One of any academic library’s best kept secrets is, undoubtedly, our Library Guides (or simply libguides)– carefully curated resources and materials spliced together with the help of the ubiquitous Springshare LibApps platform. With the University of Alberta’s strategic plan to build “a diverse, inclusive community,” these guides are well positioned to better serve the information needs of our communities, while also highlighting a more inclusive range of topics and resources. With this in mind, the University of Alberta Library (UAL) library guide on Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) was established, featuring a greater range of 2SLGBTQ+ coverage.
The UAL EDI libguide was created in collaboration with University of Alberta (UofA) campus EDI team, led by (then) Provost Fellow in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Policy, Dr. Malinda S. Smith, a long-time Professor of Political Science. Dr. Smith and her team sought to build a robust UofA web page for all things EDI, referred to as EDI Gateway.
Beyond collating campus services, initiatives, and data, they also wanted to share other educational and scholarly resources, and that’s where the library came in.
Library staff had already created an incredible libguide: LGBTQ2S+ in Education. Seeing this, the campus EDI team reached out to the Library’s EDI Advisory Committee with the hope of expanding this libguide. They wanted to see more inclusion, and more support for researchers seeking literature on topics related to EDI. As such, the Library’s EDI Advisory Committee got to work by creating a sub-committee for this project.
An important task was determining what sections or pages to include and what language to use. Canada’s Employment Equity Act, 1985, provides a definition for “visible minorities” as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” Unique to Canada, this is often used as a touchstone for terminology, but it is widely critiqued for how it centers Whiteness. In the article “It’s Time to Abolish the Absurd (and Slightly Racist) Concept of “Visible Minorities”,” Peter Shawn Taylor notes:
“Nearly four decades later, Canada no longer suffers from an absence of race-based data. We are, in fact, inundated with it. And the evidence arising from this flood of racially-focused statistical work is clear and unambiguous: the entire concept of visible minorities – along with the superstructure of policies and laws that support it – makes no sense in our pluralistic 21st century Canada. It’s time to abolish this outdated, imprecise and subtly racist idea.”
Hence, terms such as “visible minorities” were ditched. We further avoided vague language and used more specific and appropriate terminology as much as possible. For example, many resources are grouped on the general topic of 2SLGBTQ+, but a lot is housed under this acronym. We wanted to go deeper into resources related to 2SLGBTQ+ and put the spotlight on these groups, so we established several pages instead, such as: Gender identity and expression (with subpages for transgender as well as genderqueer/non-binary), Sexual orientation, and Two-Spirit. This meant we could spend more time highlighting specific resources rather than just a few generalized links and keywords. These are areas that are often misunderstood, with many folx not understanding, for example, differences between gender identity and sexual orientation (you can be cisgender and queer!), and therefore we may use search terms that won’t retrieve relevant results.
Two-Spirit (2S) is particularly misunderstood, with many people incorrectly assuming it is the same as transgender and/or homosexuality, so we highlighted terminology and resources on the library guide. As no one on the team building the library guide was Two-Spirit, we sought appropriate resources to share on the guide and to use when building search terms; the Edmonton Two-Spirit Society is an incredible resource on which we relied.
From a recent presentation at the University of Alberta by Cheyenne Mihko Kihêw, the community liaison of the Edmonton Two-Spirit Society, the term Two-Spirit was coined in 1990 at the Winnipeg Native American Gay and Lesbian Conference, but comes from Myra Laramie during a pipe ceremony in 1989. In general terms, Nij- manidowag (or “Two-Spirit”) is used for Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island to describe aspects of gender, sexuality, and spiritual identity. However, it’s important to understand the deep, cultural roots associated with being Two-Spirit. It means different things across Indigenous peoples, and there are many different terms (you can see a short selection of terms on the Two Spirit libguide page); in short, Two-Spirit is not one identity.
Notably, this libguide is not intended to educate library users on the EDI related topics included within its pages, –its specific intention is to share resources, especially scholarly or library ones, for those pursuing research in these areas. However, we hope its presence encourages other library guide creators to consider a greater range of resources on more inclusive topics, and we hope to keep growing ours too!
A little about GALA Queer Archive GALA was formed in 1997 to address the erasure and omission of queer histories, stories and experiences from public institutions and archives in South Africa. We house over 200 collections and these include organisational material from LGBTIQ organisations and campaigns, as well as personal collections which include letters, diaries, photographs and memorabilia. We also have a large amount of material relating to protests, pride marches and cultural events.
We are located on Wits University campus in Johannesburg, although we are an independent NPO that relies solely on donor funding. Material in our collections has been used by researchers spanning many academic disciplines and professions, including film makers, journalists, artists and activists. We were fortunate enough to have 25 key collections digitized and made available online through GALE’s archives of gender and sexuality series in March 2020, just as the world closed down.
In addition to the archive program, GALA is also involved with research, oral history projects, youth work, public education programs, exhibitions and book publishing.
A short history of our library We have a community library on site, which has been used as both a library resource and as a safe and social space for the LGBTIQ community, mostly students from Wits University and surrounds. The library is free and works on an informal system of trust. Most of the books are donations.
