The unofficial service motto of my high school library is “Yes! We Can Help!” Need a double-sided photocopy? We will teach you. Need help formatting your citations and printing your paper? Absolutely. Do you need to borrow colored pencils, scissors, and tape? We’ve got you covered. Do you need a book recommendation or help with your research question? Yes, we can! We want you to experience the school library as a place to get help and where you feel comfortable to help yourself. Our board games, community crafting projects, jigsaw puzzles, and coloring pages are all in high-visibility, easy access locations. We also offer some self-service supplies in the library — on the “Things You Might Need Shelf” — paper clips, stapler, three-hole punch, white-out, tape, paper (blank, lined, and graph), and a pencil sharpener. As of last year, we added a bowl of free condoms, with adjacent information on use, sexual readiness, and sexually transmitted infections, located right next to our pencil sharpener, three-hole punch, and paperclips.
“What would you think about having condoms in the library?” When our school nurse (Maine’s 2018 School Nurse of the Year) Janis Hogan asked, I had no hesitation in saying yes. Newsflash: our high school students (and yours, too) are already having sex. Period. According to Hogan, “Having condoms available does not mean that students will have more sex. What it means is that they will be more likely to be having protected sex.” In an article published in NASN School Nurse, Hogan writes that each year “there were unintended pregnancies, fears of pregnancy, concerns about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and questions about emergency contraception and abortion from the student population.” She adds that students often admitted that they were not using condoms during sexual activity. Hogan’s proposal to the school board specified certain locations for the condoms; logically, one location would be in the nurse’s office, but she wanted to provide an additional site. The library was suggested by students as a place that could offer easy access and more anonymity. We had just the spot: right on the “Things You Might Need Shelf!” The shelf is located within sight of the circulation desk, but provided the perfect cover for a student who might feel awkward in helping themselves to this type of supply: with a quick turn of your back you can take a condom and I will likely assume you’re helping yourself to a paper clip.
Why do condoms belong in the school library? Because it’s a place that many students visit. The library is at the heart of our school, located centrally by the front entrance and office, on your way to wherever you’d be going during your school day. The school library is also a safe space, not just for our LGBTQ+ students, but for everyone. We allow students to eat their lunch in the library if the cafeteria is not for you (too loud, too crowded, too socially overwhelming). We convey, in our interactions with users, a sense of respect and interest in the needs and lives of each individual; we build relationships in the library. Acknowledging that students might need condoms along with the tape dispenser is another way of showing our respect for, as well as support and acceptance of what our students need.
Author: Iris Eichenlaub
Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Library via Facebook (@ESVMLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/ESVMLibrary) or Instagram (@ESVM_Library or https://www.instagram.com/esvm_library).