The Setting Up of an LGBTQIAP+-themed Collection in a Public Library: the Case of The French-Speaking Public Library of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe (Brussels, Belgium)

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Abstract

In the context of my dissertation on 2018-2019, I set up an LGBTQIAP+-themed collection for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual, Aromantic, Polyamourous, Pansexual young adults (12-26 years old) and their relatives at the Public Library of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, under the supervision of its directress : Ms Laurence Duhin. This meant that project had to last 9 months (an academical year). Thanks to the unconditional support of Ms Duhin, I obtained a €2000 budget for this project. During its realization, many questions arose about documents selection, indexation, classification, librarians trainings, how to welcome our patrons in an inclusive way. We did our best to answer them all while respecting the legislation ruling libraries in the French-speaking part of Belgium and the rules of the common catalog of the French-Speaking libraries of Brussels. This article a synthesis of the work I presented in June 2019 to get a Bachelor Degree as Librarian.

1. Context

The Public Library of Berchem-Saint-Agathe is a French-speaking library. This means its way of working, the professional tools and so on, are defined by the Royal Arrest of 2009 of the Federation of Wallonie-Brussels over public libraries. This arrest says, among other things, that public libraries are cultural operators whom purpose is to allow individual and collective emancipation of all members of their community. It obliges libraries to be project-oriented through a 5-year plan and to create partnerships with other local initiatives. It fixes the tool used to index documents (UDC/Dewey and RAMEAU1).

This library is also a Brussels library and is part of the Brussels common online catalog. To keep the catalog consistent, there are thus some rules to respect.

We cannot index fiction documents, except in some cases. If fiction is indexed, it mustn’t be to detailed: no subdivision of place or date.

We have to use RAMEAU and UDC/Dewey only for indexing. We cannot add our own subject heading, from another documentary langage or a personal thesaurus, for instance.

The acquisition and loan of e-books is managed by a department specially dedicated to their promotion : Lirtuel. This department has its own catalog that is totally independent of libraries’ catalog and indexing.

Usually public libraries don’t provide multimedia documents (like DVDs, CDs, video games, and so on), this the part of an NGO named Point Culture.

1Which is roughly the French equivalent of the LCSH. It is managed by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

2. About the Library

The main objectif of the public library of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe is to offer accessible information to all kinds of audiences.

This is why an inclusion axe has been instaured in its 5-year plan mainly dedicated to the inclusion of people with a disability and the setting up of a collection for people with dys- (dyslexia, dyscalculia, and so on).

The team counts 3 librarians, among them the headmistress, a library help, a person organizing activities, a person in charge of the digital public space.

And even if the municipality is part of the « All Genders Welcome » project, there haven’t LGBTQIAP+ for a general audience yet.

3. Origins of the Project

This project is born from an encounter between Ms Duhin and myself, while I was looking for a project for my dissertation.

Ms Duhin went to the IFLA Congress of Lyon and attended a conference about the part of public libraries in helping homeless LGBTQIAP+ teenagers. She then asked herself: « We call ourself public libraries, but are we really open to all audiences? » and considered it fundamental that LGBTQIAP+ teenagers might be able to find stories describing their lives and might be able to find suitable informations for them in a library.

As for me, during my Master degree in History, I ran an NGO about boy’s love and girl’s love comic books to allow fans to find a space wherein they could talk freely about it. That’s how I met a lot of LGBTQIAP+ teenagers, and I have been deeply moved by their loneliness since them. This book club was one of the only spaces some of them had where they could be themselves and ask their questions without fear. So I began to train myself about those subjects via NGOs, the internet and public libraries. Unfortunately, not a lot of information were available there. So I began to think about going back to school to become a librarian and setting up an LGBTQIAP+-themed collection in a public library.

4. The Project

The adolescence being often considered as a tough period and the people under 26 years being 51 % of our 3,298 patrons, we decided, Ms Duhin and myself, that this collection would be destined firstly for 12-26 years and their relatives. As the acquisition depends on a special department in the ministry of culture with its own catalog and indexing system, we thought it would be easier to begin with paper books only.

