Anti-Bullying Week - what can libraries do?

Make a noise about bullying. Anti-bullying week 2015

This post is part of a series of blogs we are publishing about the role of libraries in times of crisis. Other blogs in the series include The role of libraries in times of crisis and Welcoming Refugees to the UK (and to Libraries).

Bullying - for all kinds of reasons – is rife in society, and in schools: the 2014 research from respectme, Bullying in Scotland 2014, for example, reports that:

  • "30% of children surveyed reported that they had been bullied in the last school year. Of these, 60% happened offline, 21% happened  both on and off line and 19% took place online only;
  • 92% of the children and young people reporting bullying said they knew the person bullying them (92% for offline bulling and 91% for online bullying)."

However, a major target for bullying is people who identify as (or are assumed to be) queer [1], and this is the focus for this blogpost.

Bullying of children and young people who identify as (or are assumed to be) queer

Research with young queer people reveals alarmingly high rates of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. The Youth Chances survey[2] found that 74% of young queer people had experienced name-calling, 45% had experienced harassment or threats and 23% had suffered physical assault. One respondent commented:

"In year 11, before I had come to terms with things myself, I was tricked into coming out to someone and was severely bullied, it meant that I had lots of time off school and avoided contact with other students at breaks, including eating my lunch in the toilets on my own for fear of being verbally abused by fellow students. I gave up at school at this point. I did well on my GCSEs but never fulfilled my full potential because I hated every minute of being there." (Gay man from London, 22, METRO Youth Chances, 2014, p.8)

Ofsted inspections consider levels of prejudice-based and discriminatory bullying, and schools are required to provide records of instances of homophobic bullying. A "what works" report from the Government Equalities Office published in 2014 suggested four broad approaches to tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying:

  • “Preventative or proactive approaches focusing on tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying within the whole curriculum and within the wider community. 
  • Interactive, discursive and reflexive teaching by teachers or external providers that stood alone or was part of a wider ‘whole school’ approach. 
  • Playground or school life approaches aimed at addressing HBT bullying language or behaviour where and as it happened in or around the school. 
  • Reactive and supportive approaches focused on dealing with bullying after it had happened. Either through: 
    • Recording of incidents, sanctions for the perpetrator and restorative justice after the event. 
    • Supporting pupils who have been bullied and signposting young people questioning their sexual orientation or gender-identity to other resources where such support was beyond the expertise of ordinary teaching staff.” (p.18) 

Introduction to Anti-Bullying Week

Anti-bullying week 2015 runs from 16-20 November. 

It is organised by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, in conjunction with a range of other organisations, such as BullyingUK, Actionwork, and Stonewall who are using their No Bystanders campaign (also via Twitter) to highlight how we should all get involved to stop bullying.

The key aims of the week are:

  • To empower children and young people to make a noise about bullying – whether it is happening to them or to someone else, face to face or online;
  • To help parents and carers have conversations with their children about bullying – both as a way of preventing bullying, and to help children who are worried about bullying;
  • To encourage ‘talking schools’ where all children and young people are given a safe space to discuss bullying and other issues that affect their lives, and are supported to report all forms of bullying;
  • To equip teachers to respond effectively when children tell them they’re being bullied; and
  • To raise awareness of the impact of bullying on children’s lives if they don’t tell anyone it’s happening – or if they are not given appropriate support – with a focus on the impact on mental health.

So what can libraries do? 

A ‘whole-school’ approach must include the library, and there are a number of areas in which libraries are particularly well-placed to contribute, as we discuss below.

"Schools need to provide safe and secure environments where students are able to explore issues of sexuality and gender identity without fear of reprisals. Teenagers have enough pressures on them today without the added stress that being queer can bring and in a bullying, homophobic environment they are unlikely to learn, achieve or develop their full potential. A whole-school approach is needed with strong anti-bullying and anti-homophobia policies, as well as support strategies. The school library has an enormous role to play in this agenda by providing a safe space and a wide range of accessible resources, both of which need to be openly promoted." Barbara Band - Immediate Past President of CILIP and Head of Library & Resources, The Emmbrook School, Berkshire

John has written elsewhere  about how badly he was bullied at school, and the respite from this that the school library offered, thanks to a sympathetic teacher-librarian – this is a really significant area of provision, but one that is frequently overlooked. Public libraries can also work to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for young queer people.

However, the research evidence suggests that school and public library provision for young queer people has historically been poor (Bridge, 2010; Chapman, 2013; Chapman and Wright, 2008; Walker, 2013). Many young people do not even consider looking for resources in the school library, either through fear or through an assumption that the library will not have anything useful (Walker, 2013)

We recently ran a workshop at the YLG/CDEG Conference in Glasgow together, “LGBTQIA* library provision for children & young people”, where the participants identified key barriers to providing library & information services for children and young people who identify as queer. These included:

  • Staff attitudes
  • Parents’ attitudes
  • Behaviour/language that goes unchallenged
  • Lack of visibility of queer library materials
  • If you identify as non-gender-conforming, how would you find our services?

We need to work hard to overcome these barriers. Here, we offer some suggestions on how school and public libraries can contribute to challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, and creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment.

