You can help libraries beef up their GLBT book section by donating
a few of your favorites, and getting others to donate also
I did not realize that the nearby John Merlo branch of the Chicago Public Library has a special collection of gay and lesbian books until one day, a year or two ago, when I was looking for Gertrude Stein’s entertaining “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” which I am embarrassed to say I had never read.
The librarian directed me to the gay book section, and there was Alice along with about 750 or 800 other books on gay sexuality, gay history, coming out, gay travel, gays and religion, health and AIDS issues, gay athletes, religion, gays and the military and 200 or 300 novels and light fiction.
And the books get used.
Some patrons use them for learning more about some subject they are interested in, others as with me and Alice to read a classic by a gay or lesbian author. Students use it for researching class projects and term papers.
Libraries are one of the obvious places a mother would go to find information about a son who just came out to her, or where a boy beginning to discover that he is gay might look for held, or where a lesbian couple would fine story books about other families with two mommies or two daddies to read to their.
Yes, the Internet exists. But search under “lesbian” or “gay teen” and see how many pages you get. And it is unselective: There is accurate information along with misinformation and repellent calumnies.
Then too, a lot of fine, older material is not on the Internet at all. And books usually provide more sustained analysis and supportive documentation than the typical website.
I also learned that the library accepts book donations to supplement its collection. I decided to test this.
I had an extra copy of Steven O. Murray’s anthropological survey “Homosexualities.” So I took it in and presented it to Patrick Corriere, who created and curates the collection.
Could it be added to the collection? But of course, said Corriere.
Since the main library downtown also had a copy, already catalogued, Corriere was able to use that catalog number, type up a label and enter the book into the computerized catalog. Within 15 minutes it was on the shelf.
Impressed, I tried another book. I asked Professor Wayne Dynes if he had any remaining copies of his fascinating but out-of-print “Homolexis: A Historical and Cultural Lexicon of Homosexuality.” He did and kindly sent one for the library.
Since there were no other copies in the library system, that one had to be processed at the main cataloging department downtown. But it is now on the shelf, big as life.
Then I thought of my friend Mark Zubro, who writes gay-themed murder mysteries. The library has some of his books but not all. Would he be willing to donate copies of some of his mysteries?
“How many would they like?” he asked, and promised to donate some. And I think I’ve persuaded columnist Jack Rinella to donate copies of his books on leather lifestyles.
I detail all this to suggest how easy it is to help libraries expand their gay holdings, which in many libraries are minimal. There are at least three ways to do this:
– You can donate books, so long as they are in excellent condition and not written in.
– You can buy books for the library that their tight budgets do not allow them to purchase. Librarians often know what books they wish they could add to their collection, so you need only ask them and then buy the books for them at your favorite bookstore.
– You can contribute to a sort of “gay friends of the library” fund maintained outside library auspices to help buy gay/lesbian books $50, 100, $200 or whatever. The library’s branch manager can provide more information.
At Lakeview’s Merlo branch library, the branch manager is Cynthia Rodgers. Not surprisingly, the gay/lesbian collection there is one of the very few anywhere in the country. Ms. Rodgers told me she recognized that the neighborhood has a large gay/lesbian population and felt the library should serve the needs and interests of the community that surrounds it.
It seems to me that this is an idea other libraries in communities with large gay and lesbian populations should imitate. If they have not, it is up to us to encourage them to do it.
It is easy to make an appointment with the library manager and state your case. You can even use Gary Gates’ “Gay & Lesbian Atlas” to show where gays live. If you can speak on behalf of an organization, so much the better.
One of the most important ways we can promote gay acceptance is to make accurate information about ourselves and our lives available to the general public. Libraries are one way to do that.
Most of us are not in a position to make major contributions to overcoming prejudice, but this is away we can all make small contributions that can have a cumulative effect.
Read Paul Varnell’s previous columns at the Independent Gay Forum (www.indegay-forum.org).
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 31, 2006.
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