5. The Methodology

I began by analyzing of the existing situation through the common catalog to know how many LGBTQIAP+-themed books could be found, what was their topic, and so on. Based on those results, I realized an acquisition policy with a €2000 budget. I also analyzed RAMEAU to know which subject headings existed already, which were missing and think about how to remediate the absence of terms. The questions of the classification of the documents, the perpetuation of the collection and how to make the collection known arose quite quickly as well. During this whole process, I could count on the total support of Ms Laurence Duhin and on the help of 3 NGOs for each step of my work: Genres Pluriels ASBL, Merhaba VZW and Tels Quels ASBL.

5.1. Analyzing the Situation

This analyzis was made from the common catalog: I looked for the words Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Aromantic, Polyamorous, Pansexuals, Lesbianism, and their equivalent in RAMEAU: Lesbianism, Lesbians, Masculine Homosexuality, Homosexuals, Homosexuality, Bisexuals, Bisexuality, Transgender, Transidentity, Hermaphrodism (as it is still the subject heading used in RAMEAU for Intersex), Free Love (as Polyamorous relationships doesn’t exist in RAMEAU). Asexuality, Aromantism, Pansexuality do not exist in RAMEAU and they have no equivalent.

I’ve found 228 different references in 62 public libraries. Those are mainly non-fictions – as fiction is very rarely indexed – dedicated mostly to masculine homosexuality.

I’ve also found out some inconsistencies in the indexing. For instance, the book « Le pur et l’impur » by Colette. Only one notice out of 7 has been indexed as « Homosexuality – personal stories », knowing that Colette was bisexual. The other notices had no indexation at all.

There were 14 results at the library of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe.

5.2. The Acquisition Policy

First, I identified the fictions with an LGBTQIAP+ theme already in the library to include them in the collection and to index them, with the authorization of the librarians managing the common catalog.

Afterwards, I’ve built an acquisition policy with the help of Genres Pluriels ASBL, Merhaba VZW and Tels Quels ASBL who guided me about the most relevant topics for the non-fiction documents and who gave me what they published.

The criterias where as followed:

Having mostly fiction – as the collection of the library is made of 70 % of fictions.

Preferring comic books as they are a lead product in the library.

Representing, as much as the published books allow it, the different identities (lesbians, gays, asexuals, transgenders, and so on). Indeed, even though it is difficult for a gay teenager to find suitable information, what can we say for asexual or transgender teenagers?

Of course, the chosen books must be recent.

Then, I’ve selected bibliographies to find the documents. I’ve mostly worked with la Rainbowthèque, offering reviews of Young Adult fictions with an LGBTQIAP+ theme. They also provide keywords, which is very useful for the indexation.

PlanèteDiversité is a website offering reviews of YA books focusing on the stories of minorities (LGBTQIAP+, neurodivergent, and so on), the YouTube channel Cordélia Aime, offering reviews of LGBTQIAP+ YA books and comics, the bibliography of the project of the Federation Wallonie-Brussels « Et toi t’es casé-e ? ».

5.3. The Indexing

Indexing tools used in the common catalog can be RAMEAU and UDC/Dewey. At the library of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, the UDC is mostly used for the classification on the shelves and only RAMEAU is used for the indexing. That’s why I have analyzed only that tool.

Those are my observations in spring 2019 (as RAMEAU is permanently evolving, things might have changed since then) :

About gayness, there is a huge diversity of subject headings and a regular update. Same can be said for subject headings related to lesbianism, even though those are often subordinated to gayness (for instance « enseignantes lesbiennes » is subordinated to « enseignants homosexuels ».)

The vocabulary was far more reduced about bisexuality and transidentity.

Hermaphrodism is used instead of intersex, while it is seen as a slur by the LGBTQIAP+ community.

Some words are lacking, like asexuality, aromantism, polyamory, pansexuality.

Concerning the documents about pansexuality, we decided to index them with the subject heading « Bisexualité » (as it can be considered as a broader term), the documents related to non-binary have been indexed with the broader term « Transidentité ». The documents about polyamory have been indexed with « Amour libre », which was the closest subject heading I could find.

As no subject headings I’ve found could be related to asexuality and aromantism, we had the authorization to summarize the books in the catalog with those words, so they could be retrieved in the catalog.

