Fat Activism In the Library

Published July 4, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

It has been with some considerable delight that I have been following Cat Pausé posting a lovely long list of fat studies book titles to her Tumblr over the past few weeks.  I knew about a few titles, but at last count Cat was up to 30 titles.  Which, needless to say, has created a very long “to read” list for me.

Cat and I got talking about just how many titles there are and what their availability is like, when it dawned on me – “You’re a librarian Kath!  You know how to access books!”

Let’s face it, books are expensive to buy.  Plus they take up space, have environmental impact and it’s not always necessary to keep them or read them again.  So being able to borrow them from the library is a fantastic exercise in accessibility.  Now I don’t know about your local library, but mine is free to join, you can borrow up to 20 items at any given time, can request books from other branches of our library service for a small fee, can have most items for four weeks AND has over 3 million items in the collection.  Not to mention that there are multiple languages available, resources for people with disabilities and a whole bunch of other services you can take up.  That does vary from library service to library service, but whichever way you go, it’s still a budget way to read all these great titles.

One of the things Cat and I have been talking about is the concept of having fat studies titles in a library collection as an alternative voice to the usual diet books and “you can lose weight too” pop psychology/self help books.

Now I know we have Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon PhD in our collection.  If I take the Dweey number (Dewey is the classification by subject matter) of just that title alone, 613.25, and search our catalogue, I come up with 256 titles.  All of them, except Health at Every Size, are diet books.  So to one fat-friendly title, I get 255 weight loss/diet books, just in our collection alone.

When I search the Dewey of Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby’s book Screw Inner Beauty (US title: Lessons from the Fatosphere), 616.398, I bring up 19 titles, 17 of those are weight loss/diet help guides or titles about the “obesity epidemic”.  The other fat-friendly title is Prof. Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth.

The next search I ran was a subject search for “eating disorders”.  I got 279 hits, only one of which could be considered fat-friendly, and that is Harriet Brown’s Brave Girl Eating.  A search on “body image” brings up 64 titles, almost all of these focus on “looking good” or “you’re not as fat as you think you are” subjects (which excludes anyone who actually is fat).  There is a very high focus under this subject heading on “flattering” clothing and “what not to wear”.

Next I decided to search the term “fat”.  Over 450 titles came up, and most of these were diet books, low-fat cookbooks and “weight loss journey” stories.  No fat acceptance/fat-friendly titles came up under “fat” at all.  And don’t get me started on what comes up under “obesity” as a subject search.  Aye! Aye! Aye!

So it goes to show that the prevailing message being sent is fat = bad/unhealthy.

But!  Just by having these titles by Linda Bacon, Paul Campos, Harriet Brown, Marianne Kirby and Kate Harding, there is at least some alternative perspective available in the public library.  Of course, read one and they refer you on to other titles.

The real magic though is these titles sitting on the shelves of libraries, quietly lurking in amongst the fat loathing titles.  Along comes the humble borrower, hunting that “Lose the Fat and be Rich for Life”* title, and there it is.  Health at Every Size.  Or The Obesity Myth, or any of the other titles.  So innocent looking but inside those covers… RADICAL AWESOMENESS!

If one person picks one of those titles up instead of the “Purple Food to Skinny Jeans!”** book, imagine the difference that could be made to their lives!

So, if you want to read any of the awesome books Cat has compiled in her list, get thee to your local library!  If they don’t have it, request it.  Many public libraries rely on customer requests to drive their collections.  Plus every one they add, thanks to your suggestion, gets borrowed by other people to discover the fat acceptance message too.  The same goes for fat positive fiction.  It doesn’t just have to be non-fiction.

You can also ask your library about Inter-Library Loans as well.  Many library services share their collections amongst each other, quite often for free, sometimes for a small fee.  Plus if you’re a member of a public library, you can often get access to academic papers and journals as well through the library’s subscription.

Besides, libraries are definitely fat friendly spaces.  Librarians care about your reading, not your body size.  And libraries are accessible, have comfortable, solid furniture and are free!

What are you waiting for?

*Yes, I made this book title up.
**Ok I made this one up too.

19 comments on “Fat Activism In the Library

  • I love this post. I love libraries. I hope you inspire more people to check out their library. The more people who go, hopefully the more funding and the more it inspires even more people to go.

    But please! Please! Think carefully about criticising books, even to make an overall good point – yes they have an environmental impact. True. And there are lots of books that are a waste of paper. But overall, it would be terrible if people restricted books for environmental reasons. When it comes to good reading, the more the merrier.

    • Alexie it’s really tough times for libraries around the world. Here in Australia we’re relatively lucky, but I’ve watched libraries around the world have their funding slashed and libraries shut down.

      I’m not criticising books generally at all – remember, I am a librarian myself. I’m stating the cons that paper books can have for the individual. If someone can afford them, is going to use them again and again, and has the space for them – that’s great – collect away! What I’m getting at is that in tough times, as we face right now, when money is tight and our lives are restricted, we have options to get accessibility to all of these titles (many of which can be hard to find as well), and we’re supporting a great community resource, while being kind to our environment and our wallets.

      I think too many people panic about the format of books and writing, and don’t concentrate on the CONTENT. What is in them is far more important than what format they take at any given time. The paper book will never die, but looking at other formats and accessibility means more people read – which is the ultimate goal!