  • Display posters and other information material to create a welcome for queer young people – posters such as Stonewall’s “Get over it!” series, those available from BullyingUK for Anti-Bullying Week, Northern Ireland’s “End Bullying Now!”, leaflets & posters from the Welsh Government, and, as noted above, resources from Scotland’s respectme
  • School and public libraries often provide a safe space for queer young people, even if we never realise it (Bridge, 2010; Walker, 2013). This can be further developed by putting up a ‘safe space’ sign and ensuring that any homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviour or language is challenged and dealt with.
  • The Government Equalities Office report, discussed above, recommends signposting young people to appropriate websites or local support groups (p.65). This is an obvious role for the library! At the end of this blog post, we have provided a (non-exhaustive) list of websites and organisations that may be useful to young people; however, you will also wish to seek out local groups that can provide face-to-face support and community.
  • Online communities and information can be a lifeline for young queer people. With this in mind, it is important to ensure that internet filters do not block access to LGBTQ* websites. Unfortunately, filtering software (particularly keyword filtering) often blocks access to legitimate and important information sources, while failing to block those considered undesirable.
  • We also need to make sure that we source, purchase, display and signpost materials to support queer children and young people and their families. The Government Equalities Office recommends that this should include appropriate “self-help” materials for young queer people who are being bullied or who want to explore their own sexuality or gender identity (p.65). However, young queer people also have many other information needs, including fiction that reflects their lives; sexual health information; political information; queer history; and queer community information (Walker, 2013; Bridge, 2010). Displays of these materials send a positive message and help to ‘usualise’ queer people and issues, as well as helping young people to find the materials.
  • There is more about this – and recommended lists of titles – available in Liz’s previous blogpost, “Improving LGBTQ* provision in your library: why and how to do it”
  • Remember that young people may not always wish to ask a librarian for information relating to being queer. Resources, whether online or in hard copy, should be easy to find without having to ask a staff member for help.
  • Research shows that homophobic bullying often starts from a very young age. Many LGBTQ* people become aware of their sexuality or gender identity before they reach the teenage years, and an increasing number of children are growing up in families with LGBTQ* parents. Thus, it is essential for primary schools as well as secondary schools to provide positive images of LGBTQ* people and families.
  • School libraries could also have a role to play in helping teachers – who may not necessarily be aware of queer issues – to find resources to use in making their lessons more inclusive.

For young people, being bullied is one of the severest crises they face. By intervening, as we have suggested here, libraries can again demonstrate their key role in times of crisis, offering information, support, a place to be welcome and to be oneself, and a place of safety. 

Useful websites and organisations – for young people

Useful websites and organisations – for teachers and librarians

Further reading – for teachers and librarians

Sally Bridge (2010). No place on the shelves? Are Northern Ireland's school libraries addressing the information needs of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students? Aberystwyth: Aberystwyth University.

Elizabeth L Chapman (2013) “No more controversial than a gardening display? Provision of LGBT-related fiction to children and young people in UK public libraries.” Library Trends, 61(3), 542-568.

Elizabeth L Chapman and Caroline Wright(2008) “Provision of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans materials for young people in UK public and secondary school libraries.” In Sarah McNicol (ed.) Forbidden Fruit: the censorship of literature and information for young people. Boca Raton, Florida, BrownWalker Press.

Renée DePalma andElizabeth Atkinson (eds) (2008) Invisible boundaries: addressing sexualities equality in children’s worlds. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.

Renée DePalma andElizabeth Atkinson (eds) (2009) Interrogating heteronormativity in primary schools: The No Outsiders Project. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.

April Guasp (2012) The school report: the experiences of gay young people in Britain’s schools in 2012. London: Stonewall.

April Guasp, Gavin Ellison and Tasha Satara (2014) The teachers’ report: homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools in 2014. London: Stonewall.

LGBT Youth Scotland (2012) Life in Scotland for LGBT young people - education report.

METRO Youth Chances. (2014). Youth Chances summary of first findings: the experiences of LGBTQ young people in England.

National Union of Teachers (2014) Breaking the mould: gender stereotypes

No Outsiders Project Team (2010) Undoing homophobia in primary schools. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.

Sue Sanders andArthur Sullivan (2014) “The long shadow of Section 28 – the continuing need to challenge homophobia.” Race Equality Teaching, 32 (2), 41-45.

John Vincent (2014) LGBT People and the UK Cultural Sector: the response of libraries, museums, archives and heritage since 1950. Farnham: Ashgate.

Janine Walker (2013) Secondary school library services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) students. Sheffield: University of Sheffield.

Janine Walker and Jo Bates (2015) Developments in LGBT provision in secondary school library services since the abolition of Section 28. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. OA version available here


  1. We're using the term “queer” here, partly as shorthand, and partly to include anyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, questioning, intersex, asexual, non-binary.
  2. The YouthChances survey gathered data from over 7,000 young people aged 16-25 in England, which makes it the largest and most representative research of its kind to date.  
  3. In LGBT people and the UK cultural sector: the response of libraries, museums, archives and heritage since 1950 (Ashgate, 2014), John writes: “Secondary school was mostly a nightmare. This was primarily because I was bullied and then ostracised – boys in my year recognised that I was gay even before I fully had … (or a ‘poof’ as they termed it on the blackboard) …” (ppix-x).

Image source: Anti-bullying Alliance / image placed on blue background


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