This point was essential to us, as the information retrieval in the catalog is based upon the indexing. So, if we want our patrons to have access to the wanted information, it is important to pay attention to the adequacy of the vocabulary we use.

5.4. The Classification On the Shelves

Each library chooses its own classification plan. At the library of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, a sign upon the back of the books means we have to put together all the books with that sign. For instance, the detective novels have a black sign on their back. Because of this, they are all gathered together on the same shelves.

But it is something we wanted to avoid for the LGBTQIAP+-themed collection. Indeed, it is, we think, a form of stigmatization: why would we put those specific books apart from the others? Furthermore, it could have stopped the people still in the closet – who haven’t made a coming out as an LGBTQIAP+ person – to take books as it could have been perceived as a sort of outing. Indeed, the configuration of the library allows the librarians and the patrons to see who goes in which section and there is no automatic lending machine to allow patrons to take books anonymously.

Yet, the people in the closet are 35 % of our target audience1.

The NGOs I worked with advised against this kind of classification as well.

For all those reasons, we chose to disseminate the books in the whole library, so it would allow a soft mediation as well. For instance, the books about the legislation opening adoption to same-sex couples are classified in family law. Thanks to this, the patron realizes, even if unconsciously, that that kind of family exists. But they are identified with a « All Genders » stamp on the first page to show they belong to the collection.

The stamp

1INSTITUT POUR L’EGALITE DES FEMMES ET DES HOMMES ; UNIA, LE CENTRE INTERFEDERAL POUR L’EGALITE DES CHANCES. Et toi, t’es casé-e ? Répertoire des associations actives dans la lutte contre l’homophobie et la transphobie et/ou communautaires [en ligne]. [circa 2016] [Consulté le 26 mai 2017]. Disponible sur le Web : <http://www.ettoitescase.be/pdf/liste_des_associations.pdf&gt;

5.5. The Perpetuation

The most important thing was to train the librarians so they could keep going. First, there was a theoritical training given by Genres Pluriels. Afterward, a 10 hour face-to-face (2 x 5 hours) took place with the librarian in charge fo cataloging the fiction, the comic books and the non-fiction. This moment was the occasion to talk about which subject headings of RAMEAU would be the most suitable.

I’ve also set up a tools box for the librarians with a lexicon, a calendar of the main events of the LGBTQIAP+ events in Belgium to secure new partnerships or to know when to put those books on display, a list of the selected subject headings for the indexing, ideas of activities.

5.6. The Communication about the collection

We took several initiatives to make the collection known by different kind of audiences:

– in reference to the project « All Genders Welcome », the collection was named « All Genders », so it would be clearly recognizable.

– an album was created on the Facebook page of the library specifically to promote the books of the collection

– a book club specifically for transgender folkx was organized with Genres Pluriels during the Pride Festival (a series of events organized around the 17th of May). This was a moment of exchange that allowed us to introduce the collection and to set up a new procedure of subscription to the library. So the people who would like to subscribe to the library with a different surname than the one on their identity card could do it so.

– an inauguration evening for the All Genders collection was organized. For this occasion, I was interviewed by the LGBTQIAP+ magazine Rédac’CHEFF.

– a folder summarizing the comics of the collection was created.

– a specific page introducing the collection has been created in the common catalog, as from now on at least 200 LGBTQIAP+ themed books can found in it in the library of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe alone.

Printscreen of the page introducing the project in the common catalog

Conclusion

This project raised issues to which it is not possible to give a universal answer. For instance, the matter of the classification on the shelves depends on the configuration of the library, the possibilities of anonymous lending, and so on. It was also the occasion to raise awareness among the librarians in charge of the common catalog, to think about how making not only our collections but also our tools, the building, the way we welcome our patrons more inclusive. In this case, it meant thinking about alternatives to index books, reviewing the subscription procedure, thinking about ways to make the collection accessible without risking to out some patrons.

This is the beginning of something beautiful, so we hope and that will make public libraries welcoming places for every one, including our LGBTQIAP+ patrons.

Florence Cochin, published on the 17th of February 2020