets over Broadway (not available) and Shelley Winters for The Diary of Anne Frank and A Patch of Blue (available through interlibrary loan). Last year’s winner was the first for a Korean actress, Youn Yuh-jung, in Minari.

Now for the star power that is Best Actress. Katherine Hepburn was nominated 12 times and won a record-setting four: Morning Glory (available through interlibrary loan), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter, and On Golden Pond. Meryl Streep has been nominated a record-setting 17 times for Best Actress, winning twice for Sophie’s Choice (available with an HCLS library card on Kanopy) and The Iron Lady, and nominated four times for Best Supporting Actress, winning for Kramer vs. Kramer. Frances McDormand became a triple champion in 2021 for Nomadland. She also won for Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

If you’re a fan of the Academy Awards, enjoy, and be sure to check out these and other noteworthy Oscar winners in the HCLS catalog.

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

DIY Tools for Spring Needs

The blue Hi circle from the Library's logo lays on the floor surrounded by tools and books from the DIY collection.

by Eric L.

I like all the seasons, I like something beginning, then I grow tired as it persists, and I then I enjoy the start of something different. Autumn is just barely my favorite season. I even love the winter, as well, and then I’m rather happy when it comes to end. (I’m thankful it’s not winter forever, that would be pretty bleak)

I don’t want to get overly philosophical or trite about it, but the rebirth and renewal of spring is a wonderful time of year. Observing the daily greening of nature just makes me feel happy, it is my favorite color.

That said, you may look outside and see your yard, large or small, and it may look a bit drab in early spring. Moreover, there is likely debris in your beds, garden, or yard (e.g., sticks, leaves). I’ll be honest when I was younger, had less patience, and “better” things to do, I used dislike yard work. However, I’ve come to embrace the relaxing nature of yard work, and perhaps the completed product. Keep in mind, there really isn’t a deadline, just pick a nice sunny day and get out there and take it on at your own pace.

The library has so many great tools to lend you (for free!) at the Elkridge DIY Education Center to get most of your outdoor jobs complete. Anyone 21 or older who lives, works, or attends school in Maryland may apply for an HCLS DIY library card at the branch.

Leaf and tine rakes will help you get all the aforementioned yard debris up. We have cordless blowers, so perhaps you can rake less. You can borrow numerous varieties of manual trimmers, tree limb saws, and tree pruners to get all those bushes and trees in shape. We’ll even lend you an extendable (up to 14 feet) pole trimmer to get those high limbs. The battery powered electric hedge trimmers are just wonderful (I’ve literally “cut the cord” on the other style). We even have battery powered string trimmers, if you’d like to clear a small area, or just trim some grass or weeds. You can borrow a variety of shovels for the bushes, flowers, plants, or trees you’d like to plant, replant, or dig up.

I would invest in some garden gloves, or you may just want to literally get your hands dirty, that’s your choice. And, so many other great tools to lend. I’d recommend you stop by, chat with us, and see what we have to offer.

Happy spring!

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

The image shows two characters as mirror images of one another , one in yellow shorts with no shirt and arms outstretched, the other in a blue shirt and blue rolled-up pants, clutching the gem of the pants. Both are up to mid-calf in blue-green water; the "reflected" person has a green-gold forest in the background.

By Ash B. 

When I started working here at the library, my favorite section to get acquainted with was the graphic novel section. One reason for this was the rate at which I could find LGBTQ representation; I’ve joked with friends and colleagues that sometimes I feel I have a ‘sixth sense’ for intuitively knowing whether an artist is queer based on their art style or the design of the book’s cover.  

Sometimes there are subtle clues about the book’s content, and sometimes there is something overtly LGBTQ-related about the cover, title, or summary. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (pronouns: e/em/eir) falls into the latter category on all counts. As soon as I heard the title alone, I knew I needed to read it. 

Gender Queer is a memoir, formatted as a graphic novel, that recounts Kobabe’s experiences regarding gender and sexuality throughout eir childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. At its core, it is a book that addresses what it means, in Kobabe’s personal experience, to be nonbinary, queer, and asexual. As e explains in a Washington Post op-ed, Kobabe primarily wrote this as a way of explaining eir nonbinary identity to eir parents and extended family. However, Kobabe’s story has reached much farther than that, garnering praise from readers, reviewers, and the American Library Association (ALA). 

In my opinion, as a nonbinary reader, Gender Queer is so remarkable because there is nothing else quite like it. Through a talented combination of text and illustration, Kobabe addresses complex intersections of gender and sexuality with such specificity that I was honestly blown away. Never before I had felt so seen and understood by a piece of media. One of my favorite passages addresses the struggle to achieve a balance of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ gender expression when society is set on placing you on one side of the gender binary. I truly don’t have the words to fully express how meaningful this is to me… so let me share a brief anecdote instead: 

Around the time I was re-reading the book to prepare for this review, one of my (fellow nonbinary) friends texted me regarding a conflict they felt over an article of clothing they wanted to buy because they were concerned it would be read as ‘too feminine.’ Within our text conversation, I sent my friend two panels from the book.  

My friend’s response? They related so much that they started crying in the bathroom on their lunch break at work.

Representation matters. 

Even for those of us within the LGBTQ community who have come to terms with our identities, have community support, and hold privilege (whether it be whiteness, financial stability, ability, etc.) that improves our overall life outcomes – it is still hard to exist in a heteronormative society structured around the gender binary. At best, it is exhausting and invalidating, which still takes a hit to one’s mental health.  

Now imagine being a young person who lacks community support, lacks independence, and is questioning or struggling with accepting their identity. 

