Humans of the U: Rebekah Cummings

“I grew up in a wonderful and loving home but fairly conservative and sheltered from the outside world. Books weren’t only a mirror where I could see my myself and feel less alone; they were a window into the lives and experiences of others. They allowed me to walk in other people’s shoes, travel across time and place, and gain empathy for stories and struggles that were different from my own. I just want to make sure all kids have that same opportunity to read. We always say libraries should reflect the diversity of their communities, and I do think that’s incredibly important. Kids need to see themselves in literature. But we also need to give kids the chance to walk with and inhabit characters in literature that they would never meet in their day-to-day life. I want them to see from a young age that the human experience is varied and diverse and beautiful.

Challenges to books are increasing across the country. And while libraries welcome challenges and dialogue with our patrons, some of these challenges are not always based on the age appropriateness of the content. They are about erasing the experiences of LGBTQ kids and families or the lived experience of Black authors from the children and teen sections of the library. And that’s when librarians need to step up and say, ‘We support your right as a parent to choose for your child, but you don’t get to choose for every child and every family. Just because you disagree with it, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in a library.’

In the past, challenges seemed like they happened more organically and that our patrons were operating in good faith. Their child might bring a book home from the library, and the parent would come to us and say, ‘I’m not sure this belongs in the children’s section.’ And then we would evaluate the book and decide if it was in the right place or perhaps needed to be moved to another section of the library. You can always cherry-pick a sentence or a paragraph out of a book that looks inappropriate out of context. It’s important to look at the book holistically with an eye towards the intellectual or literary merit of the book, and then you might realize why that librarian selected that particular book.

This summer I’m facilitating Gateway to Learning workshops with the Tanner Humanities Center. We’re teaching a series of workshops for K-12 teachers on how to talk about sensitive topics in school and how to teach books that could be considered controversial. We have faculty from Education, English, and the Library to offer historical context and new strategies for addressing challenging topics like race, LGBTQ literature, and the Holocaust in the classroom. Our hope is to help teachers make sure their students have a good understanding of history and access to diverse voices and stories.”

–Rebekah Cummings, Digital Matters Interim Director, Marriott Library