If I had my druthers, and I mean 100 percent of my druthers, every library would have the following (among other things): no gender option on the library card application and at least one gender neutral bathroom. My library is not there yet, but I think we’re on our way. We’ve made steps towards getting the gender box taken off the library card application. In the past, you had to mark either Male or Female on the form in order to complete it. Now, gender is still on the form, but it’s not required. It looks like this:
Anything with a red asterisk is necessary information to complete the form. Gender doesn’t have one, so if you skip it, you can still submit the library card form. When you hit the drop-down menu under gender, the only options are Male and Female.
This is not ideal. In a perfect world, there simply wouldn’t be a gender option on a library card form. Period. As we have it now, anyone who doesn’t fit into the Male and Female categories is treated like an “other”, which is generally not how I like to treat library patrons. It’s not very welcoming. If a library were to list all the options for all the different genders, the list would very long and I imagine the jargon would constantly have to be updated. You could use a fill-in-the-blank option, like this:
But, statistics-wise, this seems kind of like a nightmare. While I’m down for any sort of gender expression, I don’t really see how this information helps the mission of the library.
That’s why the best course of action is to remove gender from the library card application altogether. Consider why you need these gender-specific stats from your patrons. If your library attracted more female patrons than male patrons, what would that mean to your programming schedule and collection-building anyway? Any steps you would take to balance out the genders would be under the assumption that every gender acts as a monolith. Think, instead, what information could be more useful to your library. How about how many children, if any, are in the family? What are their ages? What languages are spoken at home? A check-list of a patron’s interests? Surely these questions could offer more insights into the kinds of people that frequent your library.
Adding gender neutral bathrooms can be a trickier task. Gender neutral bathrooms not only serve patrons who don’t fit into the gender binary and/or don’t feel comfortable using gendered bathrooms (check out this scene from Transparent if you’re unsure as to why certain spaces may be unsafe for some. NSFW), but also families visiting the library. Consider a father taking his 7 year old daughter to the library restroom. If he doesn’t feel comfortable sending her into the bathroom by herself, he has to choose either the Men’s or the Women’s bathroom, both of which are not a very good fit.
If you’re lucky enough have single stall bathrooms, consider making them gender neutral. If only one person/family is using that bathroom at a time, who cares who is in there? This will cut down on those obnoxious ladies’ room lines and also offer a safe bathroom for those who need it.
(I wish I had a easy fix for when you have multi-stalled bathrooms. I don’t. It’s important to know what your state/city’s law is regarding bathroom usage. In New York City, you can use the bathroom that matches the gender you identify with, as opposed to your “assigned” gender. Make sure your library is aware of local laws.)
In my particular section of the library, we had two bathrooms: a single stall Boys’ Room and a single stall Girls’ Room, both of which have changing tables. It started to seem silly to gender the bathrooms, so I was given the go-ahead to make them unisex. I created these two signs:
What more do you need to know other than the fact that these rooms contain toilets? I also color-coded them, so that patrons could also refer to them as the Green and the Orange bathroom, in addition to Bathroom A and B. Our single stall bathrooms require keys, so each keychain has an image that corresponds to these signs.
Though staff received an email about the bathroom changes, someone, a fellow employee I assume, wrote Male and Female on the keychains, thus re-gendering them. I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe old habits are hard to break. However, I am hopeful that this is a step in the right direction and it will seem like second-nature soon enough.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid