Newly formed committee wants to add to catalog of gay-related items housed at Oak Lawn Branch, which is already among nation’s largest
The Oak Lawn Branch of the Dallas Public Library houses one of the nation’s largest LGBT circulating collections, according to branch manager Angie Bartula.
And a new committee called Dallas Library Pride met for the first time recently to talk about bolstering the collection that currently includes 1,729 items and which during the 2011–12 fiscal year had a circulation of 3,748.
The group of librarians formed to highlight the role the library can play in enhancing the quality of life for the LGBT community. They hope to expand the special collection, sponsor events and provide a strong virtual presence.
“Our goal is to provide more focused library services for the LGBT community,” said Peter Coyl, manager of the Audelia Road Branch. He also sits on the American Library Association Stonewall Book Awards committee that will select this year’s winners in January. While others on the Pride Committee called the position a huge honor, Coyl joked that it mostly means he has no dating life and sits home nights reading books.
Coyl joined committee chair Ray Sablack and half a dozen other librarians from around the system — including
Angie Bartula, the only member of the committee who is not gay — to discuss the collection recently.
Oak Lawn Branch has housed the collection for at least two decades, Bartula said. She called the circulation numbers pretty good, but she said they would increase dramatically with certain strategic additions to the collection.
She’d like to add to the number of CDs and DVDs she carries because they circulate well. She’s also looking for suggestions for additional magazines to add to current titles like Out and the Advocate.
The Dallas library’s collection differs from those in New York and San Francisco. Former Oak Lawn Branch manager Kjerstine Nielsen said those cities have research collections. Dallas has a circulating collection.
Books in the LGBT collection are handled differently than other items in the system. When most books, videos or magazines are checked out, they remain at the library where they’re returned. Pieces of the LGBT collection are marked on the binder with a rainbow flag and returned to the Oak Lawn Branch no matter where they’re returned.
Part of the renewed interest in the public library’s LGBT collection comes with the closing of the Phil Johnson Library at Resource Center Dallas. That collection, begun with the donation of items collected by Dallas gay-rights pioneer Phil Johnson, includes newspaper clippings, artifacts, historical documents and periodicals that are moving to the University of North Texas. The school in Denton has new facilities to preserve and store the items and eventually digitize them for online access. Most of the items going to UNT have been untouched and in storage for years.
RCD’s main building on Reagan Street mostly housed books for circulation. Some of that collection will be moving to the Oak Lawn library. Some may be added to the Central Library’s research stacks, and other books that librarians think probably won’t circulate will be sent to the UNT collection.
Recently, the LGBT collection got a financial boost as well. For several years, the library system has been dealing with cutbacks, including less money for the acquisition fund. Sablack said that this year, City Council restored $1 million for acquisitions.
But the LGBT collection got another boost with memorial donations made in memory of Carol Wells, who died earlier this year. Wells owned a French restaurant called Le Pigalle that became a gay after-hours hangout and in the 1970s she opened the Alley Door, a gay bar.
She was a member of Friends of the Oak Lawn Library and created calendars to raise money for the branch.
Dallas Library Pride writes a monthly post for the library system’s Booked Solid blog. For National Coming Out Day, the committee posted a short explanation of NCOD and recommended four books to help with the coming out process, including the Dan Savage It Gets Better compilation of essays.
Sablack said he’d like to add monthly book reviews, video reviews, and other news and information about the LGBT collection.
Bartula said her branch is the first stop for many people venturing into the LGBT community for the first time. Situated on Cedar Springs Road, the library is in the middle of the gay neighborhood.
Coyl said libraries are safe and confidential.
“We don’t assume anyone’s checking out a gay book because they’re gay,” he said. “We provide information without judgment.”
Over the next year, Dallas Library Pride hopes to add programming to the newly reinvigorated collection. A film series was successful in the past and the committee hopes to try one again. Sablack suggested a children’s book reading event geared toward LGBT families. Among the LGBT collection are a variety of children’s books geared toward children of gay and lesbian parents.
Sablack said he’d like to see more authors come to the library to speak as part of their book tours. But the library used to plan those events in conjunction with a book signing at Crossroads Market. With the loss of that store and Borders in West Village, the Oak Lawn Branch has no obvious partners in the Oak Lawn area anymore.
“In five to 10 years, North Oak Cliff will have a new building with more resources for meeting activities,” Bartula said.
The committee agreed they’d like to develop an LGBT collection for the North Oak Cliff Branch when it opens closer to Bishop Arts District.
Bartula said librarians are early adopters.
“If there’s something the library can do, we’re always taking suggestions,” she said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 26, 2012.
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