December 1, 2023


Science Of Woman

Earlier than and After the Library

8 min read

I’ve used quite a lot of phrases to explain myself within the a few years I’ve lived on this planet. Some had been good phrases, others weren’t. However the descriptors which have caught with me the longest are those tied up in my expectations of myself. They replicate who and what I like.

Lesbian. Novelist. Librarian.

It’s that final one I wish to speak about now. The library! It’s the place I spent all of my twenties and most of my thirties. Working, certain, but additionally doing much more than that. I discovered my greatest mates on the library. I found my voice there together with an actual sense of self-worth. Most notably, I penned my first novel in a library, typing furtively on lunch breaks. I’m now not the lady who took her first job there out of sheer desperation, however I’d be mendacity if I didn’t acknowledge that a part of that individual stays wedged inside me, at all times. And for the sake of this story, there are two iterations of self to think about: pre-library and post-library.

These “earlier than” and “after” variations hinge on the delivery of my son. Within the earlier than, I used to be 18-years-old and starting my first yr of school. Within the after, I used to be a younger mom in dire want of a paycheck. Fortunately, I discovered employment at my native public library — a small metropolis department that was principally 4 rooms duct-taped along with stacks holding up the tiled ceiling. What did I find out about libraries earlier than I started working there? To be sincere with you, not very a lot. I had grand notions of dusty rooms and punctiliously chosen tomes, peace and endless quiet, some grey-haired spinster steadily shushing everybody like a balloon slowly leaking air.

I used to be incorrect about virtually all of that (there was nonetheless an excellent quantity of mud — libraries are inclined to have horrible cleansing providers). In my twenty years of assortment work, I grew to become an integral a part of the library’s intricate equipment: public, educational, and regulation. There was shelving and reference and weeding. InterLibrary Mortgage. Puppet exhibits and flannel boards and glitter overlaying the ground in addition to the soles of my footwear. There was shelf studying, a seemingly endless job. I didn’t simply work on the library; I labored with the library, my mind and physique employed in tandem with different vital library cogs. I used to be considered one of many, a part of an expansive neighborhood that fought (and continues to struggle) an more and more uphill battle when it got here to securing neighborhood areas and rights for customers.

Banned books bridge the pre- and post-library variations of myself.

Rising up, I wasn’t allowed common entry to books. We had been Southern Baptist, strongly evangelical, which meant that until you had been cracking open a bible or one thing biblically adjoining, the written phrase was one thing that needed to be authorised earlier than it might be seen. I acquired textbooks in class — ones handed out annually in lecture rooms, battered issues I pored over religiously — however we hardly went to the library, and any media heart supplies needed to undergo my dad and mom earlier than I may learn them. We had been additionally poor, which meant I didn’t have cash to purchase any of my very own. Not like my brother, who would have quite finished a mountain of chores than be compelled to learn a guide, I used to be determined to get my arms on any. I craved the odor of them, their weight and texture. I needed to fall inside their pages, get misplaced in worlds that seemed vastly completely different than my very own colorless existence. As a result of falling right into a guide meant my very own world disappeared. I didn’t have to consider the issues that made life tougher, my queerness, my otherness. I may merely stop to exist.

Generally I stole books from lecture rooms. I can admit that now, optimistic my lecturers have probably forgiven (and lengthy forgotten) their theft. I snatched paperback copies of issues, Matilda and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Island of the Blue Dolphins. These books I snuck dwelling, shoved beneath the dresser I shared with my little sister. Tales made me ache and cry and surprise. Libraries, inaccessible to me, however stuffed filled with books — issues I thought-about holy — grew to become exponentially extra important than the precise biblical texts my dad and mom needed me to learn. If church meant submission to one thing better, then the library was a spot the place an individual might be given full autonomy and management. Freedom to study. Freedom to develop.

