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Dragging Down A Reputation

It can be very hard to build a trusted brand, but once built, a trusted brand is an extremely valuable commodity. Businesses put a lot of time and money into strengthening their brands and building trust – they sponsor the arts, make charitable donations or create award schemes, and they make sure we all know about it.

The loss of brand trust is usually swift and can be catastrophic – just ask Gerald Ratner who destroyed his entire business with a careless remark. Ratners had traded on very low prices for goods that people believed to be worth having, but when Ratner told them that these goods were “crap” their customers realised that they had been taken for fools. Thirty years on, Ratners is still a “toxic” brand because they betrayed their customers’ trust.

Libraries and schools trade on trust too, albeit in the sphere of education. We give them something far more precious than our money – we give them our children to nurture. And of course, we all pay for this through our taxes.

We trust that when our children go to school, they will be taught information and behaviours that will help them develop into successful adults.

And libraries, that bulwark of civilization, are trusted to curate our literary heritage, and to stock good quality books that are appropriately age graded. We trust that a diversity of opinion and political persuasion will be catered for, and that children will not be exposed to disturbing material. Being a good librarian is a lot more than making sure the books are shelved correctly and fines are paid for late returns.

The challenge for libraries is to remain relevant and sufficiently valuable to warrant funding

In these days of cheap and plentiful reading material from the likes of Amazon, and an internet bursting at the seams with “free” reading material on every subject under the sun, the challenge for libraries is to remain relevant and sufficiently valuable to warrant funding.

Encouraging a love of literature in children is a gift to those children and benefits everyone, and libraries are the ideal place for this to happen. Reading should be fun, rewarding, exciting, and the choice of books has never been greater. Excellent stories and the imagination of a child in a safe and trusted environment, all funded by the state for the greater good of society. It’s a marriage made in heaven – isn’t it?

The loss of trust

It seems not. It appears the library service has lost trust in the ability of wonderful stories to keep the attention of children and to help them understand ideas like the importance of diversity of thought. Instead, when hosting reading events, the person reading is likely to be the central attraction, and the books are reduced to a supporting role.

As a result, the library service has embraced Drag Queen Story Hour to deliver a love of reading to children, because “drag” as a cultural phenomenon is currently very fashionable.

People tend not to question those things that are endorsed by people and institutions that they trust, even if they have some level of discomfort with them. Many people do not understand that “drag artists” are adult entertainers, highly sexualised and often having names that belittle women and the experiences of women. Anna Bortion anyone? Penny Tration? Parents take their children to these events expecting libraries to have screened the performers and the content because they have trust in the public library service.

Indeed, libraries themselves refer to the fact that other libraries also host DQSH events without incident in defence of their own events.

But like all fashions, DQSH will become unfashionable at some point. When that happens, its inherent misogyny and homophobia will not withstand the scrutiny to which it will be subjected, and those organisations that embraced it with such enthusiasm may well find themselves tarred with the same brush. And if there is a serious safeguarding breach, and parents see that their children were not protected, the sense of betrayal will be profound.

When drag becomes unacceptable

When people stop seeing drag as acceptable – in the same way that people have stopped seeing the “Black and White Minstrel Show” as acceptable – how will libraries defend their platforming of these acts specifically for young children?

A government looking to cut costs may well find a damaged library service that has lost the trust of the taxpaying public a very easy target for defunding.

A library service that has lost the fragile trust of the public it is funded to serve may well find itself undefended in the face of a funding crisis and face a catastrophic loss of public goodwill.

Public libraries need a long-term plan that does not dance to the tune of political lobby groups, that benefits all, and will keep them relevant. We are living through strange times, and what is fashionable in 2022 is unlikely to have long-term appeal.

Excellent children’s literature continues to inspire and delight across the decades, and it does not require glitter and performance. It stands on its own merits.

Let’s make the books the stars of story hours.



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