But how did the library become a part of the archive? Sometimes even our own histories become confused, and the story of the GALA library is one such case! For a long time after taking up the post as the archivist at GALA in 2015 I was somewhat in the dark as to the history of the GALA library (officially the Cooper-Sparks Library). There were vague stories about how the library started in someone’s apartment, some versions said in a closet, some in a bathroom, and then moved to various locations before ending up in its current home at GALA.
I had tried to get in touch with Carol Cooper, the former librarian and one of the people who the library was named after, a couple of times without success, though a did receive an archival donation from her (via a friend) in late 2019. Then the world came to a standstill and other priorities came to the fore. In early 2021 I got an email from Lee Mondry, a friend of Carol’s, who kindly sat with Carol and transcribed the answers to my questions, both about her small archive collection at GALA, as well as giving some clarity about the history of the library. GALA’s standard blurb about the library (on our website, information pamphlets) had begun with “Once upon a time, more than 20 years ago, there was a very special library hidden in someone’s closet…”, but the recent communication from Carol shed a whole new light on this, as it was in fact a Water Closet (WC)! This outdated term for a toilet it seems started the confusion, and at some point became referred to as just a closet (appropriate imagery for the hidden, closeted queer world of the time). This is a perfect example of why language is so important in the recording of history. So here is a very brief, edited history of the GALA library as told by Carol Cooper:
The original library was literally in a water closet (toilet) in a Hillbrow apartment, which was started by two gay men, in the 80’s, who would “smuggle” books back from the UK. They put a door on top of their bath, in their bathroom, and had several shelves above that, and that was the very beginning of the Gay & Lesbian Library (needless to say these were all gay men’s books). Over time, they got more and more books, and eventually they moved away. In around 1990 the ‘library’ then moved into a space (still in the inner city) opposite Radio 702 Crisis Centre. At the time Carol was a volunteer Gay & Lesbian Counselling (GAB), which was next door to the Library in Hillbrow. She recalls how people would phone up and ask how they could meet other LGBTQ people, and one of Carol’s suggestions would be that they could come to the Gay & Lesbian Library. At that stage, it was only open on a Tuesday night, which she then extended to Saturday afternoons. When Carol started there were only 12 books for women of the around 500 books in total. At some stage after that, they had to move and for some time there was no physical space for the Library, with Tony Sparks was keeping all the books in his garage. The library then managed find a space in Yeoville at the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project offices (around the mid ‘90s). The Library was based there for a few years, and then moved to the Wits CLTD (Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development), where Carol was working, in 2003. The basement was empty and Carol asked whether they could run the Library from there, CLTD management agreed and that’s where it moved.
The Library continued to grow, not only in the number of books, but also in the number of visitors finding a safe space within its walls, which many attribute to Carol. In 2004 the CLTD expanded and the library moved across campus to its current home at GALA.
An additional note from Carol’s friend, Lee: I just wanted to add my own brief reflection on the significance of the Library and especially the role Carol has played in so many people’s lives (and Carol, having such humility, will never really admit to this I guess). I remember still being a teen when I visited the library for the first time. I was not out, did not really have any LGBTQI friends, and was pretty much hoping this was just a phase I would get over. The safe space I experienced over many, many years, the genuine warm welcomes, the loving hugs, the vibrant conversations, the gentle nurturing, the collective laughs as well as tears, hearing each other’s stories and being a support system for each other, the family we chose for ourselves, this experience moulded me (and countless other humans who visited the Library over the years) and I evolved to accept myself fully and for the first time be proud of who I am. I don’t think we should ever underestimate the impact the Library, and really that is the impact of Carol, has had on hundreds of people over those two decades, people who now wholly accept and love themselves as they are, and are also channelling that abundant acceptance and love they received right back into the communities within which they are based. Indeed that is quite a legacy. I am so honoured to have been, in a small way through Carol, a part of that story.
Until March 2020, when the world was turned upside down, the GALA library was open Monday to Friday during office hours, and in addition to being a lending-library, it served as a space for archive researchers, was the venue for the weekly GALA Youth Forum, was where our staff meetings took place, and generally continued to serve as a safe and social space for (mostly) queer youth in and around Braamfontein. With restrictions on numbers of people allowed in a space, this sanctuary has unfortunately been largely closed over the last two years. We are acutely aware of the impact this loss is surely having on the community. We very much hope that we will be able to open the doors of the library wide open again soon, continuing and honouring what Carol and others started.
The vision of the National Library of Ireland is share the stories of Ireland with the world. As part of that vision, 2021 was a year of particular focus on exploring Irish LGBTI+ identity and experience over the last several decades and into the present day.
‘Living with Pride’ was a year-long flagship programme including a physical and online exhibition of the work of activist Christopher Robson, and a programme of LGBTI+ events, with all the events online as a consequence of the Covid 19 pandemic.
The dedicated photographic exhibition on the National Library’s Christopher Robson Collection was at the heart of the programme. It was launched by Minister Catherine Martin in June 2021 and ran at the National Library’s Photographic Archive until November, with an online version permanently available. Christopher Robson was a founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN). His photographic collection of around 2,000 slides (digitised and freely available via the National Library’s catalogue) documents LGBTI+ life and activism in Ireland. It was donated to the National Library in 2015 by Bill Foley, Christopher Robson’s civil partner and by GLEN, in the presence of President Michael D Higgins. The exhibition was co-curated with Bill Foley, and focused on Christopher Robson’s photography, life, activism and achievements.