So sure, it makes excellent sense that after I take into consideration the time period “banned books,” my thoughts instantly slinks again to my childhood. To ban is to refuse, to expressly forbid. And I’m unable to separate the way in which books are banned within the political sense from the way in which books had been denied me in my childhood. In any case, isn’t it the identical argument? The notion {that a} youngster couldn’t presumably know their very own thoughts properly sufficient to make necessary choices? These political events cry “consider the youngsters” and “ethical objection.” Properly, so did my dad and mom. However this type of pointless rhetoric by no means stopped me from studying. It solely taught me how one can disguise issues higher. Studying how one can cease hiding — my ideas, my emotions, my id? That took years to undo.

Libraries are repositories for books, however they’re additionally a spot the place you study your voice is effective and necessary. I used to be technically an grownup after I gave delivery, 18 and sufficiently old to vote, however mentally I used to be nonetheless a toddler. I’d grown up very sheltered and had no sources, no expertise outdoors of these realized within the church. I couldn’t legally drink for one more three years. I wasn’t in a position to hire a automotive alone. I had a child, one who wanted a lot of time and a spotlight, and I knew virtually nothing about how one can deal with him, a lot much less how one can deal with myself. That first library place — the one which paid twenty thousand {dollars} a yr, plus stolen rest room paper and leftover meals from occasions — saved me. It wasn’t only a job, it was entry to data. Entry to neighborhood. I grew up there, alongside my son, and the passing years sped by in a flurry, like a snowball tossed downhill, steadily choosing up heft and momentum.

I reside in Florida — have at all times lived right here. I’m third technology, and it’s frequent information that we at present boast the second most book bans in the United States. This data isn’t shocking to me (or to anybody else who’s lived in a state the place “otherness” means problem present). You get used to the individuals in cost telling you what you shouldn’t need. Dwelling with a foul factor for thus lengthy can result in apathy; the way in which your eyes slip unseeing over objects you’ve owned for a few years. However by urgent our fingers towards the bruise of those “dangerous issues,” we’re reminded they’re nonetheless there and nonetheless affecting us. I repeatedly inform the story of my relationship to books and libraries and my household as a result of it’s not a brand new one, and I shouldn’t neglect the way it continues to impression me. E-book bans are the identical as we speak as they had been yesterday. Not a lot has modified in terms of individuals considering they know higher.

Right here’s what I do know for certain: Speaking and listening to one another preserve communities carefully knit collectively.

Storytelling. It’s what I’m doing proper now, isn’t it? And by sharing the details about my very own relationship to libraries and guide banning, a reader may get a possibility to check my expertise to their very own. Probably they’ll inform some model of it to a different individual. And so forth, and so forth. Once we proceed to speak about guide bans, we’re sharing one thing greater than the ban itself. We’re telling one another an uncomfortable story that must be heard and reheard.

So, right here’s mine. Take what you want from it. As a result of telling one another tales doesn’t blunt the ache of our particular person ache. It permits us, as a substitute, to share the load.

Autostraddle is honoring Banned Books Week 2023! At present is Let Freedom Learn Day, the ultimate day of Banned Books Week. For extra data, go to

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Kristen Arnett

Kristen Arnett is the queer writer of With Enamel: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2021) which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in fiction and the New York Instances bestselling debut novel Principally Lifeless Issues (Tin Home, 2019) which was additionally a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in fiction and was shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. She was awarded a Shearing Fellowship at Black Mountain Institute, has held residencies at Ragdale Basis, Vermont Studio Middle, the Millay Colony, and the Key West Literary Seminar (upcoming 2024), and was longlisted for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize recognizing mid-career writers of fiction. Her work has appeared at The New York Instances, TIME, The Minimize, Oprah Journal, Guernica, Buzzfeed, McSweeneys, PBS Newshour, The Guardian, Salon, The Washington Submit, and elsewhere. Her subsequent novel, CLOWN, will likely be printed by Riverhead Books (Penguin Random Home), adopted by the publication of an untitled assortment of quick tales. She has a Masters in Library and Data Science from Florida State College and lives in Orlando, Florida. You could find her on Twitter right here: @Kristen_Arnett

Kristen has written 2 articles for us.

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