Books such as Gender Queer not only educate – they provide invaluable support to queer, trans, and questioning readers who need to see affirming, accurate, and nuanced representation. When we say these books can be a lifeline for readers, that’s not an empty statement; suicidality is significantly higher amongst LGBTQ youth, especially those who are trans, in comparison to their non-LGBTQ counterparts. 

Unfortunately, in the past year there has been a national surge – including in Howard County – in attempted censorship of LGBTQ books in school classrooms and media centers. Gender Queer has been one of the most controversial titles due to its frank discussion of (queer) sexuality and, to a lesser extent, gender dysphoria.  

This trend – the challenging and banning of books that contain content regarding sex, LGBTQ identity, or both – is not new. What is new is the influential role of social media and the internet, which allows far-reaching communication between book challengers and can create even more oppositional fervor towards the books that they have deemed “obscene,” “pornographic,” and so on. 

One of the problems with this overall pattern, however, is it increases divisiveness in public discourse. Parents, students, educators, librarians, and policymakers need to discuss these topics with the nuance, open-mindedness, and compassion necessary to truly educate and uplift youth. Instead, we are faced with a proliferation of outrage that doesn’t “protect” anyone – least of all LGBTQ youth. 

Some opponents are unapologetic in their homophobic and transphobic motivations, quite literally demonizing anything they hear is LGBTQ-related. (Do I need to explain further why these messages are extremely harmful to LGBTQ folks?) Other opponents claim they have no problem with queer-affirming books, but take issue with the books that contain passages regarding sex. I can understand where these folks are coming from – however, I would push back against the idea that teens need to be shielded from the type of “sexual content” that is in Gender Queer. This book isn’t meant to titillate – it is meant to inform, based on Kobabe’s own experiences of adolescence and young adulthood. 

So, before jumping to the conclusion that this book is inappropriate for high schoolers, consider Kobabe’s perspective: 

“It’s very hard to hear people say ‘This book is not appropriate to young people’ when it’s like, I was a young person for whom this book would have been not only appropriate, but so, so necessary. There are a lot of people who are questioning their gender, questioning their sexuality and having a real hard time finding honest accounts of somebody else on the same journey. There are people for whom this is vital and for whom this could maybe even be lifesaving.” 

Kobabe’s work gives language to some of the complexities that lie at the intersections of gender and sexuality. And with representation of asexuality and nonbinary genders still in short supply, Gender Queer is a much-needed addition. Mainstream narratives about LGBT people in the past few decades have often represented people who have “always known” they were transgender or “knew since they were three years old” that they were gay. But many of us do not have that experience. Many of us are in the dark about our true selves, until someone shines a light on all the possibilities of what queer existence can look like. Gender Queer has and will continue to have that positive impact on teens and adults alike.  

I hope this review will encourage you to see the value in this book for a variety of readers, LGBTQ or not. I urge you to read the book for yourself – and truly reflect on it. Print copies of Gender Queer: A Memoir can be requested to borrow here.  

Want to skip the waitlist? Your HCLS account also grants you access to the eBook version of Gender Queer on hoopla, a platform that allows titles to be streamed immediately or downloaded to devices for offline enjoyment later. For assistance with hoopla, view the tutorial on our website, visit your local branch, or reach out to us with your questions. 

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. This time of year, they are especially fond of reading while cuddling with their golden retriever and sipping hot cocoa or tea.

Ernie Barnes: From Athlete to Artist

A painting by Ernie Barnes, The View, which showcases three African American women dressed in drapey formal dresses looking out at water and an urban skyline. The viewer only sees the women's elegant forms from behind as they are framed by red curtains. The palette is all golds and reds.
The View by Ernie Barnes

by Emily B.
Ernie Barnes was born in Durham, North Carolina in 1938, amidst harsh Jim Crow segregation laws. His love and appreciation for art was sparked at an early age. Young Barnes often accompanied his mother at work, where she oversaw the household of a prominent attorney. This early exposure to art proved to leave a lasting impact on Barnes.

Though art remained an important outlet throughout his early years, Barnes discovered a talent for football in high school. He attended college on an athletic scholarship (studying art, of course) and went on to play football professionally for five seasons. Much of his early work focused on his teammates. His athleticism had a marked influence on his art style, which was characterized by figures with closed eyes and elongated bodies. In an interview, Barnes recounted how a mentor told him “to pay attention to what my body felt like in movement. Within that elongation, there’s a feeling, an attitude and expression. I hate to think had I not played sports what my work would look like.”

After moving on from professional football, Barnes’ art became less sports-focused. He was often influenced and inspired by the communities and the people he interacted with most – ranging from depictions of Black Southern life (seen in pieces like Uptown Downtown and Each One, Teach One) to the Jewish community of Fairfax, California (seen in Sam & Sidney). Sugar Shack, far and away one of Barnes’ most popular paintings, has a storied history. The famous work, which depicts a jazz club packed with dancers, was painted in 1971 but reworked twice for famous clientele. First for use in the opening credits of Norman Lear’s Good Times and a second time to create a cover for Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You.

Though he passed in 2009, Barnes’ cultural impact lives on. His journey from a childhood in the Jim Crow-era south to becoming one of the first athletes with a celebrated career in art is impressive and inspiring. Several of Barnes’ paintings are available to borrow through the Art Education Collection at the Central and Glenwood Branches. Young readers may enjoy Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace.

Emily is a Customer Service Specialist at the Central Branch. She enjoys reading, listening to music, and re-watching old seasons of Survivor.