  • Our local library shits me because it *isnt* accessible. And it is less than 15 years old.The doors are big heavy push doors and not at all friendly to anyone who is not able bodied. It has been a pet peeve with me ever since the new library opened. When I worked for the local library service, the small town library I managed had a huge step to get into it, big heavy doors and was very pokey and small. No room for someone with a wheelchair. There was one local man who drove a scooter and he would pull up out the front on the path, yell until I heard him and then I would take his books and pick new ones for him. I hated it, not because I minded picking his books but just because he was dehumanised like that.

    • Bri that is very much a dark ages library! I think our libraries moved over to full accessibility by the mid-90’s at the latest. The real tiny oldies that had stairs and stuff were the last to go, but eventually they got ramps and things built into them.

      It’s worth contacting the local councillor. They don’t want to be seen as not providing disability access to their one highly visual community interface.

      It’s sad that rural libraries are so neglected.

      Actually it just made me think – for any of you who are not able to get to your library for accessibility reasons, do check with them that they don’t offer a home library service – ours does!

  • As a teenager, I worked after school at our local public library. Good times. One of my best friends is a librarian and I married a computer programmer/analyst who changed careers in his early thirties and became…a university librarian.

    We are a seriously bookish family. Hubby, the two teenage boys and I always have books on the go. The only problem is that in our house, books reproduce at a frightening rate. We keep building and buying bookshelves, but those books are like rabbits, spreading across every flat surface in the house. And when it’s not books, it’s newspapers (two dailies and one weekly) and magazines (in two languages). It’s a hard life (lol).

    I haven’t checked your list, so excuse me if I’m telling you something you know already, but have you heard of/read “Fat Politics” The Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic”, by J. Eric Oliver?

    I’ve only read the first few pages on the Internet, but I think I’m going to buy it. From what little I read, it seems to sit squarely within that small but growing list of FA/HAES books.
    Definitely an interesting book to look at.

    I’d love to know whether you’ve heard of it, or better yet, read it.

    • My house used to be like yours, but only produced by me! I no longer buy magazines (95% of them are full of body hatred) or newspapers, but I cannot leave books alone.

      I’m trying to be a good librarian and borrow more library books – because that’s what the library is there for!

      I’ll have a look if that one is on the list, if not, add it to my own reading list.

  • I requested that my local branch get the Fat Studies reader when it came out. I had them get a copy since no one in the system had it. I also wrote a list of books that I wanted that they didn’t have but they could only get the reader since it had just come out at the time. I think it is a great suggestion for people to ask or see what other branches in the system have.

    BTW Fat Politics is a great book. I’m in the middle of Fat Shame that just came out and it is blowing my mind. =0)

    • Sometimes collection policies state that libraries only buy books of a certain age (say, less than 2 years old) or they have a ratio of Dewey numbers per budget, so if they’ve already bought a lot of other books with that Dewey number for the year… no more!

      But it can’t hurt to ask and any librarian worth their salt will do their best to get a copy for you somehow.

  • Hurray for libraries! I love mine, EPL.ca
    We were voted..something something,lol I forget, but we won an award
    and I think libraries everywhere are one of the BEST things in life!

    Thank you for so many wonderful titles and the link to more.
    You’re awesome and I appreciate the work you did!

  • I love libraries. The good ones always bring a great sense of happiness, contentment, discovery, and a host of other delicious feelings.
    I checked out the reading list and was surprised to find out just how many of those books I have already read. I plan to inquire about some others that look intriguing.
    There’s one book there, “Such a Pretty Face” by Marcia Millman, whose place on the list I would dispute. Granted, I read it decades ago, but the impression I got from it was that fat people are these weak, miserable beings. Definitely not fat-positive. If someone out there has read it more recently and come to a different conclusion, I’d be most interested in hearing your opinion.

  • I love love LOVE libraries. I worked as a shelver all through my teens and it was so great. Firstly, I got exposed to many titles I wouldn’t have otherwise read. Secondly, I saw the power of libraries as community hubs- free, safe, warm, accessible- what’s not to love? We got lots of interesting ‘characters’ through our doors, all united by their love of books (or music/ DVDs/ comics).

    But the absolute best thing? Non judgmental space and staff. ‘librarians care about your reading, not your body size’. So true. I work with teenagers in schools talking about beng queer, and I always plug the library as a great source of free, confidential info- so long as you return it undamaged and on time, nobody bats an eyelid at what you borrow.

    Great post as always Kath. Love your work.

    PS- at last count, i have 11 library cards, giving me access to 27 different libraries across Melbourne. Bliss!

    • Catherine, you’ve given me the best librarian warm and fuzzies today! 11 library cards! I only have one! (But it does have all kinds of reciprocal access)

      And yep, we librarians generally don’t care what people borrow or what they look like, we just care that they’re turning up, using the library and reading. We get very good at keeping a poker face at some of the very colourful requests we get.

  • Never read any fat positive books, for some reason never really felt the need. I’ve just written brief post about my take on fat acceptance if anyone is interested! Not very deep or intellectual though I’m afraid. As an aside I used to work in a library. Hated it!

  • Just a heads up – I don’t allow comments that are promotional in nature unless already sanctioned by me. If you need to contact me with regards to this matter, just leave a comment saying so and I will email you back.

  • Sorry if the “heads up” was a response to my comment – I guess I didn’t think of it as promotional in nature (book generates next to no income for me). Just thought it might be a fat friendly read 🙂

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