The accompanying events programme was co-curated with the National Library by Tonie Walsh, veteran LGBTI+ rights activist, journalist and curator of the Irish Queer Archive – itself housed in the National Library. The programme facilitated a closer look at many of the themes and issues raised by Robson’s photographs and included virtual talks, readings, workshops, panel discussions and events for children and young people.
Additionally, as part of Living with Pride, a poet-in-residence programme ran throughout 2021, a partnership between Cúirt International Festival of Literature and the National Library, funded by the Arts Council. Award-winning poet Seán Hewitt engaged with the content of the Irish Queer Archive to produce a number of works, which was particularly welcome as Tonie Walsh had noted at the announcement than ‘an overriding objective [of the Living with Pride programme is to ensure that members of the LGBTI+ community are aware of the Irish Queer Archive. The collection includes media clippings, community publications, material relating to various LGBTI+ organisations and initiatives and other ephemera, and is an invaluable community resource.’
A programme of this scale, mounted by a national cultural institution in Ireland, would have been hard to imagine not very long ago. Now, the challenge for the National Library is to continue that commitment to Ireland’s LGBTI+ community both in terms of our collections and our practice. In 2022, we continue to welcome donations to the IQA, which is a living archive, and to work with other potential donors of LGBTI+ material. We have shared recordings of the Living with Pride programme on our YouTube channel, and are participating in national programmes such as the Outing the Past festival. We are also delighted to be partnering with Dublin Pride on a travelling version of the Living with Pride exhibition. Our new strategy, which runs from 2022-2026, makes our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion even more explicit, and we look forward to playing our part in ensuring that the voices of Ireland’s LGBTI+ communities are heard and shared through the National Library’s collections.
In June 2019, the Public Library of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe launched the All Genders project, dedicated to LGBTQIAP+ themes, for LGBTQIAP+ people aged 12 and over and their relatives (an article was shared here last year about that launching). Eventhough setting up an LGBTQIAP+ collection is good, making it known is better. This article aims, therefore, to describe the projects dedicated to the valorization of these documents.
Berchem-Sainte-Agathe is one of the 19 municipalities of the Brussels Region. Its French-speaking library is part of the Brussels library network and the computerised Brussels union catalogue.
It is a municipality with few LGBTQIAP+ initiatives and a rather conservative climate around these issues (for example, the rainbow flag raised by the Dutch-speaking cultural centre De Kroone was burnt just a few hours after it was raised at this year’s Pride festival).
It teaches us that our initiative is more essential than ever but that we are walking on eggshells.
Another point is that the library, unfortunately, does not have sufficient resources of its own to hire someone permanently to work on this much-needed work of mediation and valorisation. These projects presented here could be realised within the framework of a one-off grant from equal.brussels. I was, therefore, hired in 2020 and 2021 on a part-time basis, each time for two months, having to take into account a pandemic, potential confinements, and a change in management between the two contracts (which meant handing over the project to the new director).
The Initial Project
Initially, the aim was to carry out an animation for teenagers at the local secondary school, three animations in safe-space for LGBTQIAP+ audiences and to draw up an exhaustive bibliography of the documents in the collection in 2020 and to distribute it to the library staff during a training day organised by the Public Library of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe in collaboration with our support operator, the Riches-Claires Library
As regards the exhaustive bibliography, the support operator organised a training course in 2021 and proposed that all the libraries in the Brussels network participate in two collective bibliographies. So it seemed to us redundant to print our exhaustive bibliography. The pdf document is available on request to the library at firstname.lastname@example.org .
During these two times two months, in addition to the bibliography, five animations were designed, conducted, and evaluated. A sixth animation was designed and planned.
1°) Sharing of texts
This activity was an opportunity to renew our relationship with a long-standing partner: Genres Pluriels, which responded very enthusiastically to our proposal to collaborate. The activity was online and designed as a safe space aimed at transgender people. They were invited to share a text that they had created or that had accompanied them on their journey as trans people. The activity took place via Jitsi and lasted 3 hours. This moment brought together 8 people and was very rich in emotion and sharing.
2°) Creative capsules
We proposed to people who wished to do so to create an audio story of 10 minutes maximum around the theme “here, elsewhere” and inspired by a photograph. We would have broadcast them during the Pride Festival 2021. Unfortunately, this activity was not as successful as expected and was, consequently, cancelled.
3°) Presentation of the collection
On the 18th of October 2021, in partnership with Genres Pluriels to open their festival “Tous les genres sont dans la culture”. This was the first activity about the « All Genders » project open to all audiences organised by the library. It was an opportunity to present the whole project to Genres Pluriels, Alter Visio, and Miska Tokarek (facilitator of the writing workshop). It was an opportunity to realise that this type of activity was interesting for someone who knew either the library world or LGBTQIAP+ issues or both, but that another angle of approach was needed for the general public. That said, Genres Pluriels, Alter Visio, and Miska Tokarek were very complimentary about the process, confirming that our work base is sound given our context, and gave us interesting feedback, allowing us to improve.
