Elizabeth Yates was looking for ways to make the Brock University library more welcoming to students of diverse gender identities.
When the Research and Scholarly Communication Librarian found little research on the experiences of people of gender diverse identities in academic libraries, she decided to conduct her own.
Yates explained that “gender diversity” is a generic description for people whose sex differs from the sex they were assigned at birth and/or for people who do not adhere to binary gender stereotypes of male and female. .
“People of diverse gender identities often face stigma, bias, prejudice and fear, which can lead to isolation and discrimination,” she said.
To conduct her qualitative study, Yates interviewed transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer students about their experiences and perceptions of Brock Library spaces, services, and collections. She shared the analyzed data with research participants to ensure it accurately reflected their experiences.
Overall, students interviewed by Yates had positive things to say about the library. They expressed helpful and comfortable interactions with staff and appreciate having books from people of diverse gender identities featured in library spaces.
A student interviewed by Yates said a summer spent reading books at Brock’s library changed his life. After years of avoiding exploring his gender identity and feeling ashamed, he now researches and speaks out about gender issues.
Students also expressed some discomfort with the library spaces and with its technology.
Using gender-specific toilets is a particularly painful experience for gender-diverse students. They said they often received derogatory looks and comments because their gender expression was not in line with the assumptions people had of them and the gender binary toilets they chose.
“Everything that students have shared with me is reflected in the academic literature,” Yates said. “Data shows that 70% of young adults of diverse gender identities are afraid to use public restrooms. It’s a matter of security. »
The library payment process can also be an uncomfortable experience for students who are borrowing books to help them understand their gender and/or sexuality.
“Topics are often personal and sensitive to the person and there’s a good chance there’s a straight cisgender person working in the office,” Yates said.
Some students have reported being mistreated, which may occur through systems using legal names. They described logging into their library account or booking a study room and seeing an old name that did not reflect their gender identity.
Yates has presented his research to his colleagues and hopes his findings will help the Brock Library improve its service to gender-diverse students.
“We really care about our students and their experiences,” she said. “This new insight can help inform everything we do – how we interact with students in the ‘Ask Us’ office, in classrooms and in one-on-one meetings, and how we manage our services, technology, collections and our spaces.”
University librarian Mark Robertson is grateful to Yates for his research.
“Elizabeth’s study is a great example of how research conducted by librarians impacts the work we do at the library,” he said. “Libraries are about creating avenues – for people to be informed and to challenge through the consumption of information – so it is important that they are accessible, diverse, equitable and inclusive.”
Robertson said the Brock Library is already acting on many student suggestions found in Yates’ research.
Many members of Brock’s library team have received training on sexuality and gender diversity, and the library has a working group on inclusivity, diversity, equity, and gender diversity. accessibility and decolonization.
To combat gender errors through technology, the Brock Library recently worked with the Registrar’s Office and Information Technology Services to ensure that names and pronouns chosen could be integrated into the systems of the library.
Self-checkout was reintroduced in 2020 to allow students more privacy when signing library documents.
The Brock Library also continues to work to raise the voices of underrepresented people by proactively acquiring books from these authors and displaying them in library spaces.
Yates’ personal and professional ties to the Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Bisexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual community sparked her interest in the research topic. She has attended several Brock Pride Week presentations, is personally involved with PFLAG Niagara, and serves on Brock’s 2S&LGTBQ+ Task Force, which is a sub-committee of the President’s Advisory Committee on Human Rights, equity and decolonization.
“I am grateful for the support of my colleagues and thankful for the students who participated in my project,” Yates said. “Being able to raise their voice to help drive positive change is hugely rewarding.”