Literary Activism

Libraries Resist: A Round-Up of Tolerance, Social Justice, & Resistance in US Libraries

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Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Libraries are not, nor have they ever been, neutral spaces. They are political. Every decision made in a library, from books to be included in the collection, to displays created, to special populations to reach, is political. Many believe that libraries and librarians are apolitical, but it’s simply not true. It’s impossible to be a neutral space with the goal of reaching a community, be it the public or the academic or the special population the library serves. By inviting all in a community to be in a shared space, libraries embrace the idea of encouraging education, encouraging acceptance and tolerance, and on a much smaller scale, they create policies that ensure these very things happen in their spaces.

No act in the library is too small to foster tolerance and acceptance.

That said, some libraries can and do, thanks to their own policies, embrace their non-neutrality in much louder ways than others. Here’s a look at some of the recent actions taken by libraries of all shapes and sizes and specialties around the USA. The selection of libraries here were submitted by librarians and friends of libraries; in these instances, I’ve included some of the comments received, too, about the ways their communities or administrations have or have not criticized their efforts.

As always, if you’re a librarian or you’re a patron of a library that’s been speaking up and out about social justice, tolerance, or resistance, please drop a line in the comments. The more pictures and stories we see, the more we show that there are safe, welcoming spaces for all throughout this country.

And that’s a thing that never hurts to see again and again and again.

Project Submissions


I made a display in our children’s room that highlights kindness, tolerance, and refugee and immigrant stories. Two of my favorite books on this display are A is for Activist and Counting on Community which are both board books by Innosanto Nagara.

I used part of this Mister Rogers quote: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

— Meg Schiebel, public library in Connecticut


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Love this passive programming idea at the library!

A post shared by Maddie (@madmwags) on


— The Ypsilanti District Library – Whitaker Branch



I made a display in my children’s section for families to learn about Islam together. I only had a few books available at my branch, but I gave them a prominent display space in the center of my department and added a “fact file.” The blue folder has articles from library databases that explain Islamic culture and customs as well as a child-friendly explanation about the controversy over Jihad. All resources have references listed and there’s a note indicating that families can take home copies and as a librarian for more information.

— Brytani Fraser, children’s librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library


We don’t have any snazzy pictures, but we’ve put together (and publicized) libguides about recent events, most notably this one on Islam:

And this one on Fighting Fake News:

We also blogged about how alternative facts aren’t a thing:

— Julie Gilbert, Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library at Gustavus Adolphus College

“Wherever There’s a Fight” is a great (cheap) traveling exhibit for California libraries based on a book by Stan Yogi and Elaine Ellison, Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California. The San Leandro Public Library in San Leandro, CA hosted the exhibit this summer, and it provided excellent opportunities for public programs, book discussions, and documentary film viewings throughout the the exhibit’s run.

— from Exhibit Envoy that designs and tours museum exhibits in California (and starting to spread beyond that) and has been working on partnering with libraries for exhibits.


I created artwork for a group of social justice librarians which they then encouraged me to submit to the Resist! project. It was accepted and published for the Women’s March. Over 58,000 copies were handed out that day.

It’s a riff on Banksy’s famous Flower Bomber work. Instead of flowers, this librarian is getting ready to chuck Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

— Rebecca McCorkindale, Assistant Library Director/Creative Director at Gretna Public Library


I created artwork for librarians to use for any reason, but with the upcoming Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) theme of Build a Better World in mind. The CSLP is basically what many libraries use for their summer programming. This year they’ve made the theme be the same for all ages, instead of breaking up the theme into three different mini-themes along the same topic.

I’ve already had a few librarians share some cool displays that they’ve made using some of the images. [Above is] a combo version of my images, but know that there’s more both here, here, and here.

— Rebecca McCorkindale, Assistant Library Director/Creative Director at Gretna Public Library


Logo for “Library Reflections” project.

I’m currently working on a project that my librarian friends are calling “Canva for Early Literacy Librarians.” I’m hoping to have it going by next week, and if you indicate that you’d like to use this particular topic, then let me know and I for-sure will have it up by Monday.

I’m calling it Library Reflections and it will be a section of my blog where librarians, artists, and parents can upload images (the more diverse the better) of children engaged with reading or storytime – hopefully while being at a library or library’s storytime. Along with those images will be quotes about early literacy. Librarians will be able to download these images for free to make their own signs or posters for their library and community.

I’m a part of We Need Diverse Books, but after seeing this illustration at a conference last year (presented by the awesome Angie Manfredi who you should totally reach out to because she is a diversity champion), I kept thinking that as librarians, we should have diversity represented in our libraries NOW while we continue to encourage the publishing industry to publish more diverse titles from diverse authors.