4°) Orality workshop
In a context where there are more and more initiatives to allow LGBTQIAP+ people to appropriate space through the spoken word and knowing the place of orality in queer history (since for a long time leaving written traces could be a danger in many places), it seemed interesting to me to propose a kind of initiation to this art which, like all arts, can require learning. Having followed a workshop of this type with Aline La Sardine in 2016, I offered that she joined the adventure. She was delighted as she was keen to experiment with an activity of this type with LGBTQIAP+ audiences. The activity was once again a success: we were 5 participants out of a maximum of 6 for a workshop that lasted 4 hours. It had a special flavour because it was held on 20 November, the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which commemorates people who have been victims of transphobia over the past year.
5°) « Forzameta: Histoires et musique d’un autre genre » Followed by a Moderated Discussion with Aline La Sardine and Alter Visio ASBL
In 2020, as this was our first activity for teenagers in a secondary school, I thought of offering a storytelling performance followed by a discussion moderated by a continuing education association.
Indeed, the tale is a powerful tool for tackling difficult or even taboo subjects, but also for touching our unconscious and a form of a collective memory of humanity (let’s remember for example that the tale of Cinderella has variations from France to Japan). And it so happens that tales that we would describe in our contemporary and Western context as LGBTQIAP+ have existed since the beginning of human storytelling, for the simple reason that LGBTQIAP+ people (even if they were not named in the same way as today) have been part of the human kin since the beginning of humanity.
And Aline La Sardine seemed to me, again, the most appropriate person to conceive this show. She is a professional storyteller who has been exploring feminist and LGBTQIAP+ issues in her work for years. She immediately responded.
In 2020, the school was also interested, as the themes of gender and body were part of the curriculum for the third year of secondary school (14 years old). In this context, a facilitator from Alter Visio went to the school and cleared the ground, which led to many questions from the pupils. That’s why I thought of that NGO for the moderated discussion.
And the association responded enthusiastically. Unfortunately, everything started to take shape when a second confinement hit Belgium. Alter Visio decided to maintain its activities but only virtually, which was not possible for the format of this activity. Thus, it was decided to postpone it until the beginning of 2021, after my first contract.
In the end, it was not possible to do so before the end of the school year, as the situation remained very turbulent.
At the time of my second contract, at the end of September 2021, I contacted the school again to see if they were still interested. Unfortunately, there was no way they could offer this activity for the academic year 2021-2022. However, Aline La Sardine and the new person in charge of Alter Visio activities in Brussels were still very enthusiastic. So we still had the activity, the partners, and the budget. All that was missing was an audience. So I contacted the coordinator of the youth centre in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, thus initiating a new partnership for the library, but also for Alter Visio (the Brussels youth centres are generally reluctant to deal with the subject). The latter accepted straight away. That is how Forzameta took place on the 27th of November 2021 in front of a dozen or so teenagers and young adults as well as youth workers from the centre. And the experience was excellent. They were carried away by the tales, were intrigued by the contemporary music instruments proposed (Aline offered them to try to play them) and the discussion afterwards opened doors as well as a possible future collaboration between the youth centre and Alter Visio to go further but also between Aline La Sardine and Alter Visio. In short, many good first times for the people present.
6°) Writing workshop
This activity was born out of our meeting with Miska Tokarek, a facilitator, among other things, who is very interested in queer and feminist themes. During our meeting to discuss the writing workshop, he was kind enough to suggest titles for the collection. This activity for transgender audiences will take place in March 2022. Miska is also part of Bicoli’s team, a self-managed queer feminist library based in Forest. So this was a first contact for possible future collaboration with this very nice association.
7°) The bonus
In terms of communication with the general public, my passage to 2021 was the occasion to make a first display dedicated to LGBTQIAP+ themes, in this case, transidentity. Indeed, the number of documents in the collections allowed us to focus on the TDoR (Transgender Day of Remembrance, which commemorates the memory of people who have been victims of transphobia in the past year). On this display, which is the first thing you see when you enter the library, were 2 posters with the trans flag explaining what TdoR and transidentity were and a selection of various documents. I was a bit scared about this given the context where we operate, but it went very well: the only comments we got were positive and books were borrowed! So this is an idea the team hopes to repeat next year. Indeed, it is a good way to make LGBTQIAP+ themes visible within the library and thus to position ourselves as a public library even if we have chosen the most absolute discretion in our classification plan (see the article dedicated to the setting up of the collection).
Our experience shows that it is possible to carry out actions aimed at a specific target audience, in this case, LGBTQIAP+ audiences, in a context not necessarily easy, and to obtain more than positive results.
Indeed, the people who came to the safe space activities were able to renew or deepen their relationship with public libraries while being fully themselves. Old and new partners are enthusiastic about the project, have given us ideas for improvement, and have spontaneously offered to promote the collection to their audiences. They confirmed that our methodology was good and the foundations sound. The activity for teenagers opened a door and created links between the youth centre and the library, attracting new audiences. And the library team is taking more ownership of the collection, ensuring that the All Genders project will continue to grow.
