UNI Librarian Talks LGBTQ Graphic Novels In Wake of Iowa GOP Bill


Graphic novels featuring LGBTQ characters aren’t just the current punching bag for Republican politicians trying to regulate such books in school librariesthey’re a vital resource for kids, teens, and young adults looking to find their own identities in a visual way.

That’s according to the University of Northern Iowa’s youth services librarian Katelyn Browne, who spoke about the topic during a UNI Pride Week presentation Thursday afternoon.

“A lot of really fantastic graphic novels right now are telling stories about some aspect of LGBTQ identity in ways that can only be told in a visual story,” Browne said.

Browne showed different panels featuring such characters, encouraged participants to consider how a reader can tell how a person or character might identify, and what cues authors used to signal those various identities in comics.

“They offer a lot of context for readers who are interested in the world, and in understanding themselves and other people,” Browne said. “[Graphic novels] allow us to do that without making a lot of the assumptions that go into [prose] writing.”

That context is often what’s missing as school boards debate various book bans at the local level.

But it’s also missing from GOP-promoted state legislation requiring public and charter school librarians to post all of their material and a process for removing it on their websites, or else face fines of up to $5,000. That legislation has passed the Iowa House.

Only a little over half, or 54.5%, of Iowa school district libraries have an online catalog accessible by the public, according to the Legislative Services Agency. The agency noted the average yearly cost for library software was $16,000. The state government is not offering to pay that cost to libraries required to upgrade, a burden that would fall disproportionately on smaller, rural districts.

The bill, which would also require all teachers to post their entire curriculum, is expected to cost districts an additional $16.4 million just in teacher preparation; the full cost including the library portion “cannot be estimated,” the LSA said. A majority of Iowans don’t support lawmakers banning books from schools, according to a recent survey.

Though she wasn’t able to talk about pending legislation, Browne said UNI’s youth collection, in particular, was designed to be “educational.” This way, concerned parents, teachers, school board members, and others could actually review LGBTQ books they heard about and see for themselves if they deserved that reputation.

“We are very interested in book challenges and things like that,” Browne said. “So we will continue to collect with that goal in mind, and we always welcome people’s questions about materials and library selection and things like that.”


By Amie Rivers

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