IHLIA LGBTI Heritage was founded in 1978, when a couple of (male) students and teachers at the University of Amsterdam – who were studying Gay Studies during this time of activism – decided that they had to start making information about homosexuality more visible themselves. Homodok (Documentation Center for Gay Studies ), as they called the center, started collecting literature and archival material that was considered ‘grey literature’ and was housed at the University of Amsterdam. At several other places during the eighties, women started their own lesbian archives.
At the University of Amsterdam, one of the students involved in Homodok was Jack van der Wel (at the far right, standing) and he worked at the archives for forty years. He just recently retired but he is still active one day a week as a consultant.
After moving location a few times and merging with the Lesbian Archives Amsterdam and the Lesbian Archives Leeuwarden (Anna Blaman Huis), we changed our name to IHLIA (International Gay/Lesbian Information Centre and Archives). In 2007, we were invited to be housed in the Public Library of Amsterdam (OBA) and were granted a governmental subsidy. We are the largest independent LGBTI archive in Europe and are now called IHLIA LGBTI Heritage. We have our IHLIA square and information desk on the third floor of the OBA and this is where we receive our visitors: researchers, journalists, policymakers, writers, activists, students and artists from the Netherlands and all over the world.
Every three months, the IHLIA square shows a new exhibition in cooperation with people and organisations from within the LGBTQ community. Together with our archival collection, we thus share contemporary diverse perspectives and the history of LGBTQ life.
We collect LGBTQ heritage and make it accessible in all forms. The main goal is to provide a library and archive that support research about LGBTQ life, both historically as within the humanities. Virtually, all kinds of information, from statistics to photographs, can be found in our collection. The library, which mainly consists of books, reports and magazines, is stored in the public library. These materials are not for loan. The personal and organisational archives are stored properly in the International Institute of Social History (IISH).
Projects and websites
We have a lot of ongoing projects, so I will name just a few:
To retrieve and disseminate our LGBTQ archival collection, Jack van der Wel started the development of a Dutch thesaurus called the Homosaurus. For more information on what happened over the last two decades regarding the developing of the Homosaurus, which includes information on international (English) usage, you can go here. The most recent English version of the Homosaurus was intended to supplement existing thesauri and is now included as such in the Library of Congress Subject Headings.
Museums, libraries and archives belong to and are for everyone. But can everyone also identify with these collections? Without a doubt, the collections in the Netherlands contain heritage that tells something about the people we now identify as LGBTQ. Yet, most of the material isn’t on display. As such, these testimonials remain invisible and don’t even seem to exist. In collaboration with other institutions, IHLIA is trying to change this. With this initiative, it wants to inspire and stimulate museums to look at their collection differently so as to ‘queer their collections’. For more information about the latest developments within this project, take a look here.
IHLIA not only collects magazines, books and grey literature but has a large collection of objects as well. These include buttons, T-shirts, beer coasters, condom wrappers, LGBTQ board games, matchboxes and much more. Using different platforms, this collection increasingly becomes digitally visible. Two great examples are:
The Historypin website Gay and Lesbian Nightlife on which different kinds of objects are connected to bars and other nightlife places throughout Dutch history.
Our T-shirt collection, which is on display on this website.
An ongoing project is the science portal that aims to give an overview of everything that happens within the field of LGBTQ research. For example, it lists people in the Netherlands and Flanders who conduct LGBTQ research and their research, which can either be found in our archive or on their personal websites. It also announces upcoming conferences and (online) lectures or other talks. We cooperate with the Flemish–Dutch LGBTQ research network and keep them posted with a newsletter. Members of the network regularly provide blog posts for our website about current LGBTQ topics. The research website is still growing and under construction.
In cooperation with the Amstelgroep (an organisation for the elderly), IHLIA started the Pink Life Stories project in 2012. On the basis of a number of conversations, trained volunteers sat together with a LGBTQ elder to write down their story in book form, including photos and other memorabilia. The storytellers ultimately decide for themselves what part of their story will be written down. Up until now, the collection consists of thirty-eight Pink Life Stories. Fourteen are full text available online (all in Dutch). IHLIA LGBTI Heritage considers it very important that these elders’ stories are documented, because very few people realize how the personal and social struggle for recognition and acceptance of their homosexuality differs from how things are now. The aim of this collection is to enable the storyteller to tell his/her/their story (sometimes for the first time), find recognition in it and preserve their life stories for the future.
Open Up! Is a (finished) project about the history of LGBTQ emancipation and development, mainly in Central, East and Southeast Europe.
It focuses on these countries because LGBTQ rights in these regions are lagging behind compared to those in other parts of Europe. The archives and history of these brave movements contain unique documents. They can help us understand the changes in these countries and how they affect (or have affected) LGBTQ people, movements and organizations. In addition, these documents provide us with some background on our lesser-known heroes.
The purpose of Open Up! Is to make a large number of journals and organizational archives digitally accessible worldwide. These include magazines, newspapers, professional journals and texts from lectures, leaflets, policy memos, newsletters, meeting minutes and press releases. The entire collection either comes from IHLIA’s own archive, which consists of journals and organizational archives, or from the archives of international, European and local LGBTQ organizations. The Open Up! collection is now included in our web catalogue. It is available online, but you need an IHLIA account or a special tier 2 account to be able to consult it.
Digitizing our collection:
Digitizing our collection is an ongoing process too. More and more, we receive digital material, but the majority of our collection still consists of paper material. Some of the magazines are already digitized, so we do have a large and growing digital library. Unfortunately, due to copyright regulations, this material is not available online. However, it can be consulted at our information desk.
Increasingly, we work together with other platforms to share our collection with a broader public. One of these is Oorlogsbronnen.nl, a platform on which many different heritage organisations share their resources about the Second World War.
Due to Covid-19 measures, all of us – thirteen staff members – have been working from home most of the time since March 2020. We try to continue our work and manage to continue most of our activities, albeit from a distance. We had to become inventive with regard to providing information to our clients, because most of our collection is not yet digitized. With the help of a few of our eight volunteers and other recources, we manage to keep our information service going online, and sometimes live at the archive, although much less frequent.
We continue to compile reading lists and thematic files for educational purposes. Not as often as before, we organize zine-making workshops and thematic meetings both live and online. We receive a lot of archival material from our LGBTQ community members, who now have the time to clear up their ‘attics’ and donate what they find. We also keep on organizing exhibitions, albeit online.
We really hope to be able to work at our archive and office soon again. In the meantime, we do our utmost to keep our archive going as best as we can.
Most of our website is in Dutch and another ongoing project is to translate the entire website into English. Hopefully, our current website will give a good impression of our archive and activities.
Thea Sibbel (scientific information specialist)