From all of this, there is one key thing I take away: the materials we offer are just one tool/service. They must be up to date and representative (for example, in this case, it is important to bear in mind that cisgender white male homosexuality is not representative of all LGBTQIAP+ experiences. It is a part of it. It has its place. But other narratives deserve to be highlighted as well) but it is not an end in itself. Having the most beautiful collection in the world is not enough if the way of welcoming our patrons, the procedures and the layout of the building (gender-neutral toilets for example) do not follow. In my opinion, the basis is there: offer moments of encounter in safe spaces, review our procedures, train ourselves to welcome these audiences. The collections can be built step by step as the relationship with these audiences and partners grows (why not even in collaboration with them?). This does not require huge resources but it can make a huge difference in the lives of some of our users.
IFLA LGBTQ Users SIG is a working qroup with its main focus on libraries, archives and documentation centres and how these places welcome LGBTQ+ users and support LGBTQ+ library staff.
We are expressing our concern regarding the current events taking place in Ukraine. Our hearts go out to Ukrainian people who are suffering from the effects of this war. We are strongly against any type of war and we hope that this situation will come to an end as soon as possible. We are especially worried about LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine as this group tends to be forgotten and even further marginalised in situations such as war.
If you are, or if you know an LGBTQ+ person in Ukraine in need of help, we encourage you to contact us at email@example.com. We will do our best to connect you with relevant organisations that could possibly be of further help.
We are expressing our solidarity with all our Russian colleagues who support knowledge and culture and who are in no way responsible for this situation. We are worried as well about the LGBTQ+ community in Russia. You are also welcome to contact us if you have some questions.
In hope for peace we are united!
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
Our colleague Cecile talked about it last month : the month of February is considered in the UK as “LGBTQ+ History Month“. Don’t be confused, an equivalent event is organized rather in October in the US (not to be merged with LGBTQ+ pride which is praised on June). This year 2022 is all the more important for our UK colleagues because it commemorates the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march in the country, in 1972.
In fact, as of 2020, LGBT History Month is also celebrated in Hungary, the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Greenland, and the city of Berlin. In the United States, Canada, and Australia, it is celebrated in October to coincide with National Coming Out Day on 11 October and to commemorate the first and second marches on Washington in 1979 and 1987 for LGBT rights. In Hungary and the United Kingdom, it is observed during February (in the UK this coincides with a major celebration of the 2003 abolition of Section 28). In Berlin, it is known as Queer History Month and is celebrated in May.
In the UK, LGBT+ History Month has been an annual event since 2005. Every year there is a theme and a well-publicised launch event at a high-profile location to try and get the message out to lots of people. This year, theme is Politics In Art: ‘The Arc Is Long’.
Such months events are more celebrated in anglo-saxon countries where a set of resources can be find to give more visibility and unity if not coherence to all the events offered. (There is no such Month Events in France, for exemple, even if events can last on several weeks if ever needed).
GLAMs (galleries, libraries, archives and museums), schools and other cultural and educational institutions in particular take advantage of these highlights to organize a number of events.
You can use the event to remember those across the world who live without rights, learn about historic LGBTQ+ figures and events, encourage inclusivity and understanding or just remember how far we have come in the fight for equality for exemple.
In libraries, events are particularly an opportunity to:
highlight resources and collections
physical displays: this is what you see the most when you quickly browse twitter, for example: displays adorned with community flags or simply showcasing a selection of thematic works.
As we celebrate LGBT+ History Month in the UK, I wanted to share my experience and some key lessons I have learnt as Co-Chair of the LGBTQ+ Staff Network of the British Library.
In 2017, the British Library curated an exhibition called ‘Gay UK’ exploring the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. Through the preparation of the exhibition, the organisation wanted to consult with staff who had the expertise and lived-experience of being LGBTQ+ and it became clear that there wasn’t a direct channel for this dialogue to exist internally. This was the beginning of the British Library’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network. Created by a group of colleagues, it became a new space for LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies to get together and share their experience of working at the British Library and exploring our LGBTQ+ collections. The network inspired others and three more staff networks were created shortly after: the BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) Network, the Gender Equality Network and the Disability Support Network.
I became co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Network in 2019. By that point, the network had a terms of reference, over 60 members and had participated at several Pride events representing the Library. The 18 months of my term were eventful: we wrote a strategic plan and started engaging with colleagues across the organisation, our budget increased, the network chairs joined the British Library’s Strategic Leadership Team and the pandemic hit! So for this blog, I thought I’d share some of the key lessons I learnt, and try to inspire you to get involved in your own organisation’s network.
Don’t do this on your own
The British Library is a huge organisation, we have 1,500+ members of staff, so we have enough members for the network to have co-chairs and a committee. We could have never achieved what we did without the support of the committee members who wrote comms for the network, organised events and most importantly provided diverse points of view, which were always helpful when a situation was complex or sensitive.
My co-chair was also invaluable in bringing a different perspective on how to approach a challenging situation especially when engaging with the senior leadership of the organisation. Chairing a staff network is a fantastic experience but you might face some triggering situations and disappointments can always be hard to take when they touch your identity so closely. Being able to share ideas with my co-chair, being challenged by him sometimes and having a friendly ear when needed has been crucial in protecting my own mental health and meant that we have achieved so much more. This, of course, might not be possible if your organisation is smaller and in that case, it might be worth joining forces with other colleagues and create a larger intersectional network. The network also had a sponsor from the Strategic Leadership Team providing advice, which is something I would recommend you to have in place as she helped us understand some of the complexities of the organisation and was able to provide a ‘big picture’ point of view.
