A Queer Perspective

Photo Credit: Flickr User Anna-Stina Takala.

Expanding on the theme of diversity within HLS began by Micah and within the LIS profession by Rebecca, I would like to take a moment to add a queer perspective to this discussion.  My identity as a queer person has played a major role in my entry into this wacky world of library and information science.  The importance of access to information for queer people, who often cannot turn to the usual sources, such as family and friends, to learn about themselves or form positive self images, is huge.  So, from my perspective libraries and queer people are forever linked because libraries have what we need–information!  My goal is to make queer materials and queer issues more visible in libraries, and the most obvious place to start is with myself, and right now, here in my first HLS post.

I’ve been able to build queer themes into almost every class I’ve taken at San Jose State SLIS, and I even had the opportunity to take a class last semester devoted entirely to the subject of serving LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer) library users with Ellen Greenblatt. From term papers on censorship to a pathfinder about queer art to a research proposal on library outreach to queer youth, I’ve done my homework.  And this semester I feel very lucky to be interning at a queer library, the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center, located within the San Francisco Public Library.  The Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center collects, preserves, and promotes queer materials, and gives a very public face to the library’s queer collections.  Places like the Hormel Center, the Lavender Library, One Archives and others were created in an attempt to rectify a history of censorship and marginalization of queer materials within libraries and archives.

Thankfully, the ALA has very progressive policies around diversity and access to information, but as Micah’s and Rebecca’s posts on racial diversity point out, creating real live diversity among library staff, library school student bodies, and I would add library collections/programs/services, etc., is not so easy.  And as queer people become more assimilated into mainstream culture, I’m not convinced that that necessarily translates into more queer books, programs, services, or necessarily even more out queer staff members, at the library.  Seeing Ellen on TV everyday may lead some in the LIS field, or people in general, to think that all the battles for LGBTIQ people have been fought and won.  But there is still much work to be done!  As libraries aim to be on the cutting edge of technology to remain relevant, why can’t libraries also aim to be on the cutting edge of diversity by creating collections and services that reach beyond the status quo?  I’m talking about really investing in it, promoting it–getting innovative about diversity, all kinds of diversity.  I think that would be great way for libraries to remain relevant–forever!

But then, how do we actually make this happen?  One idea that would put the library’s progressive ideals into action is for more libraries to serve as safe-spaces.  I’d love to hear your ideas and comments.

Categories: Diversity

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16 replies

  1. Great post, Kevin. I think it’s wonderful that you’re starting a discussion about LGBTIQ issues in libraries; in particular, I appreciate your comment about your queer identity playing a large role in your future-librarian identity. My own sexual orientation doesn’t come into play much in my professional life, though I admit I’m not as open about being bisexual because there are a whole lot of judgments instantly thrown at a hyperfeminine gal who claims this (just following a trend, doing it for male attention, blah blah blah). My bisexuality isn’t central to my library-related goals, so it usually doesn’t come up… but you’ve made it part of your professional focus, so hurrah for you! I think many queer individuals still feel the need to hide this part of themselves from their professional identity for fear that they’ll be discriminated against (not an unreasonable concern in the least, sadly). I LOVE that you embrace it because the more eloquent queer library nerds populating this profession, the better! We can create inclusive spaces for our patrons by first showing our colleagues that we’re competent and unashamed… and I think blog posts like this that cater to a new generation of librarians are a great start for that sort of profession-wide attitude adjustment!


    • Bri, thanks for the wonderful comment, and for sharing your story! I think you’re right, coming out in the workplace and speaking up for queer issues can still be a frightening proposition. In some ways, I have it easy because I’m automatically out, but talking about these issues in the workplace can still be a challenge depending on the situation. Thankfully we can talk freely about queer stuff here in the LIS blogosphere!


  2. As a future LIS student (enrolling Fall 2012) and as a queer person, I was drawn to Information Science partially because the library was such a safe space for me growing up. And I’ve been overjoyed to see all of the queer spaces that have sprung up out of a desire to document a history that’s been obscured/erased. Being able to preserve and honor that history is important to me, so I hope I’ll have the opportunity to intern for or work with a queer library or archive as a student. Thanks for writing about this topic – I’m glad you’re bringing this discussion to HLS!


  3. Thanks, Kathryn! I know what you mean about the library feeling like a safe space. I definitely had that experience, but I wouldn’t say that I found the materials that I was looking for, or felt comfortable asking a librarian. So, I think making the library more visibly welcoming for queer youth/adults is a big part of it. Good luck in library school!


  4. Kevin, you are absolutely right. It’s so important that libraries serve as hubs of diversity, and that we include the LGBTIQ community in such discussions. I work in the library of a small Christian university, which adds a significant layer of difficulty onto that challenge! But I am committed to doing what I can to make my library a safe space for queer persons and encourage the “space” to encompass the entire campus. I’d be interested on a post delineating proactive ways of doing this!


    • Keegan, sounds like a challenging environment for serving LGBTIQ library users, indeed! Bharat Mehra has done a lot of interesting research on this topic. I’m not sure what my next post holds, but I’m definitely committed to this issue. Keep in touch!


  5. It’s always important to think about libraries and library services in a different way. Last summer, Dan Savage (of the It Gets Better Project) spoke at ALA Annual’s opening session. Someone had asked him about the importance of publishing a physical book (over an ebook), and he answered that teenagers can’t necessarily afford incriminating web browsers, etc. I never thought about physical books from that angle before, and it’s absolutely true. You can always flip through a physical book in the library without having to check it out — but if you use the internet, your library account is often linked to your computer activity.

    Diversity isn’t just about numbers — it’s about moving away from a framework of one dominant paradigm (or what’s normal vs. abnormal) to one that really values and understands multiple perspectives and ways of understanding.


    • What a great perspective about print materials!! That is an important lesson to keep in mind for collection development. I think one of the things that drew me to library school and libraries in general is that the information is available for everyone.


    • Rose, interesting point about digital vs. print materials. Let’s hear it for the anonymity of a dusty old book in the library!


  6. While my queerness isn’t particularly important to my career, librarianship was particularly important to my formation as a young gay man … all of my earliest information was had by reading, usually at libraries.

    I just finished reading “Out Behind The Desk: Workplace Issues for LGBTQ Librarians” http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1936117037/hcm-20 and I felt like I was transported to another era, yet these stories seem to be contemporary stories. In order for libraries to be safe spaces for LGBTQ patrons, they have to be safe for LGBTQ librarians; from the stories I read it seems we have a long way to go for this to be true.


  7. Thanks, Kevin, for bringing this up. I wish to share a perspective I learned from Patty Wong at ALA last year: You don’t have to be Asian, Pacific, Latino, Hispanic, or queer (etc, etc) to join most of the groups (in ALA or wherever) that support increasing awareness about differences; anyone can join, if only to show support.


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