In a move to help elementary and secondary school librarians increase access to information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through library resource materials, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) today launched the Free to Learn Project, a new national librarian assistance and grant program. The project was launched as library and anti-censorship groups March 16celebrated National Freedom of Information Day, raising awareness about the importance of promoting and protecting freedom of information.
"Students are coming out at earlier ages but our school library collections largely remain in the closet," said GLSEN Executive Director Kevin Jennings. "Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, as well as the children of same-sex couples, often suffer in isolation-an isolation compounded by school libraries offering little more than a dictionary definition of homosexuality. Through this new grant program, librarians will have the freedom to select resources and provide critical information to these students."
During the first phase of Free to Learn, GLSEN will work through its network of 85 community-based chapters to meet with school librarians, conduct assessments of current library resources, and help identify fiction and non-fiction selections that librarians believe will complement existing collections. Due to the generosity of several longtime organizational supporters, GLSEN chapters will then have access to a $15,000 fund that may be used to purchase books as requested by librarians for donation to elementary and secondary school libraries.
Noting recent studies which suggest that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are now disclosing their sexual orientation between ages 13 and 16, GLSEN Education Director Scott Hirschfeld stated that the need for information about LGBT people in school libraries is greater now than ever before. Just a decade ago, he added, coming out was an adult rather than adolescent process.
"It is critically important for the lesbian high school sophomore to find information that reflects her experience, and its important for the second grader being raised by two dads to find stories that represent families like his own," stated Hirschfeld. "In addition to providing resources to these youth, we must not underestimate the value to all students, straight and gay, of having accurate, accessible and age-appropriate information about the diversity of the world in which they live."