2. Write a plan
The very first thing that my co-chair and I did was to write a strategic plan, which stated clearly what the mission was of the network, our vision, and included some key priorities for the network to be achieved over the next 12 months. The strategic plan was informed by consulting with the network members and the network committee. It was particularly useful to have a statement of intent during our initial discussions with senior stakeholders to help promote the network and our aims. This is how we defined the network: “The Library is open: We collaborate to share LGBTQ+ stories in our collections and to develop a supportive, creative and innovative organisation where everyone is welcome.”
We defined three areas of priorities focusing on internal culture, promoting our LGBTQ+ collections and engagement with external stakeholders:
We will work with the HR and Everyone Engaged teams in helping to create a culture and environment that is welcoming, safe and supportive for all staff members who identify as LGBTQ+.
We will support the Living Knowledge priority to grow the profile, diversity and creative impact of the Library’s cultural and curatorial activities.
We will work collaboratively with partners to advance knowledge, mutual understanding and to build the profile of The British Library as an organisation that is open to all.
3. Collaborate with other networks
If your organisation has other staff networks, collaborating with them is key. We met monthly with the other network chairs and quickly identified that we faced similar challenges and issues. By sharing our experiences, we were able to overcome problems together and achieve a lot more. For example, the Gender Equality Network supported our initiative to introduce optional pronoun badges in the library and we co-organised several events with the BAME network touching on intersectionality. When the pandemic started, having a unified voice between the networks also meant that the specific impact of the pandemic on members of staff with protected characteristics was put at the heart of the library’s response to ensure staff’s safety and well-being.
4. Visible symbols of allyship are important
Although cultural change was at the heart of the network’s work, we also focused our attention on visible symbols of allyship by introducing optional pronoun email signatures and pronoun badges for example. It’s been wonderful to see colleagues taking these on and showing their solidarity and support with LGBTQ+ members of staff. We also changed the rainbow flag that we have outside the library for Pride month to the Quasar flag, which includes BAME colours in solidarity with our BAME network and to send the message that the Library is open to everyone. Although small, these gestures have been very significant in improving the visibility of the network and helping creating a more inclusive culture in the library.
Chairing the LGTBQ+ network has been one of the most rewarding experience of my career, I’m so proud of what the network achieves and would really encourage you all to be active with your own networks, or maybe start your own!
Cecile Communal, International Office Manager, British Library
For more information, you can explore the following British Library resources:
Visit our LGBTQ+ Histories website, which explores the experiences and stories encountered in our collections, but also pose questions and seek to involve the community in thinking about answers
Watch on the British Library Player some of the events we have hosted at the British Library exploring LGBTQ+ stories
Listen to this episode of our ‘Unfinished Business’ podcast series about how lesbians and queer women have partied, socialised and come together since the 70s and the ‘Love is love’ episode of our ‘Anything but silent’ podcast series to hear stories of love and identity in wartime Britain, and meet the drag queens and kings making library story hours fabulous.
Visit ‘LGBTQ+ Lives Online’, an online project tagging relevant websites in the UK Web Archive, and expanding the scope of websites we collect for future generations.
Read this blog which describes more in details some of the work the LGBTQ+ staff network did in 2020.
The Importance of Reference Services for LGBTQIA+ Users
In 2021, some communities in the US advocated for the banning and censorship of LGBTQIA+ youth and adult materials in schools and public libraries, attempted to criminalize institutions’ book selections, and contested storytimes featuring drag performers. In this heavily politicized social climate, it is still a difficult time to be an LGBTQIA+ user in a public library, and especially a young person. Research shows that the effects of stigmatization of information can stop users of all ages from engaging with information, resources, and library staff out of fear of discrimination (Kitzie 2017).
The internet and technology have been identified as crucial tools for LGBTQIA+ people to seek and find information, connect with people in their community, and avoid negative in-person experiences of discrimination in a public setting. Public libraries already offer virtual and email reference, and especially during the pandemic, virtual reference became a primary way that libraries receive and answer reference questions. A natural conclusion is that public libraries should improve virtual reference services for LGBTQIA+ users so that they can access factual, important, and sometimes life-saving information from a trusted, responsive source without the fear of discrimination. Researchers have already identified many ways of improving reference services to LGBTQIA+ users in the public library setting, including inclusive book selection and programming, subject heading reclassification, and training for staff. But what about virtual reference services?
An Emerging LGBTQIA+ Virtual Reference Tool
The Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library (CHPL) system in Cincinnati, Ohio is working to address this gap in virtual reference services for LGBTQIA+ users. They have an LGBTQ+ landing page on their website (which only a few public libraries in the US offer) which has information about the local queer community and support groups, Pride Storytime videos, and booklists. The Cincinnati Public Library LGBTQIA+ work group and Community Content Coordinator Clarity Amrein developed the first online reference tool specifically geared towards LGBTQIA+ youth and teens called Queer Gabby.
The tool resembles a Dear Abby-style “advice column,” where younger users are encouraged to submit questions to Queer Gabby in a candid, conversational way. The answers are posted anonymously alongside the tool for any user to see and revisit. Users are encouraged to ask questions related to LGBTQIA+ books, music, podcasts, movies, history, identities, local community organizations, and more. Answers are signed “Queer Gabby.”
