Madison Public Library is continually striving to be an inclusive and welcoming space for all.
In February 2019, Madison Public Library partnered with Madison Metropolitan School District, Welcoming Schools, and A Room of One's Own to host community readings of I Am Jazz, a book co-written by transgender trailblazer Jazz Jennings about her experience as a transgender girl. The goal was to provide kids and families who are gender-fluid and gender non-conforming a safe space to be themselves, and to remind all attendees that our differences can be celebrated.
Community-wide readings of I Am Jazz began in 2015, organized by a caring parent in support of a student who identified as transgender. Though readings of the book at the school were canceled, over 600 people showed up at the Mt. Horeb Public Library for a reading of I Am Jazz to rally behind this student, her family and transgender people everywhere. Madison Public Library was honored to help bring these events to the people of Madison.
The library’s first community reading was held in partnership with Madison Children’s Museum in December 2017. In 2019, the series expanded to seven library locations. Each event featured guest readers from MMSD, trained in diversity and inclusion through the Welcoming Schools program. After reading I Am Jazz aloud, readers led discussions with kids and families about the book. Library staff at each location also celebrated with a display of LGBTQ+ books and provided a booklist for families with additional library resources.
In an interview with WORT-FM, youth services librarian Rebecca Millerjohn explained the importance of the library’s participation in the I Am Jazz readings. "We want to make sure that there are books on our library shelves for every student or every child who needs a book about themselves, about their identity, or who wants to learn about others."
Over 138 people participated and attended the seven community-reading events.
Lee Young, a volunteer reader at Sequoya Library, was thrilled to bring his daughter to the event where she regularly attends storytime. “As I was reading aloud...I felt my eyes welling up with emotion. I squeezed my daughter a little tighter. I looked up and saw the faces of library staff, local trans youth activists, and many others that I didn’t know before that day, and saw so much love in their eyes.”
“It is a moment I will carry with me for a very long time. Since the reading, my daughter has asked many questions. It prompted deeper conversations about gender, and her understanding is far beyond what it was before she read about Jazz,” said Lee. “Even though my daughter may not remember that day years from now, I know she felt the love in the room and will forever be better for it.”
One parent commented, "My gender-questioning child loved the I Am Jazz reading at Lakeview last night. Thank you for organizing and making all kids feel included. This was the first time he wore his dress outside of the house, and everyone at Lakeview made us feel so empowered, happy, and welcome."
The feedback from those who organized, attended, and participated demonstrates the profound impact of these intimate community readings. We value the opportunity to bring people together and will continue to explore ways to help people feel safe and welcome in our city.
The fourth annual Jazz and Friends National Day of School and Community Readings was sponsored by the Welcoming Schools Program at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, and the National Educational Association (NEA), the country’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3 million educators across the U.S.