Research Agenda — Collection Development and Evaluation

Toni Carter, Research and Instruction Librarian, Auburn University
Lizzy Walker, Metadata and Digital Initiatives Librarian, Wichita State University

Literature on libraries’ inclusion of resources related to women and gender issues covers most types of libraries and users. LGBT resources for children and young adults have been of particular interest for researchers over the past few years, as well as resources created by underrepresented communities including comics and graphic novels and alternative media.

Children and Young Adults

Extant literature about LGBTQI-themed library collections for children and young adults examines an array of topics in various library and classroom settings. Several studies report the number of LGBTQI-themed volumes in children and young adult collections, as well as test variables that might influence collection size. Oltmann (2015) compared the collection sizes of public high school media centers located in a northern U.S. state against those in a southern U.S. state. Despite dissimilarities between the two states’ social, political, and economic characteristics – variables that one might expect to influence the availability of LGBTQI resources – the average number of holdings for school media centers in both states settled at around 22 volumes. Oltmann (2015) cites her research as an expansion of the earlier work of Hughes-Hassell, Overberg, & Harris (2013), who focused on high school collections in one southern state. Like Oltmann (2015), they also explored political and social issues that may affect collections sizes in the south, but found that:

Contrary to our expectations, no trends in collection development among school districts or regions of the state were identifiable, suggesting that district- or state-level selection policies were not at play in encouraging or preventing these school librarians from purchasing LGBTQ-themed titles (p.11).

Both studies conclude that LGBTQI-themed library and classroom collections for children and young adults are insufficient. Crisp et. al (2016) conducted a content analysis of the diversity represented in children’s books in early childhood classroom libraries. The sample libraries served mostly low-income, African-American students in Atlanta. Among the variables used to measure diversity, the researchers included sexual identity and gender; they found that most trans characters in the children’s books that they surveyed were “white, were assigned male at birth, and transition to female” (Crisp et. al, 2016, p.16).

The investigation of libraries located in the southern United States is an obvious thread running throughout the literature described above. At least one author mentions the 2011 National School Climate Survey that states “students in the South were less likely to have access to LGBT-related information in their school library;” this conclusion could possibly account for the interest in this region’s libraries over the past few years. However, because these “southern” studies have come to similar conclusions, perhaps the research focus should shift to studies that test systematic solutions and strategies for the expansion of these collections in volume numbers and diversity.

It was 2009 before a children’s picture book with a transgender character was published (Sullivan and Urraro, 2017, p. 8), and less than a handful of recent studies focus solely on transgender literature for children and young adults. These studies include Sullivan & Urraro (2017) and Crawley (2017), who conducted content analyses of children’s picture books with transgender characters. To provide context regarding the concept of gender fluidity, both studies refer to queer theory. Sullivan and Urraro (2017) point out a specific aspect of queer theory their study would investigate – that of “view[ing] the subject not as biologically predetermined but socially constructed” (p.3). While Sullivan and Urraro (2017) set out to find all picture books with transgender characters, Crawley (2017) examined only nine books. Both studies suppose a lack of diversity among transgender characters in the picture books, and both note themes of bullying or “gender policing” (Crawley, 2017, p.35). Research such as this – on a distinctive identity within the whole (and, one that comprises its own variations) – can serve as a reminder to librarians of the diversity represented by the LGBTQI acronym.

Popular Culture and Alternative Media

Popular culture resources created by women and the LGBTQI community, such as comics and graphic novels, and alternative media, such as zines, blogging, streaming video, and Wikipedia entries, are included in current research (Weisband, 2010; Glassman, 2012; McCook, 2014, Walker, 2018). Underrepresentation remains an issue that needs to be addressed in library collection development policies.

Future Research Questions

Collection Development + Comics/Popular Culture Materials and Alternative Media

What is the reception of popular culture resources created by women and the LGBTQI community in academic libraries?

How can academic libraries learn about, acquire and evaluate popular culture resources created by women and LGBTQI populations?

With the creation of blogs, zines, streaming video, and other alternative media by women and LGBTQI community, how can libraries revise their collection development policies to include such materials in their libraries?

How do academic libraries support their diverse users/patrons effectively with the resources they acquire?


To what extent do librarians recognize the gender and sexual diversity that exists within the LGBTQI community? How do librarians’ understanding of this diversity affect their collection development behaviors?

To what extent do libraries maintain collections that equitably represent the gender and sexual diversity of individuals and groups who identify as members of the LGBTQI community?

Children and Young Adults

How can librarians harness ongoing cultural change to create new or revised arguments to support the collection of LBGTQI materials for young adults?

How might local public librarians, library media specialists, and classroom teachers join forces to build community-wide young adult LBGTQI collections?

Do collection development behaviors and policies related to the acquisition of feminist materials for young adults merit similar research studies as have been conducted for LGBTQI?

Full citations for all works cited in this essay can be located on the Bibliography of Scholarship on Women and Gender Studies Librarianship.