This landing page and tool offers a clearly-labeled, but safe and approachable way of accessing LGBTQIA+ information. It also invites young users to have a conversation with a trained information intermediary, thereby receiving better and more tailored virtual reference services. A small pool of trained library staff members, many who are LGBTQIA+ themselves, answer Queer Gabby submissions and intercept problems and negative comments. Other library systems are in the process of adopting similar virtual reference tools for LGBTQIA+ users modeled after Queer Gabby.
How LGBTQ+ Virtual Reference Fits into Public Libraries’ Strategic Plans
The Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library believes in connecting their community with materials and resources with the motto, “for minds of all kinds.” CHPL offers other community and minority-specific resources, works closely with nonprofit organizations and local groups, and celebrates heritage months system-wide. CHPL’s long-standing commitment to providing resources to diverse users provides an excellent environment to develop new and innovative tools for all types of users, like Queer Gabby.
Virtual reference will only continue to be more prevalent among public library users. Public libraries can better fulfill their missions and better serve their LGBTQIA+ patrons, customers, and users through improved virtual reference services for this vulnerable population. Libraries should consider creating an LGBTQIA+ section for information on their website, publishing relevant digital content, creating and maintaining their own LGBTQIA+ digital archives, and developing their own LGBTQIA+- specific reference tools, as well as for users of many different identities.
Perhaps most importantly, public libraries should provide training and professional development for library staff to best serve and understand their LGBTQIA+ users, as well as deliberately hire LGBTQIA+ staff and outreach liaisons. A strong commitment to the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and a deep sensitivity to LGBTQIA+ users seeking trustworthy information in this uncertain time is profoundly necessary for providing better reference services to LGBTQIA+ users in public libraries and to serving communities in a more complete way.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), also known as the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, has been observed annually (from its inception) on November 20 as a day to memorialize those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia. The day was founded to draw attention to the continued violence endured by transgender people.
Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 to memorialize the murder of transgender woman Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts. In 2010, TDoR was observed in over 185 cities throughout more than 20 countries.
It has several goals:
commemorate all those who have been the victims of hate crimes and prejudice,
raise awareness about hate crimes against the trans community,
It’s important for libraries to show their support and to create a safe space for trans people. But also to to keep misinformation from circulating in communities.
Recognize trans lives
The first action is to provide a welcoming space for audiences and the simple highlighting of collections can bring much in terms of visibility, even if, and above all, the theme of valuation is not exclusively about trans issues or kind. This presence is part of the content identification project and audiences and creates a more welcoming and reflective space for audiences less familiar with these issues.
Beyond that, it may be appropriate to better highlight these collections by through appropriate programming (conferences, account hours, shows, exhibitions) depending on the public served.
But more broadly, it is about taking into account the issues trans in animations talking about diversity, inclusion, equity, fluidity of genre or in any animation cycle resulting from the programming culture of a library, network, organization: Premier Novels, comics, manga, thriller … Some examples of animation:
– For an adult or student audience: Selective bibliography; Conferences, debates; Workshops digital, Wikipedia workshops; living library; exhibition featuring positive figures
The public library of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe (Brussels, Belgium) set up a display of books about transidentity. There were also two panels explaining what TDoR and transidentity are. This display is the first thing you see when you come into the library:
Coincidentally, there was also an activity welcoming only LGBTQIAP+ folkx. Librarians kept 1 minute of silence to commemorate and remember the lives taken because of transphobia.
The people best able to discuss these topics are of course transgender the people trans themselves of course. If any of your coworkers are trans, you can of course ask them if they him or her if she would agree to discuss the issues of your programming.
WorldPride, licensed by InterPride and organized by one of its members, is an event that promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ pride) issues on an international level through parades, festivals and other cultural activities. It is organised usually every two years. The inaugural WorldPride was held in Rome in 2000. WorldPride celebrations tend to be the largest LGBTQ Pride events for their year.
For the first time in history, WorldPride was held in two cities in two countries from 12 to 22 August 2021—Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, and the Swedish neighbouring city Malmö, both in the Øresund Region. WorldPride was hosted by Copenhagen Pride, with Malmö Pride as a partner. The cities are a twenty/thirty-minute commute apart.
WorldPride was combined with EuroGames and other activities held simultaneously in that same area, with the event branded as ‘Copenhagen 2021’. The WorldPride event coincided with two LGBTQ danish anniversaries: seventy years since the world’s first successful genital reconstructive surgery in Denmark in 1951; and fifty years after Gay Liberation Front’s Danish chapter was founded in 1971.
Huge success besides hesitations due to pandemic
For a long time, people had been worrying, and many had been very hesitant as to the possibility of arranging Pride in Copenhagen and Malmö this last summer, in the middle of the Pandemic. But, thanks to initial quite hard restrictions in Denmark, followed by a hard vaccination rate, the number of cases and deaths went down considerably during the summer of 2021 and the organisers were given the permission to arrange an almost full-scale event. Some parts had to be reduced though, such as the final Parade, that was divided up into several small parades leading up to a final party at the main Pride Park, Fælledparken, where all could meet and celebrate, but under certain restrictions to completely free movement. A so-called COVID passport, guaranteeing that you were either vaccinated or recently tested negative, was required for all indoor events. For the events in Malmö, Sweden, other restrictions were in place, since Sweden at that time, had not yet opened up to the same extent as Denmark. However the Swedish restrictions were all the time much milder than the original Danish.