[image attribution is found here]

Children of all backgrounds should be able to see themselves reading and using a library, other children AND their parents need to see the same. After all, we are more alike than different.

This project totally depends on people from all over the world sharing their photographs or art. 

[Editor’s note: link to the project is on Rebecca’s blog, right here]

— Rebecca McCorkindale, Assistant Library Director/Creative Director at Gretna Public Library



I’m a children’s librarian in DC and made this display after the Muslim Ban was announced. The response to our quiet resistance has been very positive.

— Jenny C.

Displays on social activism and protest. We’ll be doing one on refugees next. Both literature from refugees in the US (thanks NYTimes list) and non-fiction about refugees around the world. 

— Becky Canovan, University of Dubuque Library


I was inspired by the Look for the Helpers display at the Boston Public Library, and made my own version for my teens. It’s a mix of fiction and nonfiction, spanning civil rights, Japanese internment, WWII spies and standing up to Nazis, women’s suffrage, and just not being an awful person.

— Pam Aghababian

The Y’all Means All display originally went up in June for Pride month but then Orlando happened and the election and I decided to make it a permanent display. It’s the first thing you see when you walk into the Teen Lounge. There’s also a rainbow flag hanging from the ceiling above it, but I couldn’t get a picture that showed it and looked good. I buy a batch of the Y’all Means All buttons out of pocket once a month or so, and have them free for the taking. I made the “wait a minute” flyers not long after the election. They are posted throughout the Teen Lounge.

In response to the election, I applied for a ALA Great Stories Club grant and got one to work with a local group that serves LGBTQ+ teens, because the themes this year are violence, bullying, depression and suicide. And just how critically important it is to discuss those themes with that population RIGHT NOW was highlighted by news stories such as this one: (“Since late on Tuesday night, four major crisis prevention hotlines have reported a surge in calls, chats, and texts from people feeling intense mental distress. Among those who appear to be the most affected by the events are LGBTQ Americans, many citing fears about their safety and security under a Donald Trump and Mike Pence administration.”)

— Andria Amaral, Charleston County Public Library


I recently put together an article summarizing local Social Justice ideas for the American Library Association’s ALSC Blog.

— Angela Nolet, display above by Michelle Angell at Pierce County Library System



I’m a middle school librarian, and I’m in charge of one of the bulletin boards in the hallway. So since December, I’ve been posting displays on topics of interest to middle schoolers (of course), but with anti-fascist themes. So in my Star Wars display, I highlighted the Rebel Alliance fighting against tyranny, and in my comics display, there’s Captain American punching Hitler (with a blurb providing the historical context), as well as Superman and Batman telling readers to respect Americans of all backgrounds.

I have a small table near the library entrance where I usually highlight new books. On Inauguration Day, I put out a display with books about about human rights and tolerance and a couple posters from Teaching Tolerance. On Monday, I put out a book display with a theme of immigration and refugees, as well as books featuring Muslim characters, and an image of the Statue of Liberty with the famous last lines of The New Colossus.

— Elizabeth Gartley, Library Information Integrator, Mahoney Middle School



Since our Spring semester began on Monday, January 23, I wanted to have some kind of display acknowledging the inauguration and the concerns it caused (without being explicitly partisan) for students to see when they returned to campus after Winter Break.  On Monday morning, I quickly threw together a bulletin board display commemorating the Bill of Rights which (so conveniently!) celebrated its 225th anniversary of ratification in December – not my best effort, but I’m going to send you my pictures anyway!  One picture gets the entire bulletin board and the other is of the display only. 

The display features:

  • a copy of a 1941 Pennsylvania Library Association poster commissioned from the WPA for the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights – I hope this sends the message that we as a library espouse these values today in 2017 and stand in resistance to censorship and religious persecution
  • a small poster with the text of the Bill of Rights
  • a print of Norman Rockwell’s painting “Freedom of Speech” used as the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on February 20, 1943 (and which was included in the National Endowment of the Humanities’ poster series, Picturing America)
  • and, since we’re a state university, the title page of the US House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice’s June 2, 2015 hearing on “First Amendment Protections on Public College and University Campuses” (Serial no. 114-31), with the URL to the full text.


— West Chester University’s main library



— Arapahoe County Library System



I just have a little one, from the Scottsdale Public Library in Scottsdale, AZ.  Black History Month impulse display, by the account services station.

— HD

I’m the adult services librarian at the public library in Laramie, Wyoming. Laramie is a small bastion of liberalism in a very red state.

Although our population leans red, there are some areas where we believe libraries can lead the charge: equality and education. For Black History Month, we’re hosting a screening of Ava DuVerney’s documentary, 13th, and have a prominent Black History Month Display set up just when you enter the library. Our message isn’t exactly subtle.

We also have two book displays, one in our adult section and one in children’s, focused on stories of refugees and immigrants.

Something I’m really excited about is a new series of events that the Young Adult Librarian and I have started planning which we’ve entitled Society for the Promotion of Empowered Wyomingites (SPEW) where each month we’ll have a theme with a book, speaker, and possibly a film. We’re starting in March where we’re encouraging people to read 1984, hosting a screening of the film 1984 with the late, great John Hurt and having a lecture/discussion about information literacy, fake news, and alternative facts.  We also plan to have book lists associated with each topic in addition to information about actions people can take and how to join or support organizations that deal specifically with the topics. Topics we’re planning discussing include: LGBT activism, reproductive rights, the environment, internment camps, racism, refugee issues, etc.


— Megan Richardson, Albany County Public Library


I’m a children’s librarian in DC and have put up two displays in the past few days that might fit the bill. Since my library is just a few blocks from the White House it feels particularly subversive and satisfying. 🙂

The first is a National Parks display I put up last Thursday and the second is one I put up yesterday about refugees. The refugee display features a statue of liberty made out of legos, which was a gift to the library from the Swedish embassy a few years ago.

— Johanna Percell

Here’s our display in the Teen section at the Alameda Free Library in Alameda, CA. Our books about feminism have become increasingly popular since the Women’s March and I’ve just ordered more that I can’t wait to add to this display.

— Hallie Fields


Last month’s display was on Californian immigrants, but unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of that one before I replaced it with this display on activism (with bonus “know your rights” cards from the ACLU while supplies last). We try to keep things mostly non-political here so we don’t alienate any patrons, but obviously our first concern has to be supporting our community.

Since our programs are scheduled many months in advance, we haven’t put on any events that are specifically a reaction to the Trump administration, but I am planning on focusing my program for Teen Tech Week in March on information security and privacy so that our younger patrons (whom I keep running into at protests, which is very heartening) can be politically active and socially conscious without getting hacked or worse. Thank you for trying to highlight libraries response to Trump et al. I was in high school and college for most of the Bush administration and not planning on being a librarian yet, but I remember how hard libraries fought for their patrons’ privacy against the Patriot Act and I developed a tremendous respect for the librarians who were able to take a stand for our rights just by doing their jobs.

— Meghan Croll, Moreno Valley Public Library


This is a display I have up in the children’s area of my library in Omaha, NE.

— Autumn Hill, Youth Services Librarian

These are pictures of some of my recent displays at a family library on an Army base 1) Picture books in children’s room 2) “New nonfiction” 3) My “books trump hate” display, using a quote from To Kill a Mockingbird, which is required reading in our high schools 4) Our Holocaust Remembrance Day display, which I’m leaving up all month.

— Librarian Anonymous 🙂



So, a little book display that I put together at my library (Sunnyvale Public Library) has gone a bit viral. As of now, over 41k people have seen it, it’s been liked over 770 times and shared 195 times. The stats are crazy above our usual. Our posts more often get in the range of 5-100 likes.

— Wendy Silver




I’ve included a couple different things including a shot from our staff day which had an anti-racism theme, some of the stuff from , which is a community partnership between the library and a few other groups in the community, and also our civic lab which is a pop-up program on civic literacy.

The sign that we have at our entrance went up the day after the election. All of these things were created by the staff at the Skokie public library who are so talented.

— Leah White



From Around The Web

One more piece was worth sharing here, but it was one found on the web, rather than was submitted to me.


The Libraries Solidarity Event was in response to post-election reactions such as increasing hate crimes in and near libraries, and Milo Yiannopolous’s controversial visit to the CU Boulder Campus.

All Libraries faculty and staff were invited to support our students, and to put action behind the affirmation of inclusion set forth in the Dean of the Libraries open letter to the campus.

The event also aligned with the Libraries inclusive excellence plan. Many Libraries faculty and staff participated by gathering around the Sundial and the west entrance of Norlin Library to hold signs with slogans designed to let students know all are welcome in the Libraries. The event also included a CommuniTea outreach.

Faculty members Lindsay Roberts, Juleah Swanson, and Megan Welsh were nominated Libraries Employees of the Month for their efforts in initiating and organizing the event.



Librarians: keep fighting the good fights.