Tens of thousands of people joined more than 1,100 events in Copenhagen and Malmö. They took part in both the WorldPride 2021 events as well as in EuroGames.
“In the most difficult circumstances imaginable we have delivered the most beautiful, loving, life-affirming and change-making event Denmark and Sweden have ever seen,” said Katja Moesgaard, Chair of Copenhagen 2021. “We are beyond proud of how our vision for Copenhagen 2021 WorldPride and EuroGames evolved.”
More people than expected travelled every day on the bridge between Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden, to be able to enjoy a bit of what both cities were contributing with.
Some hightlights from the week
The Patron of the Pride Week, Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess of Denmark, attended several events at UN City, the Human Rights Conference, the City of Copenhagen reception, the EuroGames tournament and last but not least on the last she Saturday spoke at the Closing Ceremony at Fælledparken. She was the first member of the Danish Royal Family to give patronage to a LGBTI+ event and we are most grateful for her support.
Copenhagen Main Square was turned into a “Pride Square” during the whole week and the park Fælledparken became the main Pride Park where many festivities took place. In Malmö the equivalent was Folkets Park.
2,000 athletes competed in 22 sports tournaments all across both cities in Eurogames, and more than 70 sports organisations run public activities across Copenhagen.
3,000 people joined the WorldPride Opening Parade in Malmö (not more due to COVID restrictions) (see video). During the last Saturday more than 10,000 people joined six WorldPride Marches in Copenhagen. The low number here were of course due to COVID restrictions, several people wanted to walk but did not manage to get tickets; The Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen joined the Human Rights march from WorldPride Square.
More than 50,000 people joined events in WorldPride Square and at Fælledparken for concerts.
WorldPride House and WorldPride Park in Malmö welcomed several thousand visitors to debates, discussions, lectures and performances
Fluid Festival at Gammel Strand was a joyous celebration of women, genderqueer and non-binary identities, attended by thousands of guests
Hundreds of young people participated in events at Huset 2021 and Rainbow Children @ BLOX
The Human Rights Forum brought together a truly global audience of activists and human rights defenders
More than 300 scholarship recipients were supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Commission and others
On social media, more than five million people engaged with our content during the event, and more than 16,000 people joined our live streamed events
Libraries did have a part in this programming. Almost every municipal library had some Pride exhibit and created special shelves dedicated to the events.
Copenhagen City Library for example, had one specially dedicated website to Gender diversity and another one on Sex, sexuality and identity. They also gave out reading tips for children and younger adults. For exemple, Copenhagen Main Library invited the two authors Aaiún Nin and Niviaq Korneliussen to participate in a talk about gender, identity, borders and representation in literature, from Greeland and Angola to Denmark (Can sexuality become a place to belong?).
They also published a podcast about Herman Bang, one of the few publicly known homosexuals in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Det Kongelige Akademi Bibliotek, in Copenhagen hosted an exhibition called ‘Bearded Queens of Copenhagen: The Library is Open. Officially ‘, where three whimsical queens – Bryhildr, Jaxie Bearcunt and Maj Mokai – celebrate through images, objects and their own words. The exhibition is based on a research project by Anders Larsen and Maria Mackinney-Valentin, who have curated in collaboration with Cengiz Güdücü.
Stadsbiblioteket i Malmö offered a digital writer’s conversation with Emil Åkerö! A conversation based on Åkerö’s book “For those who are looking – a handbook for those who are related to a hbtq person”. On how to become a better ally to the close one who explores themselves and norm-breaking identities.
They also hosted a digital Drag Queen Story Hours, a digital party with Lady Busty and Miss Shameless alongside their fabulous North American sisters – Lady Shug, Joss JimAr and Ona Louise – share norm-creative stories and songs with each other. High glamour factors are promised.
You can also Pick up a map guide at the library and go for a walk in the city to discover the lives of LGBTQI people. In the new map guide, A Ride to Pride, you can discover Malmö’s LBTQI history for over 100 years. The guide is based on archive materials, literature, and conversations with people who shared their memories, and sheds light on history through people, buildings and places.
Indeed, the event is a time to celebrate LGBTQ+ culture, essay, movies, musics, authors, or queer history. See the whole program to find a list of events. The hashtag of the event was #YouAreIncluded to shine a light on the situation for LGBTI+ people across the world.
At last, the Refugees, Borders & Immigration Summit took place in the city of Malmö (Sweden) on Friday 20 August. At the summit, activists and politicians discussed challenges regarding refugees, borders and immigration, both physically and digitally. The extensive programme included a long list of speakers, such as Filippo Grande (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), a music performance, a film screening and a number of ‘breakout’ sessions on various relevant topics.
The Copenhagen 2021 Human Rights Forum was an international LGBTI+ experience consisting of multiple high-level events and a broader program open to the public. And an event on « Parliamentary Caucuses on #LGBTIQ Rights » brought together MPs from different Intergroups and different political networks from all over the world.
Human rights should be at the core of all LGBTI+ events. That’s why Copenhagen 2021 will feature several human rights-focused events to push our agenda of equality and diversity forward.’